Far too often Christians have been left with the impression that anger is sinful.
As a child, when angry with your sibling, you were told:
- That’s not nice.
- Shame on you.
- You need to behave.
- You should feel that way about your sister.
So, you quickly learned three things:
- Good kids (Christians) don’t get angry.
- If you get angry, you won’t be loved.
- If you get angry, you’ll be punished.
So you’ve spent the rest of your life ignoring or swallowing your anger.
Because every time your craw got filled with unresolved anger, it eventually erupted and spewed all over some hapless victim — and it was usually some undeserving soul, oftentimes someone you loved.
Unfortunately, this cycle of swallowing your anger and spewing your anger became the norm.
The following scripture passage has a clear word to say about anger. Here’s what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians, Chapter 4:
“Be angry, but don’t sin.”
That’s right ... BE ANGRY ... Just don’t sin.
In other words, there’s nothing wrong with being angry, just don’t let it turn into sin. Why do you suppose Paul would suggest such a thing?
I think it’s because anger is a normal, predictable human emotion.
It lets us know we’ve been threatened in some way.
Unfortunately, we’ve confused cultural expectations with biblical expectations.
Our polite Southern culture says:
- Be friendly.
- Smile frequently.
- And Christians never get angry or agitated.
Therefore, we ignore it or deny it because we wouldn’t want to be accused of being “ugly.” But the Bible completely contradicts this cultural expectation. The Bible says:
- It’s normal to get angry.
- So, don’t stifle it or ignore it.
- Just be careful what you do with it, because it can lead to sin.
Friends, I’m not suggesting that we should forget about: kindness, politeness, friendly behavior or being caring or patient with one another.
And I’m not suggesting that we should fly off the handle, yell and scream at people, throw and break things, punch holes in the drywall or have what amounts to an adult temper tantrum.
What I am suggesting is this: Anger is a normal human emotion. Besides, surely you remember that Jesus expressed anger himself (Let’s not forget about his encounter with the dishonest temple merchants).
Anger gives us a clue that something is wrong — that we feel threatened in some way.
Here’s how it works.
Imagine going down an interstate highway and suddenly the 18-wheeler to your right starts moving into your lane because he wants to take the exit ramp on the left.
Therefore, you slam on the brake and end up on the shoulder of the highway to keep from being hit. It’s a good thing you were alert because you avoided the truck and the concrete median divider.
You can imagine the panic, can’t you?
Your heart is racing, your stomach is tied up in knots, and you break out in a cold sweat. And within those split seconds you began to feel two things: fear and anger.
According to the experts, here’s what actually happened.
The threat on your safety produced anxiety. It was your body’s way of getting primed to fight or to run away. It’s an internal warning system that lets you know that something is wrong. And the two feelings that you’ll naturally experience when placed under attack include fear and anger.
In the case of our hypothetical situation, it was fear of bodily injury, pain, suffering; and anger toward the driver either for his careless driving or deliberately risking an accident to reach an exit.
It’s important that we dig a little deeper in today’s scripture passage.
Paul recognizes that everyone will get angry. He’s simply concerned what they’ll do with it.
The Amplified New Testament says: “When angry, do not sin.”
- When someone hurls insults at you, you’re going to get angry.
- When someone steals your brand new lawn mower, you’re going to become angry.
- When someone hurts one of your loved-ones — either emotionally or physically — you’re going to be angry.
The question, of course, is what are you going to do about it?
The point that Paul is making is this: Once angry, don’t allow it to turn into something sinful.
You see, being angry is out of your control — when threatened, you WILL naturally feel anger, but what you do with that anger is well within your control.
Second, Paul shows us what mismanaged anger can lead to.
Paul makes no judgment about the fact that Christians will experience anger. He considers it normative. The point of these verses, however, is to admonish Christians not to sin when they are angry.
If you are wondering what “not to sin” means, Paul left nothing to our imagination. He says that if you ignore your anger or take inappropriate action with your anger, it can lead to such things as … bitterness, slander and malice (just to name a few).
The biblical way of dealing with anger (Matthew 18 makes this quite clear). It says…
- Speak to the offending person face-to-face
- And express your concerns or disappointment.
Don’t make things worse by telling others first. The first thing to do is talk with the offending person. Maybe an amicable solution can be reached.
And third, deal with your anger before bedtime.
- Don’t wait and allow your anger to simmer.
- Don’t wait, allowing your anger to turn into bitterness.
- Don’t wait so you can tell other people first.
Work out your differences with that person before bedtime so Satan can’t get a foothold into your heart.
Because given the opportunity, Satan will show you a dozen different ways to turn your anger ... into sin.
Friends, from a biblical perspective, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with anger — it’s a normal human emotion.
Feeling anger isn’t the issue. Everyone experiences anger from time to time. It’s what you do with it that truly matters.
Dr. Mark Bushor is pastor of Central Christian Church in Killeen.