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Q&A: Is anger sinful?

If anger is a sin, how do we explain Jesus overturning tables and driving the money changers outside the temple?

Anger is a human emotion. When Paul quotes the psalmist in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin,” the implication is that it is possible to be angry without sinning. Anger itself is not a sin, but the Bible warns that it can lead to sin. After asking Cain why he was angry, God warned him that sin “desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

The examples of Jesus driving out the money changers (John 2:13-25; Matthew 21:12,13; Mark 11:15-18) are classic examples of Jesus’ anger, but interestingly the word anger is not used in any of the accounts. Instead, John records the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17; see Psalm 69:9). No doubt, the context gives ample evidence that Jesus was angry. However, the fact that Jesus was zealous for God’s house and honor helps us understand what makes righteous anger different from sinful anger. To understand whether anger is sinful, we must understand the motivation or why someone is angry, because anything rooted in selfishness is sin.

Jesus had righteous anger

Jesus was perfect, even in his anger. When you consider what makes Jesus angry, you love him even more because it reveals his heart. Why was Jesus angry with the money changers and sellers? The people needed to buy sacrifices for the temple offerings and the correct currency to buy them. However, the high priest, Annas, had moved those changers and sellers from the streets into the Court of the Gentiles. This was the one place where Gentiles could worship, and instead of being a place of prayer, it now looked more like a party! Jesus was angry because he loved the Gentiles too!

The Bible gives other examples of Jesus’ anger. Mark 3:5 tells us that Jesus was angry with the people trying to trap him because those with hard hearts would miss out on his saving work. Mark 10:14 tells us that Jesus was indignant with the disciples because they were trying to keep little children from seeing him. John 11:33 tells us that Jesus was deeply moved and troubled because of death and its effects. Life was never supposed to be this way! Jesus had righteous anger. He was angry about what makes God angry. It comes from love for God and others. Righteous anger is grieved more than it is enraged.

Be careful claiming righteous anger

As stated previously, seeing what makes Jesus angry makes you love him more. However, seeing what makes me angry will often give you a peek into my selfishness. A professor once said that we are all narcissists, but some of us are better at covering it up than others. He was not offering a clinical diagnosis but simply indicating that the natural condition of our heart is “turned in on itself,” as Luther would say.

When the world rejects God’s Word, when people hurt others, or when we are sinned against, our anger may seem righteous. And it may be righteous! What determines righteous anger, though, is our motivation. Often our anger comes from hurt pride, being inconvenienced, a feeling of superiority, or a desire for revenge. We may think our anger is righteous, but “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

One of God’s attributes is that he is “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). God’s people will do well to imitate that quality. “Everyone should be . . . slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19,20).

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Q&A Bible study open bible 2023 Dave Scharf

Avoiding anger

Since anger is a human emotion, it’s difficult to avoid all anger. As sinful human beings, the task becomes all the more insurmountable!

Sinful anger

When we’re angry with someone, it’s helpful to stop and evaluate why we are angry. Are we angry because it angers God, or is it for selfish reasons? Often we are angry because we personally feel wronged and selfishly want justice. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44,45). In addition to it being God’s will, praying for those who anger you has a practical purpose: It is difficult to be angry at someone you are praying for!

Read Matthew 5:22 and Ephesians 4:26–5:1.

What makes anger sinful?

What are the effects of sinful anger in a person’s life?

Think of a time when you felt righteously angry. Was it righteous anger?

Good anger versus bad anger

Our actions are not good in and of themselves. Motivation is the key. There must be the proper motivation for something to be considered good. If someone chooses not to murder someone, certainly that is a good thing. But without proper motivation, it is not a good work. If the only reason someone does not murder is for fear of punishment (the result of the law serving as a curb), then that person’s action is not pleasing in God’s eyes. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The same is true when it comes to anger. There must be the proper motivation, that is, love for God and others.

Below is a list of instances that might make someone angry. What motivation could lead this anger to be righteous anger and how might it be sinful anger? Explain how to manage anger in each situation.

  • A person rejects the gospel
  • Your child disobeys your rules
  • A friend is living in sin
  • Your example (from the last question)

Changing the focus

What should we do if we find ourselves angry at someone? Change the focus. Vengeance is not up to us. God says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Romans 12:19). What a relief! We can let God handle situations in the way he knows is best. God tells us to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21) and think about higher things (Philippians 4:6-8). In other words, change the focus.

Read Romans 12:19-21 and Philippians 4:6-8.

Think of a situation you or someone you know is dealing with where anger is an issue. Consider practical ways to put the apostle Paul’s encouragements from these verses into practice.

Author: David Scharf
Volume 110, Number 6
Issue: June 2023

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This entry is part 2 of 66 in the series question-answer

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