“The angry man hath not himself.” - Joseph Hall
Of the alleged, deadly seven, it is the most justifiable, is it not? To seek out retribution for what has been lost. To make the guilty pay.
How delightful to lick our chops at the thought of giving someone what’s coming to them; even in the smallest circumstance, a slight affront in conversation. We roll possible scenarios over in our minds, letting sharp words and barbed truths hurl themselves at our aggressor, from out our mouths. Putting the villain in their place once and for all.
Hardly Christ-like, though, is it? Don’t misunderstand; Christ did get angry. So angry that He over-turned tables, threw benches (Matthew 21:11-13, Mark 11:14-16, John 2:14-16). He roundly rebuked those in need of it, His own disciples were not immune to His scolding (Matthew 16:22-24, Mark 8:32-34). However, Christ never exhibited purposeful plotting of revenge. He certainly warned people about the consequences of continuing in their present sin; He most assuredly told them where their path would lead them. But He did not plan retribution; He sought reconciliation. He wept for their eventual outcome. His heart broke for their deceived states; and He carried the weight of their choices to the cross and to His grave. Yet in His resurrection, even the most seasoned sinner has hope.
If Christ did not seek retribution, how then can we, as fallen, pitiful sinners?
Are we to ignore anger? Pretend it doesn’t exist, that it is a part of this life to which Christ-followers are immune? Is there truth in that? Of course not. In fact, Scripture tells us to “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV, emphasis mine). Be angry. That’s a command, second person imperative (e.g. the “you” preceding this sentence is implied).
So, according to this verse, I am to be angry for only a day, just so long as I’m not angry when I go to bed? That’s the God honoring way to deal with anger? Hardly.
The words “angry” and “anger” are two different words in the original Greek rendering. The first “angry” is orgizesthe, meaning “to provoke, to make angry.” This word is used in the passive voice, indicating that the action which causes anger is occurring outside of your person; it is happening to you, not caused by you. The second “anger” is parorgismō, meaning “irritation or wrath.” This is an internal entity, a noun in your possession, something you create or control.
Therefore, this Scripture is allowing me to feel anger, to become angry at something that happens outside of my control. However, I am sinning if I allow myself to harbor anger, keeping it in my heart. As Christ said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20, ESV).
An example of this would be if someone were to wrongly insult my character. Knowing that my character is being slandered, I am told by Scripture that I am to become angry at this affront. However, mentally blasting the person responsible for this wound is a sin; to replay scenario after scenario over in my mind, point out all their faults, their “plank-eye” characteristics, is not Christ-like.
It’s holding anger in my heart that’s erroneous. Making up the guest bed and letting it move in, that’s where the danger lies. Because all too quickly anger rots, metamorphosing into bitterness. Bitterness becomes the poison that taints everything else. It is a poison which slowly kills joy. And where bitterness is rooted in the heart, the enemy has permission to move in. When we allow anger to fester, to feed bitterness, we hand the enemy property rights to a piece of our heart. And where he is allowed to camp, he will defile.
So what do we do with the anger that we are told by Scripture to experience (Ephesians 4:26)? Hand it over to the Lord; surrender it immediately, lest you surrender part of your heart to the enemy’s desires.
Greek transliterations and definitions taken from www.Biblos.com and www.e-sword.net.