Anger is a problem for so many people. There are some who burn hotter than others, and it does not take much to set them off. We all have flaws, but anger is one that clearly makes its presence known. It is interesting to note how the Scriptures talk about anger. One of the qualifications of an elder is “…not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent…” (Titus 1:7). Also Jesus warned about the dangers of the temper: “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” (Matthew 5:22). But there is a passage which seems to contradict these warnings. “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The first clause about being angry is actually a quote from Psalm 4:4. What does it mean then for us to be angry, but not to be angry to the point of sin? Is this a bible contradiction? I do not believe so if properly understood.
The context in Psalm 4:4, which was the quotation used by Paul in Ephesians, is a condemnation for a rebellious and hard-hearted nation David reflected in Psalm 4 about needing mercy in a generation of people who turned the glory of God to shame. What was the emotional response David felt when he thought about this? Anger. But I do not believe this is the anger which led him to be in sin, but what we have coined “righteous anger”. When you begin to think of it, often God is said to have anger towards His fallen creation. A quick search of the Old Testament alone for God being angry reveals over 200 times when the bible records His wrath.
So what are we to determine then? How can we be angry but not be sinning by having this anger? A passage that may lead us to understanding is Mark 3:1-6. In this passage Jesus is going to heal a man with a withered hand, but He is going to do it on the Sabbath. The Jews were offended by this because they were unsure if it was permissible for Him to do it if it was considered a “work”. We know that Jesus did no sin (Hebrews 4:15), so it was not sinful, but the Jews still were unsure. Notice what Mark 3:5 says: “And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch our your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.” Notice that our Lord had the same reaction as David when he saw the hardness of the hearts of His generation: anger. This is also seen in the two occasions that He cast out the money changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12ff; John 2:15). Because Jesus’ heart was not full of anger for an unrighteous reason, we must conclude, allowed Him to feel the righteous anger of the Lord in a sinless way. It is comforting to know that the feeling that we experience, especially anger, Our God, David, and Jesus all felt and allowed us to learn from their examples.
Let us resolve to study this issue further and begin to examine our own hearts to understand if our anger is righteous or unrighteous before the Lord.