Question: "What does the Bible say about anger?"
Answer: Handling anger is an important topic. One experienced counselor stated that 50% of the people who came in for counseling had problems with dealing with their anger. Anger can shatter communication and tear apart relationships and ruins both the joy and health of many. And most often people tend to justify their anger instead of accepting responsibility for it.
First of all, anger is not always sin. God is angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5), and believers are commanded to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words are used in the New Testament for our English word “anger.” One (orge) means “passion, energy;” the other (thumos) means “agitated, boiling.” Webster defines anger as “excessive emotion, passion aroused by a sense of injury or wrong;” this injury may be to us or to someone else. Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of biblical uses of anger include Paul confronting Peter because of his wrong example in Galatians 2:11-14, David being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12), and Jesus getting angry over how some of the Jews had defiled the Gentiles’ place of worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). I remember years back a former pastor of mine getting upset and speaking to a civic group that was teaching youngsters to play poker (gamble) in the hall of a mall.
But anger turns to sin when it is selfishly motivated (James 1:20), when God’s goal is distorted (1 Corinthians 10:31), or when anger is allowed to linger (Ephesians 4:26-27). Instead of using the energy generated by anger to attack the problem at hand, one attacks the person instead. Ephesians 4:15, 19 say we are to speak the truth in love and to use our words to build up others, and not to allow rotten or destructive words to pour from our lips. Unfortunately, this poisonous speech is a common characteristic of fallen man (Romans 3:13-14). Anger becomes sin when it is allowed to boil over without restraint, resulting in a “sawed-off shotgun” consequence in which everyone in earshot is hurt (Proverbs 29:11), leaving devastation in its wake...often with irreparable consequences. Anger also becomes sin when one clams up (Ephesians 4:26-27), doing the “slow burn.” This causes one to become depressed and irritable and fly off the handle over any little thing, often things unrelated to the underlying problem. One can properly handle anger by:
1) recognizing and admitting one’s selfish anger and wrong handling of anger as sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). This confession should be both to God and to those who have been hurt by our anger. Nor should one minimize that sin by calling it “getting a little hot the other day” or by blame-shifting: “well if you wouldn’t have acted the way you did...”
2) Seeing God in the trial. This is especially important when people have done something to offend YOU specifically. James 1:2-4; Romans 8:28-29; and Genesis 50:20 all point to the fact that God is sovereign and in complete control over EVERY circumstance and person that enters your path. NOTHING happens to you that He does not cause or allow. And as all of these verses share, God is a GOOD God (Psalm 145:8,9,17) and does and allows all things in your life for your good and the good of others! Reflecting on this truth to the point of where it moves from our heads to our hearts will alter how we react to those who hurt us deeply.
3) Make room for God’s wrath. This is especially important in cases of injustices, especially when done by “evil” men to “innocent” people. Genesis 50:19 and Romans 12:19 both share that we should not play God. God is righteous and just, and we can trust Him who knows all and sees all to do justly (Genesis 18:25).
4) Do not return evil for good (Genesis 50:21; Romans 12:21). This is key to altering our anger into love. As one’s actions flow from one’s heart, so also one’s heart can be altered by one’s actions (Matthew 5:43-48)...that is, one can change one‘s feelings toward another by changing how one chooses to act toward that person.
5) Communicate to solve the problem. There are four basic rules of communication shared in Ephesians 4:15,25-32:
a) Be honest and speak (Ephesians 4:15,25). People can’t read our minds, but speak the truth IN LOVE.
b) Stay current (Ephesians 4:26-27). Don’t “sand bag,” letting the list of what is bothering you build up until the “dam busts” and you lose your temper. Dealing with and sharing what is bothering you before it gets to that point is important. Keep a short list!
c) Attack the problem, not the person (Ephesians 4:29,31). Along this line, one must keep in mind the importance of keeping the volume of one’s voice low (Proverbs 15:1). Yelling is usually a form of attack toward the person.
d) Act, don’t react (Ephesians 4:31-32). Because of our fallen nature, our “knee-jerk” reflex, our first impulse is usually a sinful one (verse 31). The time spent in counting to ten should be used to reflect upon the godly way to respond (verse 32) and to remind yourself how anger is to be used to solve problems not create bigger ones.
6) Lastly you must act to solve your part of the problem (Acts 12:18). You cannot control how others act or respond, but you can make changes that need to be made on your part. Overcoming one’s temper is not something that is usually accomplished overnight. But with reliance upon God through prayer for help, Bible study, and reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit, it can be overcome. As one has allowed anger to become entrenched in one’s life by habitual practice, one must also practice responding correctly until it too becomes a habit replacing the old ways. Here are some Proverbs that deal with the topic of anger:
6:34 - ...jealousy enrages a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance.
14:17 - A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil device is hated.
14:29 - He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.
15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
15:18 - A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention.
16:14 - The wrath of a king is as messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it.
16:32 - He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
19:11 - A man's discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
19:19 - A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.
21:14 - A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.
22:24,25 - Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself.
24:17,18 - Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and He turn away His anger from him.
27:4 - Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?
29:8 - Scorners set a city aflame, but wise men turn away anger.
29:22 - An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.
20:33 - For the churning of milk produces butter, and pressing the nose brings forth blood; so the churning of anger produces strife.