by Pastor Al Cage
Anger is a complicated emotion that is often readily displayed but difficult to understand. Yet, God intended anger to be used by believers for His glory and their good. After all, the Bible clearly teaches, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 5:22). This simple phrase frames the wonderful opportunity presented for believers to use anger to honor God.
In a fallen world, sinners are easily disposed to display anger in ways that dishonor God and harm others. To change this narrative, it is imperative to examine what the bible teaches on anger. With straightforward clarity, the Apostle Paul breaks the anger mandate down into two components: a) “be” angry; and b) do not sin. Paul’s exhortation is unnervingly clear in its meaning, yet it presents a slippery slope that is difficult to navigate in practice. Nevertheless, faithful obedience is required regardless of the difficult challenges inherent with complying to this mandate.
To assist in addressing the “Anger Mandate”, a good place to start is by addressing the “be angry” component. Noted biblical author and seminary professor Robert Jones helps us to understand biblically what anger is by declaring,
“Anger in Scripture conveys emotion, spanning the spectrum from red-hot rage to icy-blue rejection. But it always involves beliefs and motives, perceptions and desires. And the Bible describes it in behavioral terms that are rich and graphic. Yet the Bible does not slice the pie into neat analytic categories. Anger is more than mere emotion, volition, cognition, or behavior. Scripture resists simplistic schemes. Anger is complex. It comprises the whole person and encompasses our whole package of beliefs, feelings, actions, and desires.”
Jones accurately points that anger unfailingly engages the whole person. Failing to recognize this feeds the tendency to compartmentalize anger as a means to control it. Unfortunately, using this approach to manage anger often results in the script being flipped—instead of anger being controlled, it becomes the controller. Under this scenario, anger manifests itself on one hand as a highly volatile eruption, i.e. “red-hot rage”, or on the other hand, it is displayed as cold-blooded indifference, i.e. “icy-blue rejection”. The entire spectrum that is framed by these extremes is highly destructive and destroys the use of anger as a gift from God.
Now, let’s be clear, God intended for anger to spring out of strong intensity. That is exactly what Jesus modeled when he tossed the money changers from the temple (Matt. 21:12-17). Whenever God’s standards are violated, righteous indignation is appropriate. That is the essence of “be angry”. When God’s standards are set aside for any reason a whole person response is required. But—and this is the important consideration—the righteous display of anger must always spring only from a violation of God’s standards. The latitude to “be angry” is very restrictive, and to stray from what angers God is to sin. In other words, “don’t be angry” over anything that would NOT anger God.
So, if there is a clear mandate to “be angry”, what should “do not sin” look like? David Powlison, a well-respected Biblical Counselor, offers this helpful insight on the issue,
“It’s hard to do anger right. Your struggle with anger (and mine) will last a lifetime, but it can go somewhere good. We can learn to deal with anger differently. This book is not about “solving” anger problems. That word “solve” suggests that we can arrive. Give us some answers, change some behaviors, and—just like that—no more problems. It suggests that bad anger is simply a bad habit. But anger is not a problem to solve. It’s a human capacity—like sex, happiness, and sorrow. It is a complex human response to a complex world. And like all human capacities and responses, it sometimes works well, but too often goes bad. Anger creates problems. But having and expressing the right kind of anger in the right way is a good goal.”
The ”Anger Mandate” requires us to not suppress anger, but rather to express it in a Godly manner. First, distinguishing what kind of anger is boiling up inside (righteous – a violation of God’s standard; or unrighteous – a violation of your standard), the stage is set for what should occur next. That expression may come through biblical discipline (Heb. 12:5-11). At other times, grace and mercy should dominate (Eph. 4:31,32). If the anger is unrighteous, do whatever it takes to dissipate the emotion. Start by examining what is truly driving the anger, and if required, change an ungodly standard to align with biblical principles.
If anger results from violation of a biblical mandate, it is always best to proceed with caution. Begin by asking the Lord for wisdom (James 1:5). Next, remember that you are not immune from falling to the same kind of struggle (Gal. 6:7-10). Consider if ignoring the issue would be the better approach (Prov. 19:11). Finally, if displaying anger is best, do so with a spirit of love (Col. 3:13-23). Always consider if the Lord would be better served by moving on and dissipating your anger.
Anger gets a bad rap and justifiably so. Too often believers ignore the fact that anger is a gift from God to be used to serve his purposes over our own. Are you able to “be angry and sin not”? If there is any wavering at all to answering this question with a resounding “YES”, be very careful. To dish out unrighteous anger is a great way for God’s indignation to fall on you. And for that to occur, whatever perceived benefit you falsely thought you might receive by unleashing your unrighteous anger, anger is just not worth it.
 Jones, Robert D., Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem (P&R Publishing, Kindle Locations 159-164).
 Powlison, David. Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness (New Growth Press. Kindle Edition).