The Destructiveness of Sinful Anger

It is helpful to understand that anger is not intrinsically evil. Exodus 34:6 describes God as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger. God abounds in love and he is not quick to wrath, but He does get angry. Jesus is said to have been angry and grieved by hard-hearted religious leaders in Mark 3:5. Anger is an emotion that arises when good is threatened by evil, and for God it is always a righteous emotion. But for us anger can quickly turn sinful. Our fallen human nature distorts why we get angry, how we process that anger, and ultimately how we act out of it.

The human heart tends toward hostility without the ongoing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But even those in Christ are not immune from the temptation of sinful anger, which presents itself in various ways. For some, rage is displayed through screaming, grumbling, biting sarcasm, or even violence. But for others, rage is quietly displayed through a sulking that withdraws affection and shuts down from others emotionally. Regardless of how sinful anger presents itself, it ultimately produces works such as envy, gossip, hate, division, and even murder. These works have lasting and deep impact on individuals, families, and churches.

3 Ways Sinful Anger is Harmful

  1. It does harm to our intimacy with God. Jesus teaches that abiding in His love is what produces fruitfulness in the life of His followers; and that the pathway to their abiding is obedience to His commands (John 15). Sinful anger, however, produces much transgression (Proverbs 29:22). So when we constantly give in to anger, it is producing out of us the very works which prevent our abiding with Christ.
  2. It does harm to our personal relationships. By experience we know that sinful anger hurts families, friendships, churches, and workplaces. Volatile people create volatile environments (Proverbs 15:18) which leave lasting wounds.
  3. It does harm to our physical health. The bible teaches that a wholesome or composed heart is good for our health (Proverbs 14:29-30). While science shows prolonged anger can create physical problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety issues.

Sinful Anger is Completely Futile

As destructive as our distorted anger can be, it is absolutely useless in helping make right that which is wrong. James 1:20 teaches that the anger (literally violent passions) of man does not produce the righteousness of God (in this context, right behaviors). When faced with injustice, misunderstanding, attacks, or sin – our greatest need is that God will produce his righteous works in the situation. The resolution we need is not the one we can produce, but the one God provides. And no matter how angry we may get, we cannot produce this righteousness. Sinful anger is not helpful. It feeds our flesh momentarily, but then leaves in its wake frustration and bitterness.

James indicates that the opposite of relying on our anger to bring about change, is to humbly receive the words of Christ (1:21). We begin the process of putting away destructive and pointless anger – whether violent rage or silent withdraw – by looking to Jesus. Only He can repair people and restore where life has went wrong. Let us display our trust in Jesus, by asking for His help to avoid sinful anger and obey his helpful commands.

Relate to Each Other by Gospel Principles

I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Ephesians 3:9-11

This past Sunday during our time in the word, I made the comment that as parents we must be careful to reflect Gospel principles to our children, rather than the prevailing ideals of our culture. Worldly principles convey the message that a person must earn their merit; prove their worthiness to be accepted. The Gospel, in response, clearly communicates that God has displayed His love for His children through Jesus; and that by grace through faith we are accepted; we are made worthy – not because of our actions but because of His mercy. You and I do not earn our position before God; Christ earned it on our behalf. And so the message that we need to hear from our Heavenly Father (and the message that our children need to receive from us) is that while from time to time He may be displeased with our actions, He is never displeased with us. His pleasure with us is based on Christ in us, and therefore it does not ebb and flow. So we need to ‘gospel’ our children in this same way.

A subsequent conversation that I had with someone in our fellowship reminded me of what a foreign idea this is to all of us – myself included. It is difficult to wrap our mind around it, while at the same time difficult to live out. How do we gospel our children? And by extension, how do gospel each other? And – should I even use the word gospel as a verb? Well, while I am not entirely sure about that one, here is why I use it as a verb: I believe the bible very clearly instructs the people who make up the Church, to relate to one another by gospel principles. As Christian families, the very core of how we operate should be based on God’s word to us. And even more importantly, as the family of God we must listen and obey when Christ teaches us how to live with each other. And we have to know going in, this will require a molding of our will and our preferences. We may have to move away from our upbringing or even reject our sense of how things should be done. Because as we have already covered, gospel principles typically find themselves in direct opposition to worldly principles. And all of us have spent our lives being inundated by the values of the surrounding culture.

What do Gospel principles look like? Well they are found throughout the word, specifically in many of the NT letters to the churches. They are too numerous to mention all of them here and too deep to dive into with any great depth. But let’s remind ourselves of a few: We should value other people in the body more than even ourselves (Phil 2:3); We should submit to on another (Eph 5:21) and speak the word to one another, teaching and even admonishing (Col 3:16). Toward one another we are commanded to be patient, gentle, kind and compassionate (Col 3:12 – really take time to think through those words, so that the meaning is not lost). We should not insist on our own way (1 Cor 13:4), we should be devoted to each other and go out of our way to honor our brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10 – honor means to ‘treat as valuable’). We are to make allowance for each other’s faults and if we get offended – quickly forgive (Col 3:13). Even when personalities collide – we are to accept each other (Romans 15:7) and go out of our way to not quarrel over disputable matters (Romans 14:1). We are not to criticize each other (James 4:11), we should listen well (James 1:19), we should not gossip at any moment (2 Cor 12:20), but rather encourage and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).

I could go on (you all know I could) but you get the idea. Last question: What is our motivation to gospel one another? Paul gives us the answer in Ephesians: because God is building something among us – in the church – that is counter-cultural; an institution unlike any other that displays HIS wisdom, not the worlds. If we live together and relate to each other as the world does, then we do not display Christ but rather we display our culture. That is not our calling. So I urge us church, consider these words. Discuss these principles in your Gospel Communities. Consider – how do we live by Gospel principles in our families and our faith family. And strive for it – for the glory of Christ.