May 8, 2014 Broadcast

How to Deal with Anger

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Anger is an emotion we are all intimately familiar with. But is it ever okay for a Christian to be angry, or is anger intrinsically sinful? In this lesson Dr. R.C. Sproul looks at this question from a biblical perspective and provides clear, practical advice for dealing with our anger in a God-honoring manner.

From the series: Dealing with Difficult Problems

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Be Angry, Do Not Sin

  2. article

    Killing Anger

  3. devotional

    Dealing with Anger

Be Angry, Do Not Sin

Today we will examine one of the most important passages in Scripture on Christians and anger. The life of Jesus has shown us that being angry, in itself, is not evil. Ephesians 4:25–32 takes this idea a step further. Paul tells us not only that we are permitted to be angry, he also says there are times when we must be angry.

That the Lord would command us to be angry at times is understandable when we consider biblical ethics. In the same letter Paul summarizes what we need to know about Christian virtues by telling us to be “imitators of God” (5:1). Our Father in heaven can only be perfectly holy if He gets angry when His righteous standards are violated (Deut. 32:4; Isa. 6:3). If we are to imitate Him, we too must get mad at those things that make God angry. We must grow incensed when we see the weak and helpless exploited, because the Lord’s wrath is kindled against the oppressor (Ex. 22:21–24). Hypocrisy in our lives and in the church must disturb us because of Jesus’ anger at those who honor Him with their lips only (Matt. 15:8; 23).

Yet we are imperfect, and while we must sometimes get angry, we must also take care that we do not sin in our anger (Eph. 4:26). Every time we are mad, we should check ourselves to see if we are upset at the things God hates. Otherwise we may be angry without just cause and give opportunity to the Devil (v. 27). Anger is the emotion most prone to sinful abuse, and this is why Paul also tells us to put anger away in this same passage (v. 31). This is not a contradiction of verse 26, Paul is only recognizing that our anger, even if it is godly at first, is too often perverted into feelings of malice instead of a longing to see offenders repent. When this happens, we are in danger of giving root to the bitterness that destroys (Heb. 12:15). 

Finally, though evil should anger us, we are not always to pour wrath on others. Jesus castigated the Pharisees because of their hard hearts (Matt. 23), but He was kind and gentle to the adulterous woman because she was humble and contrite (John 7:53–8:11). We cannot condone sin, but we must also imitate our Savior and seek to restore the repentant in lieu of showing the full brunt of our wrath.

Killing Anger

John Piper

In marriage, anger rivals lust as a killer. My guess is that anger is a worse enemy than lust. It also destroys other kinds of camaraderie. Some people have more anger than they think, because it has disguises. When willpower hinders rage, anger smolders beneath the surface, and the teeth of the soul grind with frustration. It can come out in tears that look more like hurt. But the heart has learned that this may be the only way to hurt back.

It may come out as silence because we have resolved not to fight. It may show up in picky criticism and relentless correction. It may strike out at people who have nothing to do with its origin. It will often feel warranted by the wrongness of the cause. After all, Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5), and Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).

However, good anger among fallen people is rare. That’s why James says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). And Paul says, “Men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Tim. 2:8), and, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31).

Therefore, one of the greatest battles of life is the battle to “put away anger,” not just control its expressions. To help you fight this battle, here are nine biblical weapons.

First, ponder the rights of Christ to be angry, but then how He endured the cross, as an example of long-suffering: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

Second, ponder how much you have been forgiven and how much mercy you have been shown. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32)

Third, ponder your own sinfulness and take the beam out of your own eye: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3–5).

Fourth, think about how you do not want to give place to the Devil, because harbored anger is the one thing the Bible explicitly says opens a door and invites him in: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26–27).

Fifth, ponder the folly of your own self-immolation, that is, numerous detrimental effects of anger to the one who is angry — some spiritual, some mental, some physical, and some relational: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Prov. 3:7–8)

Sixth, confess your sin of anger to some trusted friend, as well as to the offender, if possible. This is a great healing act: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Seventh, let your anger be the key to unlock the dungeons of pride and self-pity in your heart and replace them with love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).

Eighth, remember that God is going to work it all for your good as you trust in His future grace. Your offender is even doing you good, if you will respond with love: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).

Ninth, remember that God will vindicate your just cause and settle all accounts better than you could. Either your offender will pay in hell or Christ has paid for him. Your payback would be double jeopardy or an offence to the cross: “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’” (Rom. 12:19). “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting his cause to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

May we kill our anger, and fight for joy and love each day.

Dealing with Anger

A wise man once compared the human personality to a minefield. “Some people,” he said, “have relatively few mines and interacting with them does not often provoke anger. Others have mines lined up side-by-side from one end of the field to the other, and it does not take much to push them over the edge into a fiery rage.”

All of us have mines buried in our personalities. Some of us respond calmly to most situations that upset us. But others among us explode with anger at the slightest provocation. The degree to which irritation is tolerated varies from person to person, and though we have seen there are times when our anger is righteous, we often express it unrighteously.

The Greek philosopher Socrates saw a direct correlation between right behavior and right understanding. For example, if someone understands courage properly, he will be courageous. Socrates can be faulted for missing the affective or emotional dimension to our behavior, but he was correct to see a link between our thoughts and actions, and, we might add, our minds and feelings as well. As Scripture teaches, “as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 NKJV).

Taking this rational approach in mind, there are several practical steps we can take to avoid sinning when we are angry. First, we need to recognize that all anger is rooted in some kind of pain, be it physical or emotional. Typically we move from pain to anger and often this anger only intensifies. Joe’s thoughtless comment may hurt Mary’s feelings, and thus she responds in anger. Joe is hurt by her anger and gets mad himself, causing her to become more indignant, and so on. But this cycle can be stopped if we pause to consider what makes us mad. We can also look for what is hurting the other person and address the pain so that anger does not become destructive.

Second, we can take care not to let the pain caused by others make us fractious with our families. If we have had a bad day at work, for example, we should do our best not to bring it home with us. If we have a short temper with our families because of problems elsewhere, we have sinfully expressed our anger.

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