When is anger appropriate and when is it sinful?


I've been pondering this for some time, and I'd like to hear your thoughts.  When, if ever, should we be angry, and if there is such a time, what should we do with that anger?  I know that feeling angry is not necessarily a sin (Eph. 4).  And I know that God and other righteous people (e.g. Moses in Ex. 32) are described as being angry at times. But I also know the Bible has an awful lot of warnings against anger, against being angry or acting out of anger. On the other hand, I don't know of any passage that clearly says "Here's when you should be angry, or here are good reasons to be angry, and here's how you should use anger." Maybe there are principles like that that we should apply from the examples of God, et al, being angry. So on one hand, the Bible teaches not be angry, and the other hand says it's not a sin in and of itself, and shows God and other righteous men being.  What am I to learn, how do I fit it all together? I just don't have the wisdom, at this point, to tell.  Any insights?


Taken by themselves, feelings or emotions are neither right nor wrong. Yet, a good portion of the world allow their feelings to determine their course of action.

Let me give a mild example: I got up extra early and worked hard today, so I feel tired. Nothing wrong with that. But if I let that feeling run my life, I might declare that I don't feel like going to Bible study tonight because I'm tired. Now we have a problem because I let my feelings decide what is the right or wrong course of action to take. Feelings used in this way are temperamental. I can feel just as tired tomorrow, but I'll still go to work. Why? Because I know that if I don't, I'll lose my job. "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" (II Thessalonians 3:10). Reason trumps feelings. That is what too many people don't realize: feelings don't make a wrong action into something right.

Anger isn't an action, it is a feeling and a motivator that spurs action. Often the passages that warn against anger are warnings about letting the feeling dictate your actions. But that isn't really any different than, say the warnings against passion. There is nothing wrong with a husband feeling passionate about his wife, but we have a world full of people who follow their passion and wind up committing sexual sins.

Anger is divided into two types. Generally, "anger" translates the Greek word orge which refers to the quick-tempered violently displayed anger. "Wrath" translates the Greek word thumos which refers to the anger that build ups internally like a kettle building steam. Unfortunately, many English translations are a bit free with switching between "anger" and "wrath" in translating these words. Anger, like passion, is an emotion that needs tight control because it can easily get out of hand.

What is wrong when people allow their quick-tempers to dictate their actions? The problem here is that the person doesn't take time to think. "A quick-tempered man acts foolishly" (Proverbs 14:17). Often too, in anger people don't stop to consider the impact of their words. "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Thus, a quick-tempered man abounds in sinful actions. "An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression" (Proverbs 29:22).

This, God tells us to slow down our tendency to get angry. "Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). We need time to think and consider what we do. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

Usually a quick-tempered man explodes, but loses his anger just as fast. The wrathful man builds up his anger and doesn't let it go. "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret -- it only causes harm" (Psalms 37:8). The slow building, internalized anger is harmful because the person doesn't seek a resolution to the problem, he only looks for further reasons to become even more angry. Because he doesn't let go of his anger, he isn't able to forgive. As Jesus warned, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15). Not only will he not forgive, but the constant dwelling on his anger will eventually lead to sinful actions. Therefore, Paul advises, ""Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27). It is easy to get angry; it is a sign of character to control it. "The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11).

As an emotion, anger is an appropriate response to some things. Throughout the Scriptures, we always find God angry at sin (II Kings 22:13; John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:8; Ephesians 5:6; I Thessalonians 2:16). Jesus showed anger at the sin of the money changers (John 2:13-17). Such anger never led to uncontrolled or sinful responses.

A good example would be that of a parent. There isn't anything wrong with a parent being angry that his child disobeyed. That anger should not dictate the response to the disobedience, but the fact that the emotion is present isn't wrong by itself. The unfortunate thing is that some parents don't respond to disobedience until they have an emotional response, and when they do they tend to punish beyond reason.

Notice that the verses advising being slow to anger never say "never get angry." "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32). It is a matter of self-control, of whether you allow your emotions to rule or your reason. Elders must be people who are not soon angered (Titus 1:7). Moses appropriately became angry over Israel's sins (Exodus 32:19; Leviticus 10:16). Nehemiah was angered at the mistreatment of brethren (Nehemiah 5:6). But the responses were reasoned, the anger was merely the emotional reaction to the situation.

When you start to explain that you took certain action because you were angry, then your anger is being used inappropriately. It is dictating your actions instead of your reason. When anger is seen as a side issue to the real problem, then it is more likely being used appropriately. For example, you see a child being harmed, it angered you, and you stopped the situation. You aren't acting just because you are angry; your anger is the appropriate emotional response to seeing an innocent person being harmed. The action to the situation would be viewed as reasonable whether you had the emotional feeling or not.