Heartlight Special Feature
When is Anger Appropriate?, by Norman Bales

    Charles Swindoll calls anger  “the emotional bogeyman in the Christian community.” Christians have almost universally attached the sin label to anger. Clarence Edward McCartney’s assessment is fairly typical,  “More than any other sin, it blasts the flower of friendship, turns men out of Eden, destroys peace and concord in the home, incites to crime and violence and turns love and affection into hatred.”

    Actually the Bible makes it clear that anger does not always belong in the category of sin. Paul wrote in Ephesians  “…in your anger, do not sin” (Ephesians 4:28). The context warns against inappropriate anger, but does not condemn anger for its own sake.



        You can and should be angry at anything that makes God angry. John reported the indignation of Jesus, when he saw moneychangers satisfying their greed in the house of the Lord. He upset furniture, chased livestock out of the area with a whip and scolded the moneychangers in harsh terms.  “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16) We may well be in danger of expressing too much inappropriate anger and not nearly enough legitimate anger. We are far too tolerant of the things that are repulsive to God. Shouldn’t it arouse some kind of resentful emotion when we see little children on television with skinny arms and distended stomachs dying of malnutrition? Shouldn’t it make us angry when we know that people are getting rich selling drugs and destroying the lives of ten and twelve year olds? Do expressions of violence, racism, and immorality raise our hackles in the slightest? What has happened to our capacity for righteous indignation?

        There is very close correlation between appropriate anger and compassion. The Pharisees, the chief priests, the scribes and those were under their influence often felt the sting of Jesus’ angry rebuke. But beneath that anger was a heart of compassion. To me, one of the heart wrenching scenes in the life of Jesus took place just after the triumphal entry of Jesus. The Pharisees attempted to take some of the luster off the thrill of the moment by telling Jesus he needed to have better control of his disciples. And then you have this comment in Luke 19:41,  “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.” Jesus’ anger was directed at the Pharisees because leadership of the people would produce devastating calamity in the lives of the those people. His heart ached even for those callous, insensitive, close minded legalists who tried to block him at every step. You’ve got to remember that it’s not the people you hate, but the sin that’s corrupting their lives.

        In Matthew 23, Jesus used some of the strongest language recorded anywhere in the gospel. He referred to the teachers of the law and the pharisees as  “brood of vipers.” That’s pretty insulting language. Why did he use such strong language? Because they put heavy loads on the people which they themselves would not bear. Because they were leading people astray. Because they had no concept of justice, mercy and faithfulness, which he said were the more important matters of the law. Because they killed and crucified the prophets. Such brutality, insensitivity and gross manipulation of people requires an angry response.

        Anger is appropriate when you are on the receiving end of a series of hard knocks through no fault of your own. Read the Psalms. There you’ll frequently read the angry response of a man of God whose life is being threatened by those who are up to no good. As an example consider Psalm 64:1-4—  “Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy. Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from that noisy crowd of evil doers, who sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows. They shoot from the innocent man; they shoot at him suddenly without fear.” It sounds to me like that fellow is pretty upset and he’s letting God know about it.


        Anger is inappropriate when the cause is frustration over the fact that your own selfish desires haven’t been realized. That was Jonah’s problem. He was saying,  “Burn ‘em Lord. I don’t want Ninevah to live.” Jonah’s anger turned into self pity, but God’s anger gave way to compassion. God doesn’t allow us the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves.

        Anger is also inappropriate when it is allowed to fester. It’s significant that in Ephesians 4:26, Paul says,  “do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Wholesome anger should be short term anger. Minirith and Meier, of the Minirith and Meier Clinic, estimate that most of the time when you receive an angry response, about 25% of it has to do with the issue that’s at hand and about 75% of it has to do with some previous anger that’s unresolved.

        If you can’t let go of the anger producing trauma of the past, you’re the person who is going to suffer the most from it. One doctor said that in his practice he had observed that  “men and women are constantly trapped by this circle of self defeat rising from buried hatreds.” If you don’t rid yourself of anger, it poisons your system. It saps your energy. It takes away all your happiness and it usually doesn’t do a thing to the target of your anger.

        Anger is inappropriate when it is result of our impatience. James wrote,  “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry for anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-21). It usually doesn’t pay when we give way to anger just out of sense of frustration and impatience.


        So anger is a mixed bag. It’s not always appropriate to feel guilty because you’re angry. Anger is a God given capacity which can be very useful in certain situations, but it also a very volatile emotion that can easily get out of hand.  “Do not give the devil a foothold.” I grew up on the farm and we usually had cattle and horses. My Dad sought to impress on my mind how important it was to keep the gates in the pasture closed. Leave a gate open and you invite livestock to get out and go no telling where. Anger is a little bit like that gate. Leave that gate shut and open it only when it’s needed and when you remain in control it. It’s a very functional part of the landscape, but if you just throw it open and let nature take it’s course, then you’re asking for trouble.  “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:27)


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