Be Ye Angry

What is righteous anger? If there is such a thing, wouldn’t it imply that a less passionate, passive response would be inappropriate? In other words, wouldn’t it mean there are times when it’s a sin to not be angry? If anger is the righteous response, wouldn’t any other response be unrighteous to some degree?

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees’ hardness of heart (Mk 3:5), and He certainly acted as if He was angry when He cleansed the temple. (Jn 2:13-17) Was Jesus setting an example (1Jn 2:6), or acting as God in ways we shouldn’t emulate?

The Gospel of John

Was Nehemiah right to be angry with the rulers and nobles of Israel for charging interest and bankrupting their brethren? (Ne 5:6-7) or to threaten merchants for showing up on Sabbath? (13:21)

Was Moses righteously angry with Israel for worshipping the golden calf? (Ex 32:19) or with Aaron’s sons for failing to carry out their priestly duties? (Le 10:16-17)

Anger is an emotion given us by God, so we should expect situations when we ought to act in it; He tells us, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” (Ep 4:26) The emotion instantly energizes us to intervene and deter and/or stop evil, so anger can serve to protect ourselves and others from malevolence. The problem is that we often over-react in anger and do more harm than good. We should ask ourselves, as God asks Jonah: “Doest thou well to be angry?(Jon 4:4) What does righteous anger look like?

Firstly, it must be done with love (1Co 16:4); rooted and grounded in love. (Ep 3:17) Is concern for others motivating my anger? (Php 3:18) Would a lack of anger expose indifference? Does anger move me to action which is ultimately benevolent and edifying? (Ro 14:19)

Secondly, is it self-controlled, using minimal necessary force? (Tit 3:2) Am I being sober, thoughtful, prayerful and deliberate in my actions? (1Pe 5:8) Am I asking God for wisdom, strength and discernment? (Ec 7:9) Is it needful? Is there any way to achieve my goal more peaceably? (1Co 4:21) Does my anger promptly subside once the threat is past? (Ep 4:26b)

Thirdly, is my heart free of pride, condescension, strife, vengeance (Ro 12:19), arrogance and malice of any kind? (Ep 4:31) Am I being humble, esteeming others better than myself? (Php 2:3)

The bar is certainly high; I expect most anger won’t pass the test. All too often, our anger is born of selfishness and pride, and doesn’t work the righteousness of God. (Ja 1:19-20)

However, if we have reasonable cause to be angry (Mt 5:22a), inaction may be worse than getting it partly wrong: we may be compelled to act instinctively, do the best we can, and let God sort it out. It’s certainly wise to continually exercise ourselves in holiness, preparing ourselves so we might stand uprightly in the evil day. (Ep 6:13)

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4 thoughts on “Be Ye Angry”

  1. The initial motivation for this post lies in a significant difference between the ancient Greek manuscripts: two older copies omit a key word in Christ’s teaching on anger, a word which is present in the vast majority of manuscripts: εἰκῇ, translated “without a cause”. Consequently, many modern versions (e.g. ESV, NIV, NASB, etc.) define all anger as sinful, equating it with murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (omitting without a cause here) will be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22, ESV)

    This error is evidently devastating to the spiritual mindset, promoting passivity and apathy in the face of malevolence, as well as creating inconsistency with verses such as: “Be angry and do not sin” (Ep 4:26, ESV), causing confusion, doubt and distrust in the Word.

  2. Christ’s anger during His ministry appears to me to be exemplary, passing the above tests: He was not vengeful; He was surgical (not harming the animals or people in the temple), using minimal necessary force, self-controlled, submitted to the Father, and benevolent (concern for the people’s ability to worship and pray undistracted in the temple). Any other response in each situation would have been unrighteous. His concern for others and His Father’s glory is evidently what drove Him. We ought to walk as He walked. (1Jn 2:6)

  3. Tim,

    Excellent, thought provoking. Even with “weak” translations we understand that it takes all of scripture to understand any scripture. Seems we all know there is a time to be angry, and yet we do not trust our own anger as we have seen it close up, and it def. is not always correct. Agree with you, there are times our lack of anger is sin and it would be better to be imperfectly angry. 🙂 Are we not imperfectly loving, yet we still see that as a goal.

    The prophet Jeremiah from 3:12-13

    Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.

    Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord.


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