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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

Truth About Anger

Updated: 4 days ago

Matthew 5:21-26 says:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."


Everything we read about imperative law going forward in Christ's sermon is over and against what the Pharisees had taught. Remember, legalism is being an actuary with obedience to God. It deals with maximums and minimums. Liberalism does the exact same thing. Jesus takes the maximum here, and turns it on its head to include the minimum. He’s saying “Murder? Let’s back up to the beginning of murder in your heart!” Remember, sanctification is a heart issue.

Jesus was saying “Pharisees want to talk about external violence, but I want to talk about internal rage. That is where the real sin begins!”



What Really Is Anger?


Anger begins as an emotion that becomes a way of acting and reacting that vents a self-justified volatility towards one’s self, other people and one’s surroundings in general.


There is a difference between reacting and responding. Reacting looks explosive, volatile, destructive and out of control. Reacting looks like a vindictive vendetta, even when exercised quietly. Responding looks like a measured answer born of moral principle. The difference between reacting and responding is what we do with our anger.

Psalm 37:8 says, "Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil." Proverbs 14:17 echoes this, saying, "A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated."


What Is The Source Of Anger?


There are four attitudes that give rise to anger:

  1. Upward anger (against God) comes from self entitlement, dissatisfaction and malcontent. Much of our consistent anger is a perspective problem because of an authority issue. We don’t like what God has allowed in our life. It is really hard to keep a sweet spirit when we are bitter and angry at God. If we feel like God has short-changed us, we will short-change the world in our frustration.

  2. Outward anger (against others) comes from pride, arrogance and insecurity. This struggle with anger is a struggle with control. We want the world to be framed with us at the center. Others only exist to validate our feelings, desires and aspirations. If we have upward anger towards God, we will also always have outward anger towards others.

  3. Downward anger (against myself) comes from unresolved trauma and bitterness that we continue to press down in our hearts. I use the phrase “downward anger” because this type of anger tends to push our problems downward and compress them until they eventually explode and cause much more damage. If it doesn’t eventually explode and release, it will do great emotional and spiritual damage that can even cause physical damage to our bodies as well.

  4. Inward anger (about me) comes from greed, covetousness, jealousy and lust. Most people don’t realize that these types of struggles manifest as anger much if not most of the time. I have met so many angry men who struggled with lustful pornography addictions that were difficult to control and resulted in rage. When we evaluate our inner peace by looking at what others possess, it only makes us more unhappy, and the result, more often than not, is anger because of our dissatisfaction.


Types Of Anger


Narcissistic anger is born of self-centeredness, self-focus and selfishness. Narcissism twists every relationship around to make me the hero deserving of praise, support and control.

If I am not validated in what I do, say and believe, then I will show my teeth of rage as I seek to destroy every obstacle through manipulation, gas-lighting, slander and deceit.


Narrative anger is born of rumination on conflicts unresolved and assumptions made without evidence which gives rise to a victim mentality. Narrative anger comes from a small seed of truth that has been encased in self-deception. What usually happens is that we feel something negative, and instead of seeking truth, we look for validation that will qualify and justify those negative feelings. The narrative of being a victim is running rampant in our culture. If I am a victim, then I am justified in my rage-filled attitudes and behaviors. If we feel victimized, we seek to justify our victimization of others. The narrative we have built of being a victim, gives us license to exercise violence. Narrative anger can start with a very small misunderstanding such as a lack of attention or insensitive comment and eventually become an explosive response of pent-up frustration.


Nuclear anger is reactionary anger born of unresolved stress, fatigue and other metaphysical issues such as hunger, pain, etc. This type of anger can be a natural result of external circumstances or common physical issues. The word “hangry” exists for a reason.

This is the real key to understanding anger that doesn’t turn into sin, or being angry without sin. I’ll touch more on this shortly. What we need to understand about nuclear anger is that no matter where it comes from, it will not help us to act out on it. Feelings aren’t truth, they just help us to know we need to evaluate our current status and experiences according to truth. Feelings should not be validated until they are first evaluated! If I am tired or hungry, I may not be in a good place to handle a conflict. If I am short-tempered, there may not be as many issues right now as I perceive; I may just be hungry or dehydrated. We must learn to ask more questions about our feelings rather than just validating them and acting on them. Proverbs 29:11 offers great wisdom on this: "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back."


Feelings should not be validated until they are first evaluated.

The Touch Of Anger


Jesus addressed three aspects of our lives that are affected by anger: relationship, worship and conflict. How does anger affect relationships? He says in Matthew 5:21-22:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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."

Anger primarily affects how we view and treat others. With God, anger brings the same judgment as murder, because anger is the root source of murder. With our community, being a critical and insulting person brings judgment from our community. Being a person who is openly caustic shows the truth about our soul’s eternal destiny.


How does anger affect worship? Jesus continues in verses 23-24:

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

Anger hinders our ability to sincerely worship. This is true because embracing the Gospel melts hardened anger. When we reflect on Christ’s attributes, we model those attributes, including forgiveness, love, kindness, sincerity, etc. 1 John teaches that loving God means loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ’s love within us makes us naturally affectionate toward one another.


Finally, how does anger affect human conflicts? Jesus closes this idea with these words in verses 25-26:

"Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny."

Anger gives rise to stubbornness that becomes our undoing. Context is everything here! The concept that Jesus is teaching here is not about not utilizing the justice system with another church member. What Jesus is communicating is that if we would work hard to not be so angry that we turn stubborn, we might be able to have a better and more open opportunity to resolve conflicts in a healthy constructive way without a judge! Jesus is hinting that when someone gets so caught up in their own anger they will turn unreasonable and spiteful, even with someone who is justified in asking for payment. Proverbs 19:11 says it this way:

"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense."


Be Angry; Don't Sin


In Ephesians 4, Paul says this in verses 25-27:

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil."

The question then becomes, can we truly be angry without sinning?


The answer is, it is not possible to exercise anger without sin. The reason this is the case is because we are sinful human beings who have not earned the right to be justifiably angry. We have sinned against God, so we cannot harbor righteous anger. Jesus is the only human to walk the earth who could harbor righteous anger, because He was sinless and justified as a justice giver. He exercised this ability when He cleansed the temple, a story you can read in all four Gospel accounts. We can, however, feel anger and not allow it to proceed to sinfulness. This is really important to the discussion of how to handle triggered emotions. Again, feelings should not be validated until they are first evaluated!


Does this verse imply that all conflicts must be resolved in a day? No! This verse is about anger. It means that we need to address both our feelings and behaviors in real time instead of burying them to grow into whole trees of wickedness. This may mean making something right with someone. It may mean giving feelings of hurt to Jesus. It might mean confronting an issue with someone. The key is, did we bury the issue or acknowledge the issue and form an action plan in our lives?


We can feel anger and not allow it to proceed to sinfulness.

Emulating Christ With Our Words


Paul continues in verses 29-32:

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

The root of the word for corrupting (or unwholesome) is the word "sepo", which is also the root for the idea of septic or sepsis. It means that something, namely words in this context, are so rotten and putrid that they are contaminating everything and anything they come into contact with. Does your speech infect the atmosphere with sinful thoughts? This grieves the Holy Spirit of God!


Paul gave a list of septic communications: bitterness, wrath (violence), anger, clamor (rude or abrasive), slander and malice (the desire to injure or destroy) cause a septic environment. Paul also gave a list of communications that emulate Jesus Christ: kindness, tenderheartedness (feeling compassionate towards), forgiveness all communicate Christ’s heart. What Paul really wants us to understand is God’s attitude toward us. God is not angry at us when we have received Christ as our Savior. Through Christ, God exercises kindness. Through Christ, God has a tender heart for us. Through Christ, God forgives us. Through Christ, we are to love people the same way that God loves us.

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