Everyone has his pet peeve; mine is the answering machine. I have a minute to make a quick call. The people are not there, but I’m in luck — they have an answering machine. The machine says, “Sorry we’re not here to take your call, but if you’d leave a brief message, we’d be happy to get back to you.” Right? Isn’t that what they all say? So I get ready for my brief message. Then the music starts. First I hear “One Heart, One Hand” from West Side Story. Then comes “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” I’m about ready to hang up when the music stops. I thank them for the concert and try to leave my message — but I’ve been listening to so much music that I forget what I called for.
What gets to you? Maybe your boss is a jerk who puts you down. Or your neighbor’s son plays his music too loud. Or your relative insists on being the center of attention at each family gathering. Or your spouse embarrasses you in public with cutting remarks. Or your fellow church member has opposite ideas about the ministry you are involved in and is vocal about it. Or you’re on time and you wish others would be as courteous. Or you are real neat with your stuff and wish the other members of the household were as together as you. You have a right to be angry — and you are. But what are you going to do with it?
Will you stay angry until the responsible parties acknowledge their guilt? You may wait a long time. Will you stay angry until you feel you have sufficiently paid them back? Who got paid back? Will you get even by sharing their crime with someone else? Congratulations, you have just enlarged the problem. Will you fume inside because they have a problem with irresponsibility? If you get stomach ulcers, who is the irresponsible one? Will you explode at them because you can’t take the injustice any longer, thereby breaking off a relationship that wasn’t that good anyway, or making it difficult for them to acknowledge their blame? Not much got solved.
Anger is a subtle emotion. It is often veiled behind other emotions because we are afraid to acknowledge it. Perhaps we’ve been told it is wrong to get angry. Maybe we feel justified with our anger, but don’t know quite what to do. We certainly are are not able to confront the person who made us angry — good heavens, no. We’d rather keep our anger than do that.
We’d probably be healthier if we were the exploding kind; at least we’d know we were angry and we would blow off some pressure. But most angry people in the church are the passive kind. That is safer, or so we think. We still might get even, but in more acceptable ways than throwing a chair at a church council member or shouting at the top of our voice. We procrastinate, show up late, lower our performance, dress sloppy, obstruct progress, cut with humor, shut off, criticize to our understanding friends, or use other indirect methods of getting even.
At home some of us are freer about exploding. At church or work we are more devious or indirect. Anger is one of the hardest emotions for Christians to deal with because of the confusion regarding it; we don’t acknowledge we have it because we aren’t supposed to have it. So we call it something else, deceive ourselves, and tear apart the body of Christ with unloving responses to unloving actions. There’s got to be a better way — and there is.
The apostle Paul gives us some steps for getting good and angry when he writes, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
1. Be Angry.
My sister’s husband left her and his congregation for another woman. When her counselor asked, “What are you doing with your anger?” she replied, “I don’t have any.” What she meant was, “I’m not supposed to have any, so I am repressing it.” When I get upset at my wife and she says, “Well, don’t be so angry,” I sometimes respond (with much conviction), “I’M NOT ANGRY.” She may ask the question, “You’re not angry, are you?” as if anger were a terrible sin. I am learning to say, “Yes, because I wasn’t treated with respect.”
According to a newspaper article, “The average person feels some degree of anger or its lower-grade cousin, frustration, ten to fourteen times a day.” All the more reason to identify and accept it.
If anger were a sin, we had better tell God to count to ten and cool it because He gets angry every day. Ninety percent of the Scriptures dealing with anger are referring to God’s anger. Where God’s love is refused or God’s holiness mocked, God cannot remain indifferent. To do so would put Him beyond feeling; it would make Him impersonal rather than compassionate. The more you appreciate God’s love, the more you can respect His anger. And God’s love is just as true in the Old Testament as God’s anger is in the New. The Bible doesn’t apologize for the anger of its author.
The ability to be angry is a God-given emotion. Florence Nightingale was known for her anger against inadequate hospital care. William Carey was angered by the inhumane slave trade in Africa. The anger of Lincoln brought the Emancipation Proclamation. The anger of blacks riding in the back of the bus led to much-needed civil rights. Today, communities are rising up in anger over the violence caused by gangs and are seeking to do something about it. Positive anger can be motivation for dealing with personal and social wrongs. It can make civil wrongs into civil rights.
Parents need to rear their children in an environment in which they are free to express anger in appropriate ways without being demolished. People who grew up with the admonition “Don’t be angry” didn’t obey it; they just hid it. Repressed anger is the number one source of depression. The Bible says, “Be angry ….” It must be all right. So be angry, folks. (You are anyway.)
2. But Do Not Sin.
If God gets angry, then it can be godly to get angry. Jesus got angry, so it must be possible to be angry without sinning. The problem is that our anger often leads to sin. Anger is an emotion, a response to a threat — whether to our life, our character, our opinion, our property, our time. What we do after that emotional response of anger determines whether we sin or not. All too often we say or do something, and that’s when we get into trouble. God warned an angry Cain to get a hold on himself because sin was crouching at his door (Genesis 4:7).
The Bible reminds us that God is slow to anger. Not so with most of us. An unkind word can set us off in a moment. My wife and I are amazed at the piddly things we can argue over, all the while claiming our own rightness. If God were like us, we’d be ducking all the time.
Cain was angry with God but he took it out on his brother. Someone has said, “If you don’t talk it out, you’ll take it out.” Anger turned out leads to aggression. Anger turned in leads to depression. Jonah was depressed because God didn’t do it his way. He’s the passive-aggressive kind, the kind who often says, “I’m not angry, just hurt.”
Like fear, anger can be positive, but it often is not. It finds expression in cutting remarks, pouting, silence, withdrawal, or attack. Our age has been dubbed “the angry generation.” Unable to cope with life’s stresses, people are pulling out guns on the freeway. We have seen the bumper sticker, “Don’t get angry — get even.” Vindication is more socially acceptable than anger. Forgetting, procrastinating, being late, certain kinds of humor, or downgrading ourselves can each be a form of subtle retaliation.
Scripture acknowledges we will get angry, but we are encouraged to process it so we don’t sin.
3. Do Not Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger.
In other words, deal with your anger right away. Jesus said, “Make friends quickly with your accuser …” (Matthew 5:25). Paul said to put away anger. Anger neglected leads to bitterness, and bitterness is a sin.
One can have anger without sinning and anger without bitterness. Bitterness is anger gone to seed. Bitterness eats away at the soul like a cancer, affecting both the body and the spirit. Unprocessed anger is the cause of numerous health problems, the most common of which are headaches, colitis, stomach problems like ulcers, colds, and hypertension.
In None of These Diseases, Dr. McMillen writes, “The moment I start hating a man, I become his slave. I can’t enjoy my work anymore because he even controls my thoughts. My resentments produce too many stress hormones in my body and I become fatigued after only a few hours’ work…. The man I hate hounds me wherever I go…. When the waiter serves me porterhouse steak with french fries, asparagus, crisp salad, and strawberry shortcake smothered with ice cream, it might as well be stale bread and water. My teeth chew the food and I swallow it, but the man I hate will not permit me to enjoy it. The man I hate may be miles from my bedroom, but more cruel than any slave-driver. He whips my thoughts into such a frenzy that my innerspring mattress becomes a rack of torture.”
God asked Cain “Why are you angry?” so he would face up with his response and deal responsibly with it. Cain didn’t.
4. Give No Opportunity to the Devil.
Destructive emotions need to be dealt with, although this can be painful — even as the removal of a tumor from the body is both essential and painful.
When my car overheated on the way to the desert, I thought I could make it over the top of the hill and coast down. Paying $488 for blown head gaskets was a painful way to learn that I should have stopped and let the engine cool.
Damage to a piece of metal is one thing; damage to people is a far more costly thing. Anger not properly discharged leads to hostility. While anger is an emotional response, hostility is an ongoing attitude, one that endangers those who hold it as well as its object. Anger is energy; anger is a fire that burns within us. When we say, “That really burns me,” we are closer to the truth than we may realize.
Scripture urges us not to let the sun go down on our anger. In other words, catch your response before it turns to bitterness. A pastor friend compares it to manna. God told the Hebrews to collect enough manna for each day; what was left overnight turned sour on them. Likewise, unattended anger turns rotten and becomes the devil’s opportunity to poison us.
Clench your fist in the posture of bitter people. Even if the fist is not clenched, in anger the heart is. It blocks our ability to receive from God or to give to people. That is why James wrote, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger …. Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).
Bitter people need healing of the hurts — the cancerous growths — in their lives so they can receive God’s Word and live as whole people. Anger is a response. It is not a root problem. It is the result of hurt (physical or emotional), frustration, or fear. We need to get at the root cause of our anger and bring it to God for His healing. It may take days, weeks, or months (even my car wasn’t fixed in a day).
Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31).
You may wish to take these steps to get good and angry: (1) Acknowledge your anger; (2) Confess where it has turned to sin, acknowledging where you tend to brood over the inconsistencies of others; (3) Forgive those you are hostile with — God wants to free you from the tyranny of resentment; (4) Learn to stop, look and listen! Stop before you say something or try to retaliate; Look to see why you are angry; Listen for a better response than acting on your anger.

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