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I recently made a mistake. It wasn’t the first time, of course, but this instance in particular was painful because it was public. Several people became alerted to my error and were forced to step in and help deal with the fallout. And I was angry.

I was angry because I was embarrassed. I had messed up, and other people saw it. I wanted to blame someone or something else. I wanted something to be angry at. But the truth is, I had made a mistake, and it was hard to be angry at myself or to apologize and confess to those who were affected. Sadness is hard. Guilt is hard. Embarrassment is hard. Anger oftentimes is easier.

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible on anger comes from the Sermon on the Mount:

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 will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:21–26)

Christ here expands on the sixth commandment against murder (Ex. 20:13), noting that it encompasses sins beyond mere murder but prohibits anger and insults as well. The Westminster Larger Catechism spells out these implications, including “sinful anger” among the sins forbidden by the sixth commandment (WLC 136). Note first that it is not anger in general that is forbidden but sinful anger. The implication is that anger in itself is not sinful. Paul indicates this as well when he writes, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).

We can see what nonsinful anger looks like when we consider God. God is slow to anger (Ex. 34:6), but there are plenty of examples in Scripture where He vents His anger. Romans 1:18 tells us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” This anger is a just, righteous anger, directed at people who have set themselves against their Creator. For this transgression, God gives them over to their sin, ultimately resulting in their eternal punishment.

The negative command not to murder implies a positive command to cultivate positive relationships.

The Lord Jesus, too, was angry at times. He drove the money-changers and merchants from the temple (John 2:13–17) and condemned the scribes and Pharisees for obeying their own traditions and overburdening the ordinary people (Matt. 23:1–36).

When we think of the evils of this world, it makes sense to be angry. Hundreds of thousands of babies are slaughtered in the womb every year. Rulers oppress their people. Reputations are ruined unjustly. People are abused, Christians are martyred, and children go hungry.

When injustice reigns, God is angry too. And we are right to be angry when God is angry. But there is a difference. God’s anger is always just and proportional. In this life, the flesh remains, and so we, even when we have been regenerated by the Spirit and are being sanctified by Him, are always in danger of having our anger get away from us and thus of perpetrating a greater evil than we have suffered.

The Westminster Larger Catechism points out this danger when it links “sinful anger” with “hatred, envy, [and] desire of revenge” (WLC 136). These related sins are prohibited because they often follow close on anger. Anger often does not exist alone, but, as desire gives birth to sin and sin brings forth death (James 1:15), anger goes on to produce more sins.

James tells us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (vv. 19–20). The “anger of man”—that is, sinful, fleshly anger—does not produce righteousness. It only begets more evil.

When we believe that our anger is righteous, we must check ourselves to make sure that we are not reacting in an illegitimate or disproportional way. And even if we are right to be angry, it is best ultimately to entrust the matter to the Lord, who is perfectly just and who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19).

But there is more to the sixth commandment. When God forbids something, He also enjoins its opposite. Christ helps us see this when He points to the need to be reconciled to our brother with whom we have a dispute (Matt. 5:23–26). The negative command not to murder implies a positive command to cultivate positive relationships.

This is helpful as we seek a way forward when we are angry. If someone has hurt us, we can do what we can to heal the breach. We can approach others with humility, apologizing for our transgressions as necessary. Paul tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

We must not forget also that our most important relationship is with the One who has made us and redeemed us. Anger is so egregious because it is an offense against His image bearers. When we sin against God’s image bearers, we sin against God. This ought not be. The Spirit who has applied salvation to us and who sanctifies us gives us strength to endure all things (Phil. 3:14). He allows us to remember how much we have offended our Creator and how much love and forbearance He has displayed toward us. The offenses we endure are trivial in comparison.

Let us remember the patience, righteousness, and mercy of God, trusting that He is working all things for the good of those who love Him and that He will accomplish all His good purposes in the end.

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From the November 2019 Issue
Nov 2019 Issue