Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ~ Ephesians 4:26-27
Anger. Everyone has been guilty of entertaining this potentially hostile emotion. We have all experienced it in some form or fashion. But what is it really? Is there ever a time when anger is the correct response to a situation? Are the feelings of anger we have at times justified? If my anger is wrong, then how can I avoid being or becoming the “angry” person that the book of Proverbs speaks so forcefully about?
Well, to answer these questions, we must understand anger. I agree with Robert Jones when he states that “anger is an emotion which is a response of our whole person of a negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” In other words, anger is our emotional response (either inwardly or outwardly) against something we feel has violated our rights. It is our attempt to literally balance the scales of justice against the situation or person who has infringed upon our rights and/or privileges. The key to this is understanding when our anger truly is or is not justified. I state this because at the moment something happens and our anger is aroused, we feel like our anger is justified and right. This is why Paul admonishes the believers in Rome when he states:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:17-21
Anger is that emotion which desires to avenge ourselves. Why does he state this? Because anger is a judgment against something or someone. Again, it is the emotion that moves us to balance the scales of justice. But justice belongs to the Lord, not us. We may genuinely be wronged, but we are not accountable for what is done to us, we ARE accountable for our response.
So, now that we have a better understanding of what anger is; where does it come from? This is where the subject becomes difficult. We will say that someone or something “caused” us to get angry, and it may feel that way; but Jesus was very clear in diagnosing the root of anger. He states in Mark 7:20-23:
And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Did you catch that? All our emotions spring from our hearts. While an event or person can reveal our anger, they cannot cause it to originate. Scripture deals with anger, not as merely a negative emotion, but as a sin issue. It is a matter of the heart. We may pass it off as something we can “just deal with” but Scripture shows that the true nature of anger is murderous at its root.
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” ~ Genesis 4:6-7
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. ~ 1st John 3:15
“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. ~ Matthew 5:21-22
In the simplest sense of things, we get angry when we don’t get what we want. If something doesn’t go our way (or the way we think it should) we get angry. When we feel our rights have been violated, we get angry. If our happiness depends on us getting our way, then will live rather miserable lives! Anger (at least most of it) is nothing short of self-idolatry. We must begin to ask ourselves “What am I desiring more than Christ?” Truly, what is the determinate factor(s) you or I must have to satisfy us? It may be one thing, or it could be several; but the fact remains that the people of God must begin to search their hearts and determine what is causing the roots of bitterness to take hold. Only then, can we begin to slay the serpent of anger that is taking up residence in many of our hearts. Can you honestly look into your heart and say that anger’s venom is not poisoning some relationship? If it is, then begin to root out that murderous emotion today. It is not enough to manage your anger, you must find the desire of your own heart and begin to own it as sin.
When you feel the treacherous dragon of anger stirring in your heart, the first thing you must do is find your idol. James 4:1-4 teaches us that our wars originate from our desires. You must determine what your desire is and realize that you are wanting it more than Christ. The believer must find their satisfaction in Him alone. Isaiah 55:1-2 counsels us to see the vast riches that the Lord offers in comparison for things that will not and cannot satisfy us. This is the first step we take when we go back to the cross. Take the counsel of the Lord:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28
Be on the lookout for part two on the issue of anger.