What is the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger?
Not all anger is wrong. In the Bible, we see anger attributed to Jesus and to God. This strong feeling is also legitimate for Christians, but only in a limited way.
We all know there are different types of anger. In the New Testament, three Greek words are used to describe this powerful emotion.
The first one, parorgismos, is anger accompanied by irritation, exasperation, or embitterment. This word is translated as “wrath” in Ephesians 4:26 when Paul said, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” This type of anger is forbidden in Scripture.
The second word, thumos, is a hot, turbulent anger that erupts into sudden outbursts and quickly cools. Its explosive nature is the cause of much sin, including murder. This, too, is prohibited in Scripture.
The third one, orge, is an abiding, settled habit of the mind that is aroused under certain conditions. This type of anger is a righteous indignation and therefore permissible. This is the type of anger used in relationship to Christ.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus expressed anger. One time was in the synagogue at Capernaum. It was the Sabbath, and much to the displeasure of the scribes and Pharisees there, Jesus intended to heal a man with a withered hand. Mark 3:5 says, “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.”
When you and I get angry, it shows—eyebrows knit together, eyelids narrow, jaws clench. All of us have a “look” of anger. While Mark does not describe Christ’s facial expression, His anger—a righteous zeal for the honor of God—was clearly obvious. But His anger was mingled with grief because, in their blindness and obstinacy, the scribes and Pharisees would not acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Instead, they misrepresented His kindnesses toward a sick man on the Sabbath; they saw it as evil.
Like the Lord’s righteous zeal, there are times when godly men and women must also rise up in moral indignation at the sin and iniquity that threatens each generation. Not doing so portrays an apathy or ignorance of mankind’s true condition. However, righteous anger does not become evil just to oppose evil. Abortion, for example, is sinful and wicked, but a person who harms an abortionist is not acting out of righteous anger.
In a conversation with Evangelist Billy Sunday, a lady confessed, “I have a temper, but it’s over quick.” The evangelist answered, “Yes, ma’am, so is the blast of a shotgun, and it destroys everything it hits.”
While anger against sin is permissible and, at times, demanded, when it comes to the personal wants and desires of believers, anger is not to be part of their make-up. If we allow our feelings to boil over into a turbulent commotion (thumos), we sin. And anger accompanied by irritation and embitterment (parorgismos) is also off limits for the child of God.
Nothing seems to set off anger quicker than hateful, malicious, or sarcastic words. Self is the cause of such heated exchanges, and these can quickly escalate into stronger anger—wrath. The Bible says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
Anger only stirs up more anger, which is why the apostle Paul wrote, “Be ye angry, and sin not” (Eph. 4:26) This verse doesn’t mean that believers will reach a spiritual place where anger is no longer a problem. The idea is for us not to sin. Anger, within itself, is not sin. It becomes sin when we either allow or will our anger to harm someone else. Sin is personal and divisive; by its very nature it disrupts and breaks personal relationships. When a person’s anger has this intention, or when it results in dividing Christian brother from brother, it is sin.
Who is God angry at?
Psalm 7:11 says that God is angry with the wicked every day. Why is that? Bible scholar Albert Barnes says, “This is a fearful truth in regard to the sinner; and both aspects of the truth here stated should make the sinner tremble: (a) that God is angry with him—that all His character, and all the principles of His government and law, are and must be arrayed against him; and (b) that in this respect there is to be no change; that if he continues to be wicked, as he is now, he will every day and always—this side the grave and beyond—find all the attributes of God engaged against him, and pledged to punish him. God has no attribute that can take part with sin or the sinner.”
There are also times when God gets angry at those He loves.
I Kings 11:9 says, “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice.”
There is no sadder picture in the Bible than that of Solomon’s fall. His extraordinary gift of wisdom did not save him from disobedience to the law of God. His neglect of that law and his loss of fellowship with God opened the door wide to every form of evil. Had he clung to the sacred Scriptures, how bright his life would have been. Instead, like so many in the church today, Solomon attempted to worship both the Lord, in some fashion, and idols.
Despite Solomon’s spiritual declension, the Lord, because of His nature, had to force Himself to be angry with Solomon. God loved him that much.
I Kings 11:10 goes on to say how God had told Solomon not to go after other gods, “but he kept not that which the LORD commanded.” So the anger of God followed by the judgment of God on Solomon’s life was not sudden. The Lord had dealt with him again and again regarding his sin. Countless believers have stood in Solomon’s shoes.
But praise God for Psalm 103:8, which says, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” When our repeated failures should make Him angry, they do not.
No matter what has happened, if the believer will humble himself and confess his wrongdoing, the Lord will discontinue His admonishment and cool His anger. God does not hold grudges, and neither should His children.
In Ephesians 4:31 Paul writes, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” Sinful anger can be “put away” when the believer puts his faith in the cross of Christ, keeps it there, and allows the Holy Spirit to work in his heart and life.