Too many Christians have an anger problem and they refuse to admit it.
If confronted about the issue, the angry Christian pulls out the prooftext of Jesus tossing the temple tables in Matthew 21:12-13 (depicted above). As if Jesus’ moment of righteous anger gives a pass to a consistent lifestyle.
Others may point to Ephesians 4:26 (“Be angry and do not sin.”) to point out that being angry in and of itself is not sinful. As if that strawman argument was even part of the discussion.
Those verses are almost always part of the discussion on “biblical anger,” but most don’t quote James 1:19-20.
My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
How easy is it to ignore that—to assume that God’s righteousness can be achieved by any means necessary?
Too often we seek to baptize our rage and treat our temper as sanctified, when in reality we are merely trying to find a biblical sounding excuse for being a jerk.
So how do you differentiate between man’s anger in James 1 and the ability to be angry without sin in Ephesians 4? I see three questions that we need to ask about each situation in which we feel anger rising in us.
I think we should treat each one as a gate that has to be passed through to before asking the next one. If the answer to only one is negative, then we should question whether or not our anger is biblical.
1. Is this a worthy cause?
Clearly, getting mad over a sports game or a reality TV show are off the table, but what about more serious issues? I don’t think it can simply be “serious.” I believe the matter must be of eternal consequences.
This past week, I became angry over both a basketball game and protection of the unborn. Only one of those is worth my anger. To say otherwise, demeans the more important issue.
Often times, we elevate personal grievances to issues of ultimate importance, when, in reality, it merely inconveniences us and is not something that will echo into eternity.
As a Christian, you have laid down your rights, so your anger should be reserved for something much more worthy. If the issue is one that can have an eternal impact, then we can proceed.
2. Am I keeping the other person in proper perspective?
Frequently, our anger may start off focused on an issue of eternal importance, but then subtly shift away to a person. At that point, it enters a dangerous area.
So often when our anger transitions toward a person, we lose sight of them as a person and merely treat them as a stand-in for the position we oppose.
In our mind, whether we realize it or not, they are no longer a person created in the image of God. They have become “the opposition.”
God has told us who our enemy is and it’s not each other. Never forget the other person is someone for whom Christ died. They are not deserving of your wrath, regardless of how stridently we disagree with them.
3. Am I in a pattern of anger?
Finally, we have to consider whether or not we are caught in a cycle of anger.
In some instances, the cause is worthy and we have kept our perspective on the issue and not a person, but we still may need to back away because this is just another of the frequent times we are angry.
It may be the case that you need to step away from this situation because you have been immersed in several other issues that stoked your anger.
Yes, you can always find something that is worth being angry over, but you should also be able to find something which can remind you of the joy you have in Christ.
Ask others who you trust to be loving, but truthful, “Am I angry too frequently? Do you think I need to relax some?”
It could be this issue is one where others may be able to contribute their passion to allow you to take a break.
Before you regard your anger as biblical ask yourself if the cause is worthy, your perspective is right, and your anger is infrequent. If those three things are clear, maybe you could be accomplishing God’s righteousness through your proper anger.
But if any of those things are questionable, you should reconsider allowing your anger to well up to the point where you toss tables yourself.