The term “anger” is one that is very broadly used both in intensity and emphasis. Webster defines it as, “A strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong.” Anger is an emotion common to all of us, and one which most of us struggle to control as we should; and though many will divulge the notion that all anger is wrong, such is not the teaching of Scripture. However, there are various forms of anger and differing responses to anger seen in God’s Word. These can be broken down into 3 different categories.
Inappropriate anger. This particular type of anger is one where the emotion is disproportionate to the event that caused it. It is the type of anger that is evidenced by impatience, mishaps, accidents, or other such trivial occurrences. This kind of anger is one that is not just felt, but often evidenced physically by a lack of self-control in word or action and often leads to embarrassment and apologies by the perpetrator. This form of anger is one that is regarded with staunch disapproval in Scripture. Solomon related the wisdom, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:8-9). The individual who is quick to anger is lacking in self-control, and places their soul in a very dangerous place; for it is recorded in the Proverbs: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Pro. 25:28 ESV). When a man will not control his emotions and reactions he is like a defenseless city. Every enemy has the ability to destroy him because he has not taken care to protect himself. Again the writer proclaims, “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated” (Pro. 14:17). Those who are inappropriately angry will often say and do things that bring damage to themselves and those around them. This should not be an attribute of the servant of God.
Jealous anger. There are many kinds of jealousy mentioned in the Scriptures, and anger because of jealousy is one of the most common types of anger. The basic definition of “jealous” is that of “feeling resentment” and there are many reasons men feel resentment toward one another; the most frequent form of which stems from one having greater possessions, prestige, or recognition. This is an impure and unholy jealousy that breeds an unrighteous anger. Many examples of this occur in Scripture: from Cain and Abel, to Saul toward David, to Joseph’s brothers. Anger born of this type of jealousy deteriorates into hatred and rage which breeds sin every time, as evidenced in the prior examples. As Solomon stated, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming; but who can stand before jealousy?” (Pro. 27:4). Allowing this type of jealousy to be stirred into the mixture of anger and wrath (which are not the same thing), that which comes forth is neither pleasant nor righteous.
Righteous anger. This form of anger is one that comes because of the recognition of sin. It is the emotion felt when there has been a betrayal of people’s relationship with God, their vows to their spouse, or their responsibilities to their family. It is not an emotion that is based in unrighteous desires, nor does it come from baseless circumstances. This is the anger seen in the Old Testament by God toward the children of Israel; as they entered a covenant with him and then constantly broke their promises and went after idols like a married man going to a prostitute. This form of anger is not one that centers itself in the desire for revenge, or in the desire to harm another, but in the desire for righteousness and justice.
Anger because of unrighteous deeds does not make acceptable unrighteous actions on the part of the angry party. Paul wrote, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Though anger because of sin is acceptable and understandable, sin because of anger is not. Specifically, in this context, Paul is discussing lying. The argument he is making is that just because somebody has violated God’s Law and mistreated you, does not give you the right to mistreat them in return. Lies and other ways by which people get revenge on those who mistreat them are no more right than the sins initially perpetrated against them.
It is interesting to note that the only time Jesus is described as being angry is in Mark 3:5, because of the hardness of the hearts of the Jews. Yet he did not lash out at them in anger, but healed a man as proof of his point. The occasion when many accuse Jesus of anger, the cleansing of the temple from the moneychangers, bears no mention of anger in Jesus; just righteous judgment against those who had made that holy place “a den of thieves.”
As Ephesians 4:26 also denotes, we cannot allow anger and wrath to remain in us. As was previously mentioned, wrath and anger are not the same. Anger is the emotion of passionate displeasure at the situation, whereas wrath involves the desire to lash out in retaliation for the perceived wrong. It is not simply an emotion but an emotion that incorporates an action. We cannot retain anger and wrath inside us, because even if it stems from righteous sources it will fester and bring forth wickedness. Thus the reason why we are not to let the sun set while retaining our anger or wrath, we cannot let such emotions carry over and fester, therefore we must put them away from us, not embrace them (Eph. 4:31).
Anger is a natural emotion. It is one that is appropriate and acceptable in certain situations; but anger does not excuse unrighteous deeds, nor does it make allowances for inappropriate speech or retaliation. There are things that should kindle anger within us, but that anger must be tempered with self-control and respect for God’s Law. Therefore, our anger must not lead to desire for retaliation or vengeance, but justice with Godly judgment.