Is anger really a "sin" or just something we all have to deal with? Does it lead to other areas of sin? How can we tell if we have a problem with this?
In the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:21-26), Jesus equates unjust anger with the breaking of the sixth commandment ("You shall not murder"). Jesus warns: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:22a). Though unjust anger is sin, there is also just anger or "righteous indignation." Jesus was often frustrated by the faithlessness of his disciples (e.g., Mark 9:19) and with zeal he overturned the tables of the money-changers in the temple (see John 2:13-17), but he never lapsed into sinfulness in this (Hebrews 4:15).
Paul gives some excellent guidance for expressing anger in Ephesians 4:26-27 when he wrote, "‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (cf. Psalm 4:4; 37:8). In Colossians 3:8 Paul admonishes: "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth." Among the "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21 Paul names "outbursts of anger" which are to be replaced in the believer’s life by "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Can anger lead to other areas of sin? Yes. It can lead to sin against the brethren (Matthew 5:21), against our children (see Ephesians 6:4), and to sub-Christian conduct (Colossians 3:8). At root it reflects a restless and sinful heart, and a lack of faith in God’s sovereign justice.
How do you know if you have a problem in this area? Here are some questions to ask:
- Do I often become angry at others without cause?
- Even if my anger comes from a just cause, do I speak the truth with a loving spirit?
- For parents: Are my children obedient in a healthy way or out of fear alone? Am I embittering them? (see Ephesians 6:4).
Do you struggle in this area? Read Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Pray daily and ask the Lord to grow this fruit in your life, speech, thought, attitude, and actions. If you have a serious problem, call on your Pastor and Christian friends for more detailed counsel and prayer.