Practical Christianity (X): Be Ye Angry and Sin Not
Anger, like other emotions, is God given. Anger is not sinful or damaging. It is a motivating emotion that God has given us for good. God is angry continually with the wicked (Psa. 7:11; 79:5). God is recorded to have been angry with Moses (Deut. 1:37, 4:21), Aaron (9:20), Solomon (1 Kings 11:19), and Israel (1 Kings 17:18). Jesus was angry - hotly angry - in fact his anger "ate him up" (Jn. 2:17) yet without sin. Jesus was once recorded as instantly angry, as when he turned on the hardhearted priests in anger at their malice and unbelief (Mk. 3:5).
But Jesus and the Father kept their anger within controlled bounds and directed it at the problem that elicited the anger. Anger, like all other emotions, uncontrolled is sinful. "Uncontrolled" does not just mean the unsubdued explosions of wrath we commonly associate with anger, but includes any undisciplined and unbiblical use of anger (i. e. boredom, resentment, bitterness, or chronic sarcasm). Anger can become sinful. Desire can become lust. Concern can become anxiety. Happiness can become hysteria. Sorrow can become despair. God has given us our emotions to be used within the framework of his revelation to our good.
When Is Anger Evil?
Anger is caused by something. People bring out anger, but usually it is what people do, rather than the people themselves (or what they do not do). Jesus' anger was brought forth by the hard hearted unbelief of the Jews (Jno. 2:17; Mk. 3:5). God's anger is provoked by those who presume on his mercy and longsuffering. Jesus directed his anger at the Jews, not in an emotional outburst, but in correcting the problem: He drove the moneychangers out of the temple with the teaching "You shall not make my father's house a den of thieves." He healed the cripple in the presence of the disapproving Jews with the words, "Is it right to do good or evil on the Sabbath?" His anger was directed in overcoming the problem-unbelief.
God's anger was demonstrated in his delivering the Jews into calamity after repeated warnings-to discipline them and teach them. He did not utterly destroy them, but preserved a remnant that they might find repentance.
Neither the Father nor the Son "blew up" in their anger (if they had, I could not have written this article, and you would never had read it for God was angry with Adam and Eve in the garden). They did not withdraw in sullen silence, harboring bitter anger deep in their heart. On the contrary, they directed their hot anger, concentrating their passions upon the problem that a solution might be found.
Consider a practical example for illustration: Your tire blows out on the freeway. As you flop over to the shoulder, you are seething in anger at the expense, delay, and inconvenience. Slamming the door, kicking the tire, shaking your fist at the car or at the sky accomplishes nothing. Sitting in your car gripping the wheel till your knuckles turn white, biting your lip till it bleeds, or pounding the dashboard does not attack the problem-it only hurts yourself, and makes a biblical fool out of you (Prov. 12:16; 14:17; Eccl. 7:9). But, jacking up the car, and changing the tire does deal with the problem. (Inanimate things often are used as a brunt of anger when one is accustomed to concealing anger. Swearing at stop lights, kicking things that get in the way, slamming doors, etc. Why? Things cannot respond. Demonstrating that suppressed anger at people would be wrong. What makes demonstrated anger wrong and suppressed anger "right"? "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.")
More appropriately, consider an example of a newly converted family falling away from the truth. The bad example of the brethren has discouraged them. The preacher has lost their confidence and esteem because of malicious and hurtful speaking on the part of the brethren. They announce that they are not returning to services. The message is borne by the very ones who discouraged them to start with. Their tone of voice and sarcastic comments demonstrate that they hold you responsible. Anger is a natural, God-given response to this problem. But, how will that anger be directed? Do you react by blowing up? Do you dress down those who have come to you, venting your rage upon them? Or, do you say sullenly, through clenched teeth, "Thank you for the information" then go home seething in anger, silently hating them, the church, your work, and the unfaithful under your breath? Anger is not controlled either way, and is not directed at the problem. The bad example of the one responsible for discouragement of the weak must be pointed out, rebuked, and changed. The hateful talk must be confronted and dealt with as sin, and either repented of, or brought to the attention of the church. The weak must be visited as soon as humanly possible, preferably the same day, that their lack of faith might be rebuked, and the righteous way shown to them. Anger was felt and demonstrated to them, but was biblically directed at the problem and its solution.
Today, there is a great deal of encouragement for people to freely express themselves and their emotions. It is called ventilation, or concious raising. Group therapy, sensitivity training, and encounter groups encourage free expression of all emotions. People supposedly will relieve their anxieties by openly expressing their hatred and anger, resentments, and grudges.
But God says that uncontrolled anger is sin. "He that hath no rule over his spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls" (Prov. 25:28).
"He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly" (14:17a).
"The prudence of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (19:11).
"Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (Jas. 1:19, 20).
Anger can become sinful in a variety of ways. One way is to bottle up anger within. "Internalizing" anger is self destructive and leads to greater sin. Paul told us that the way to be angry and sin not was not to permit the sun to go down upon our wrath. This simple command from God would solve most of the problems facing brethren today.
Example: A notable brother is rebuked publically in a gospel paper. Instead of seeking righteousness and reconciliation, he strikes back at a totally unrelated (for his sin) problem, the "attitude" and motives of those who rebuked him. He then silently withdraws in silent anger and contempt. He cuts off all contact with those who have rebuked his behavior, cancels his subscription to any paper that rebukes him, and withdraws in hurt. His anger spurts now and then like steam from a pressure cooker in hatefully worded articles or "private" diatribes against those who "persecute" him.
Example: A brother feels he is wronged by another. Instead of seeking reconciliation, he withdraws completely, assuring all "I bear no ill-feeling or grudge" all the time while burning with repressed anger and resentment at his mistreatment. He continues to show his anger by his severed relationships, and his continual attacks on other's motives and character.
Example: A brother is angry with another's behavior. "He is too uppity" or "Who does he think he is, rebuking me?" While "all smiles" in the other's presence, in other relationships, he never loses an opportunity to downgrade him in every way. If asked to recommend the other for a meeting, he will pull a wry face and say reluctantly "Well-1-1-1 . . ." leaving the impression that the other is unworthy or unable.
There are many examples that could be used; but they all demonstrate the same ,thing. Suppressed anger and resentment, and an unwillingness to submit to God's method of repentance and reconciliation.
"Few things are sapping the strength of the church of Christ more that the unreconciled state of so many Christians. So many believers have matters deeply imbedded in their relationship like iron wedges forced between themselves and other Christians. They can't walk together because they do not agree. When they should be marching side by side taking men captive for Jesus Christ, instead they are acting like an army that has been routed and scattered and whose troops in their confusion have begun fighting among themselves. Nothing drains the church more of her strength as these unresolved problems, those loose ends among brethren that have never been tied up. There is no excuse for this sad condition, for the Bible does not allow for loose ends. God wants no loose ends" (Adams, Christian Counselors Manual, p. 363).
There is no place in the church for a Christian sitting in silent hurt, or self-righteous resentment waiting for the other to come to him to talk. Matt. 5:23, 24 talks to the one who has wronged someone else. 'Reconciliation with the one he has wronged must take precedence over any other religious service unto God. All service dedicated to God is vain till an attempt is made to reconcile with the one wronged. Matt. 18: 1517 on the other hand, is addressed to the one who has been sinned against. He must seek out his brother and convince him of his error and seek reconciliation ("Thou hast gained thy brother . . ."). Therefore it is always the responsibility of the child of God to go and seek reconciliation and righteous relationships. You can note whether you are the mature Christian by whether you go or someone had to come to you. True followers of God meet on the way to see each other There is no place in .the Kingdom of God for one who refuses reconciliation with a brother for whom Christ died. God demands that reconciliation must be sought before the sun goes down on the matter.
Anger can become sinful when it is allowed to be expressed other than to resolve a problem-when it is directed at a person or the situation. Paul said, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29). Paul is talking about more than just "foul language" though that is certainly included. More accurately Paul is contrasting speech which "builds up" with speech that "corrupts" or rots, tears down.
Many believe "evil speaking" to be speaking lies or slander against another (Eph. 4:31; 1 Pet. 2:1; Tit. 3:2). But this is not all there is. Evil speaking is hurtful speaking. Speaking that tears down, destroys, hurts, or damages. Literally it means "to speak against" and is often translated "blasphemed." Evil is that which is "injurious, destructive, baneful, pernicious" (Vine, p. 50). The young call it "cutting up" and the adults call it "putting down" or "one-upmanship." Often brethren cut up, slice, cube, and dice their brethren with no mercy under the guise of humor (cf. Eph. 5:4; Jas. 3:5-10; Gal. 5:15). Indeed, the scriptures refer to it in the same way: "There is that speaking which is like the piercings of a sword . . . the words of a talebearer are as wounds which go down to the innermost parts of the belly" (Prov. 12:18; 18:8).
It is not socially acceptable to "blow up" in public. So uncontrolled anger is often demonstrated under the guise of wit or sarcasm.
Example: Observe the couple who continually cut one another in public and private. Nothing can be said that is not met with a sarcastic riposte. Surly, belligerent words meet any effort to talk to them.
Example: Consider the brother who is constantly making such righteousness as preaching, marriage, child raising, sobriety, temperance, or benevolence the brunt of hurtful jokes and cutting comments. All sober godly effort is met with flippant and inappropriate jesting. Often he takes one person in gathering and singles him out out to be made the brunt of sarcasm and scorn (Eph. 5:4; Prov. 26:18).
It is a common thing to demonstrate suppressed anger by saying and doing hateful cutting things, and when hurt is registered to reply, "I wasn't serious! I meant no harm! Surely you did not take me seriously?!" God's reply is "Yes." God takes every word we say seriously, for it is out of the mouth that the abundance of the heart springeth. We will be judged by our every idle word. "As a madman who casteth coals, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor and with, Am I not in sport" (Prov. 26:18, 19)?
Truth Magazine XXI: 31, pp. 486-488