It’s a common teaching in Christian circles today to advice people to go ahead and be angry. Be angry and sin not, we say, quoting Ephesians 4:26. This is a big mistake.
Be Angry and Sin Not
What does the Bible mean with these words?
Paul is not exhorting us to get angry, as if this is anger were a good motivator or energy for positive action. (This is the kind of thing that many Psychologists and “pop psychologists” in in our culture today teach.) The context of Ephesians 4:25-32 is exactly the opposite! Paul is saying when you feel angry, don’t act on it! Don’t hold onto anger and don’t let it motivate you because it easily leads to unwholesome talk and other sins. It gives the devil a foothold in your life. It grieves the Holy Spirit. It harms you and others. Instead of getting angry at people Paul teaches us to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
An honest reading of the Bible’s wisdom on anger would never come away with this advice! The consistent counsel in Scripture about anger is to be careful with it and to set it aside.
We like to think that there is “righteous anger” and “unrighteous anger.” Then we go on to describe the difference. Years ago, I’m afraid that I taught this myself. But think about this practically. Whenever you or I are angry we believe it is righteous anger! It is only later that we may realize that our anger was ungodly.
The other reason why we may think it good, or at least permissible, to go ahead and “be angry” is that we see many examples of God’s anger in the Bible, including from Jesus. But the Lord is the Judge — we need him to arbitrate amongst us. Furthermore, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) so it is safe for him to be angry. Whenever God is angry he is not being mean or selfish, but doing what is most loving for the people concerned.
If we interpret a given Scripture in a way that suggests that God is being mean to someone we are interpreting it wrong, we are failing to understand something important that is in God’s heart toward that person or group of people and others who are connected.
Be Angry and Sin Not — Some Truth
There is an important truth that people are trying to express by when they quote the Scripture Be angry and sin not. (The most damaging false teachings are half-truths. Satan, the Deceiver, gets a lot of power over people in this way.)
Many people have a problem with denying their emotions. Perhaps they internalize anger, converting it into self-condemnation, depression, and shame. Or they stay in their heads all the time, detached from all emotion, just keeping busy so as not to be overwhelmed with feelings that are vulnerable or unruly. People who internalize anger are prone to be taken advantage of by other people, even abused by the anger of other people.
Denying angry emotions is not good or helpful. Many times in psychotherapy we have worked with people who have been denying their anger for decades. They grew up in a home where they were punished for feeling angry. Or they saw anger damage people. So when they feel angry they keep shoving it back inside. They implode with anger and it harms them. Usually, they also explode with their anger at times, or react to their anger in other ways that are unkind.
Internalizers need help getting in touch with their angry emotions and expressing them in a safe place. They need to learn to accept their value as a person, how to trust someone who can care for them, and how to set boundaries. They need to learn how to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Teachings from the Bible on Anger
(All verses are from the NIV84 unless noted otherwise.)
Be slow to anger (feel and think before you respond)
“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
“A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated.” (Proverbs 14:17)
Don’t repress or rage (one leads to the other)
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
Deal with anger before it leads you into sin
“I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22)
“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry… Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:26, 29 31-32)
Don’t project your faults onto others
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged… Why do you look at the spec of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye… First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Overlook others’ angry insults
“A wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults. This is too his credit.” (Proverbs 19:11, LB)
Entrust your angry feelings to God
“Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me.” (Psalm 35:1)
“Surely God is my help… Let evil recoil on those who slander me.” (Psalm 54:5)
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
“Perhaps you are bringing your gift to God at his altar. There you remember that your brother has something against you. If so, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go to your brother and make things right with him. Then come and give your gift to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Anger should be tempered by compassion
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.’” (Exodus 34:6)
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)
Respond to others’ anger with gentleness
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh answer stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Confront in love, not anger
“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:17-18)
“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into… Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)
Be motivated by love, not anger
“He went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath… He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” (Mark 3:1-2, 5)
“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’ The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” (Matthew 21:12-14)
Do good to your enemies
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-18, 20-21)
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
More Soul Shepherding
Let me guide you on the path to bring your pain, anger, and needs to Jesus Christ at his cross. Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross is my 68-page booklet that’s filled with engaging stories, Scripture meditations on suffering of Christ, and prayers to enliven your heart to God’s unfailing love for you.