Have you ever been so angry that you didn’t know how to handle yourself? I’d like to say that I always keep my cool – that I never lose my temper. But that would be a lie. To say that this week has been a test of my “self-control abilities” would be an understatement. Without discussing all of the details, I had every reason to be mad. Most would probably tell me that my anger was justified and that raising my voice in disapproval would have been appropriate in my circumstance. So why do I feel so badly about it all?
The truth is that I didn’t necessarily handle things incorrectly. I didn’t fly off the handle. I didn’t resort to name-calling or belittling. Most would say I handled things fairly well. But I don’t feel that way. Why you ask? Because inside, I could feel the anger. I was honestly so angry that I thought I would burst at any moment. I don’t like feeling this way. But it did inspire me to start thinking about anger. How should I handle my anger as a Christian? Is it even okay to be this angry in the first place?
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold… 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. – Ephesians 4:26-27, 29-31 (NIV)
Anger opens a door to the enemy. He can and will try to use our anger against us. Anger has the ability to destroy relationships, burn bridges, and sabotage our Christian witness. We represent our King, and when we resort to anger, we often find ourselves misrepresenting Him.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)
Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that anger is “subject to judgement.” In fact, He goes as far as to compare it to murder. Now this may sound extremely harsh, but Jesus was simply trying to convey the importance of the heart. The term “Raca” is a Aramaic term that closely resembles our modern-day word “idiot.” The anger Jesus is talking about in this passage is the kind that belittles – the type of anger that is merciless and hateful.
I do believe there is another type of anger – righteous anger. The very fact that Ephesians 4:26 tells us to not sin in our anger tells us that it’s possible to be angry and not sin. In fact, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was angry. Remember the temple incident? He overturned tables in His anger against the sin that was taking place.
Jesus was angry, but it was different. He defined what it means to experience righteous anger.
You see, it wasn’t the people who made Him angry; rather it was sin and the works of the enemy. His anger was always accompanied with a heart of compassion. Mark 3:5 proves this fact by saying: “[Jesus] looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.”
Perhaps the heart of Jesus explains it all best; He experienced anger accompanied with sadness and compassion. It was never directed towards a person; rather it was directed towards sin, lies, and deception. If I’m being honest, I don’t usually feel compassion in my anger. In fact, the type of anger I experienced this week lacked compassion altogether. I was mad and frustrated, and I lashed out at the people around me.
Righteous anger should lead to change and righteous living. What I experienced was the anger of man. And the anger of man never leads to righteousness. (James 1:20)
So here I am, picking myself up, dusting myself off, and choosing to move forward. And I wholeheartedly pray that God will continue to teach me what it means to live a life of love, mercy, and forgiveness.