Anger: A Growth-Killing, Soul-Chilling Sin

by Dave Miller on December 3, 2013 · 20 comments

I am really angry about something.

No, it has nothing to do with anything here at SBC Voices or with any of my social media interactions. Those sometimes raise my blood pressure, but usually only for a moment. The specifics of my anger are unimportant and will remain secret. In general terms, some people I thought were my friends did something that hurt me pretty deeply and made me realize that they evidently did not share the respect I had for them. Sometimes, I will start stewing about this, and my blood pressure rises until I think it is going to boil over. I think about whether I should confront them and tell them exactly how I feel. I consider ways to make them pay for what they have done to me.

And then, I go and do something silly like decide to preach through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings. I get slapped hard in the face by Matthew 5:22!

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

There is a lot at work in this passage and I plan to deal with it in a brief series of posts. But the undeniable fact is that it is a serious thing to harbor anger and unforgiveness against others, especially against brothers and sisters in Christ.

And I am convinced from the 56 years I have been alive, and the 32 years I have been in full-time ministry, from the marriage counseling, from the relationship issues I’ve dealt with and other counseling that I have done, that anger is a huge problem among American Christians today. About 8 years ago, I got involved in blogging and I realized that the anger I had observed among the people of the churches I have served is also a problem among church leaders. We who frequent blogs often evidence short fuses, defensiveness, and a propensity to strike back against others. If you scratch the surface, you find that anger is a real issue in the hearts and lives of pastors.

Before I go any farther, let me confess that anger is a sin I struggle with. My purpose here is not to sit on high and issue judgment. If we are honest, just about every one of us will admit that this is a real problem.

This is a messed up world that provokes anger.  People are angry at their parents and at their children. Often, marriages are marked more by anger and bitterness rather than love and companionship. Of course, when marriages crumble, there is all too often a legacy of anger passed down to every member of the family. There are people in every church who have been abused in one form or another and this inevitably leads to anger. People are angry at their lot in life, that their dreams have not come true, that troubles have befallen them and that life has seemed unfair. It is a fallen world and life is hard. We are an overworked, sleep-deprived, rat-racing people, leaving us stressed out and angry.

This anger is exacerbated by friends who stand behind us telling us that we have every right to be angry and that we ought to make sure that the person who hurt us should pay for their deeds. “You have every right to be anger because of what that person did!” These well-meaning cheerleaders reinforce our anger and strengthen our resolve to hold on to it.

We defend our anger as “righteous indignation,” invoking Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees or his overturning of the money changers tables to justify how we feel and how we act. We tell ourselves we are “exposing sin” or shining the light into the darkness, but often we are doing little more than venting our deeply held anger.

The effects of the anger can be seen all around us. Anger splits churches and destroys ministries. It causes marriages to die and families to fall apart. It causes people to make foolish and self-destructive choices. It poisons our spirits.

But, and this is the part we need to hear, it also affects our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:22 makes that absolutely clear. Those who are angry are “liable to judgment” and those who demean others are “liable to the hell of fire.”  It is no small thing to harbor anger and bitterness!

Defining “Anger”

It is essential that we define the sin of anger. There are two words commonly translated anger in the Greek language. In Classical Greek there was a defined distinction between the words that is not as clear in Koine. But the classical meanings can help us understand the damaging effects of anger.

The first word (thume) more often referred to the emotion of anger, of losing your cool. Things happen and emotions rise up. It is not the emotion of anger to which Jesus referred. If you are human, you will feel anger frequently. It will happen at home. It will happen at church. Emotional anger is a constant reality in our lives.

I have been having a six month constant problem with a credit card account at a large online store. For some reason, every time I ordered something, the transaction would go through, but then be cancelled about five minutes later. Time after time I called them and they could not figure out how or why things were going wrong. My account was in good standing, but for some reason they would cancel every order. When I called, they would tell me that they would “file a report” and someone would get back to me within the next couple of days. They never fixed the problem and they never contacted me again. So, a couple of months ago I contacted them again. The lady came on the line and asked, “Who do I have the pleasure of serving today?” I answered, “I’m not sure you are going to find it to be a pleasure.” I was right. My anger roiled a little that night and after they promised to “file a report” again, I was not a happy customer.

That kind of anger is a normal part of life. I didn’t cuss the young lady out that night, but I’m sure my attitude and words did not uniformly honor God. But this kind of blood-boiling, temperature-rising kind of anger is dangerous, but it is not what is in view in Matthew 5.

The second word (orge) is more active. It is not just an emotion, but a choice, a decision to seek vengeance, to hold a grudge or to strike back at the source of your anger. We are talking here of acts of vengeance, not just emotions.

This word (orge) is used to describe the wrath of God. God doesn’t lose his cool or fly off the handle, but he does have an everlasting anger against sin. It offends him. And he has determined that he will punish sin. We give thanks that God poured out his wrath against our sin on Christ, but that does not alter the fact that God has a genuine wrath against all sin and rebellion. Those who refuse Christ’s payment for their sins face that eternal wrath at the end of life. His anger against sin leads him to action to punish that sin, as it deserves.

And that is his right as God! He is perfect and holy and just and he has the authority to punish sin. But you and I do not. That is a divine right. We cannot punish sin. We do not get to hold grudges and seek revenge.

Romans 12:19 makes that absolutely clear.

“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.’”

God has the right to balance the books and to seek vengeance against other peoples’ sins. You and I do not. Paul could not have been any clearer here, could he? “NEVER avenge yourselves.”

While we all may experience angry emotions, it is never okay for us to harbor that anger, strike back at the person against whom we are angry, hold grudges or seek any form of vengeance. Never!

Anger, Grudges and Unforgiveness is ALWAYS Sin!

This fact is proven by scripture after scripture. Permit me to simple copy a few of those, with minimal comment.

Matthew 5:44 cannot be more clear.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Romans 12 picks up this theme, in verses 17-21.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 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.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to pray,

“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

I wonder if people realize what they are praying. “Lord, forgive me in the same way I forgive those who sin against me.” Let’s be honest, most of us don’t want that, do we?

Is there any wiggle room in Matthew 6:14-15?

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

If you refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against you, you have no right to ask God to forgive you! And there are no qualifications there. “If you do not forgive (unless the sin is serious enough).” Sorry. The text is clear. And it is not alone.

There is Mark 11:25.

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

We cannot seek forgiveness we are not willing to pass along to others.

The parable of the Unmerciful Servant reinforces this point. In Matthew 18:34, Jesus speaks of the prison that the servant will be sent to because he refuses to forgive the other, then he ends with this warning in verse 35.

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I will finish with Ephesians 4:32.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Jesus Christ forgave sinners, those who did not deserve his mercy and could not earn his grace. He loved the unlovely, saved the unworthy and showed mercy to the undeserving. And Paul commands that we love others as God in Christ loved us.

My point is simple. Anger is a big deal. Striking back in vengeance is a big sin. It has serious consequences. In fact, I am convinced that it is this sin that is holding back Christians as much as any other. We have justified our anger and defended our refusal to forgive. In doing so, we have quenched the Spirit and prevented the experience of the blessings of God. If we want to walk in freedom and power, we must obey the Scriptures and forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us.

(NEXT TIME: I will examine Matthew 5:21-26 and identify some of the dangers of anger.)

1 Allen Calkins December 3, 2013 at 8:12 am

Unfortunately anger and the holiday season go hand in hand. A lot of anger people harbor is against family members for past ‘sins’ that may or may not have been as horrible or as serious as our memory of the event. Not seeing those folks during the year tends to keep that anger at bay. But knowing you are going to have to spend time with ‘them’ can put a person in a rather foul mood even though you really like turkey.

2 Dave Miller December 3, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Anger seems to be focused toward family the most, doesn’t it?

3 Dwight McKissic December 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

David,

Good word. After having preached on “Manasseh & Epharim: One Lesson from Two Sons,” —my wife reminded me that sermons on forgiveness or overcoming anger elicit a large response at our church. The Hebrew word “Manasseh” neans “cause to forget” or forgotten. The word “Epharim” means fruitful. In order to be fruitful and fulfil God’s plan and purposes for your life one must practice forgiveness as often as they are reminded about the offense they’ve experienced. Joseph named one son “forgotten or forgive” and his other son “fruitful or double fruit” so that he would be reminded to forgive the offense he experienced at the hands of his brothers at his fathers house, in order to be fruitful & productive with the remainder of his life.

Your message here brought to remembrance the sermon I preached last Sunday. Many people came to the altar to pray for the strength & grace to forgive someone else who’d offended them. Recognizing that until that’s done one’s own progress & future is somewhat hindered. Thanks again for the great message you’ve shared here on anger & forgiveness. It is much needed in today’s society.

Although I expected to read a post on accountability this morning related to those of us who signed up to be held accountable. I was blessed immensely by what I read. I weighed this morning ’bout 7:30am, 390.9 lbs. last month this time I reported as I recall 393 lbs. it nothing to brag about, but after Thanksgiving & a speaking/travel schedule that took me to 5 cities & 4 states, I am extremely grateful to gave lost 2 lbs between last month & December 3rd. The past three days, I’ve done the Daniel Diet & it works. I needed to report my weight today though because I’m determined to eat some leftover turkey today. If I waited & reported mt weight later & gained, I would have been angry with you or someone that you hadn’t call for the report-:). Therefore, I’ve killed three birds with one stone.(1) I hijacked your post with my sermon on forgiveness that I couldn’t resist sharing. (2) I commented on your post. (3) I’ve reported my weight and practiced accountability. Well, maybe 4. Stones. (4) I’m not angry that no one has called thus far for a weight report. Actually, I needed the extra couple if days(Dec. 3rd, as opposed to Dec.1) to report to make sure I’d lost the meager 2lbs that I lost. Thanks again.

4 Dave Miller December 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Yeah, I was going to do a post on fitness, probably tomorrow now.i honestly believe that forgiveness is one of the biggest issues in the lives of Christians today.

5 Debbie Kaufman December 3, 2013 at 11:43 am

I have thought so much on things you have said Dave. Here is no exception. Our recent conversation has been on my mind as well as I read the scripture you have given here and elsewhere.

Because of this I have let so much go and had to ask forgiveness in prayer for harboring so much. Thank you for standing by your convictions on this Dave. I thought about it long and hard. God has also allowed circumstances in my life that brought this even further for me. Scripture is clear and I can’t deny it.

6 Dave Miller December 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Amen. It is a constant struggle for us all.

7 Jim Pemberton December 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm

There is indeed a righteous anger that we must recognize if only for understanding that the anger we usually have isn’t it.

My wife has a good practice for controlling anger. When she feels angry, she shuts everyone off, shuts up and goes to be by herself until she cools off. Then she comes up with a plan for rationally dealing with the source of her anger and carries through with it. I’m not as good as she is at it, but far less things in this world make me angry. Maybe once a year or two I’ll get angry, explode like a popping zit, then seconds later be calm and sorry for popping.

8 Dave Miller December 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I agree that there is, rarely, a righteous anger.

I also assert that the percentage of what is claimed as righteous anger what actually is righteous anger is very small.

9 Adam G. in NC December 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I currently struggle with anger toward a former close friend. It just jumps on me and my only relief is prayer. It’s hard for me to hear this guy talk without me nearly exploding. I dont hate him at all, I just wish he was mute or forgot how to use facebook. Should I talk to him about it and run the risk of it getting blown out of proportion or should I remove myself as much as possible and keep praying? I dont know. It stinks.

10 Dave Miller December 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Hard to give advice without more details. But my suggestion would be that your best approach would be to deal with your own spirit before you confront.

11 Adam G. in NC December 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Thanks. I think I’ll just take it out on you guys. just kidding

12 Bob Cleveland December 4, 2013 at 12:44 am

Dave, let’s talk about this some time. I had a huge problem with anger, many years ago. I learned a couple things that completely solved the issue for me, and I’d be happy to relate the story to you some time when you got a few minutes.

13 Debbie Kaufman December 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Dave: I want to thank you again for this article. I have been in tears today and am letting the things I was angry about go. It’s painful and not easy, but worth it. I just wanted to say thank you again for letting God use you to change my life on something I didn’t want to let go of, swearing it was righteous. My love for Christ and those I formerly was so angry at is beginning to heighten. Thank you. I simply write this because I was publicly angry and should publicly write that this article changed that.

14 Dwight McKissic December 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Debbie,

My love, thoughts, & prayers are with you. Thanks for sharing your pain & healing. There is hardly anyone who cannot relate to what you’ve shared. Your openess helps us to process ours. Thanks for ministering to the rest of us.

15 Debbie Kaufman December 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Thank you Dwight. Coming from you that means a lot.

16 Greg Harvey December 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I want to affirm Dave’s presentation in its entirety. This is just good, solid, hard-won experience speaking to us.

My personal experience is that anger is an emotion that has many fathers. The most prominent father of my anger is my own pride and behind that pride the “dead” sin nature isn’t exactly retiring from the field of combat.

But there are other causes, too. One isn’t specifically “pride” as much as poorly articulated and negotiated expectations with others. And my own sense that I’m better at “doing things” than others sometimes are in reciprocation. I used to be very “Type A” and I’ve basically given up on all aspects of “Type A” treadmill behavior because it was, frankly, killing me and not doing a lot of good in my relationships to others. But I’m still not very good at this “expectations management” aspect.

So sometimes my anger is actually quite well founded and justified but it is justified for the wrong reasons: there isn’t an effective communication pattern with another person and instead of working to make it effective, I shortcut that process and go straight to using emotionality to “prove” how “hurt” I am by their behavior. It isn’t exactly an effective strategy, but I learned it from many of my elders including from missionaries on the field in Indonesia that practiced the same behavior with each other. I generally consider every single one of them (with ONE notable exception that I simply cannot give an opinion on due to his immoral and largely criminal behavior towards some of my MK friends…as I’ve discussed before) to be not only saved but even then quite saintly in their behavior especially compared to where I was at similar stages in my adult life.

There is no more enjoyment, in fact, that I can enjoy than still to sit in their presence and to be taught by them. It not only affirms very helpful and hopeful and positive memories of “being on mission” with my parents in my teen years, but they’re people with great hearts for others and they have always extended that love profusely to me. So please accept that I’m neither tattling on them nor condemning them when I say that I saw poor communication techniques and an improper reliance on emotionality to “communicate” and especially a reliance on anger and especially the kind that is of the “embarrassment” variety and therefore essentially pride-based (and therefore sinful.)

I mention this because I believe the vast majority of us live directly in the center of the points Dave has made and only a tiny minority avoid this condition. Which generally proves that our righteousness is more imputed than fully realized through sanctification in this current life. I personally am very satisfied with the thought that God is actively working to mature me and to sanctify me even if I’m nowhere close to actually being like Jesus.

And yet I feel a deep sense of responsibility to not sin and a sense of ability (not inability) to choose not to sin based on the text of Scripture. And yet I still do. It is extremely frustrating especially intellectually.

17 Tarheel December 4, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I guess it’d be inappropriate to be angry at the expositor/moderator that just danced a jig all over my feet with this post. ;-)

Seriously, this post is incredibly encouraging and timely for me too…Thanks, Mr. Miller.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: