Excerpted with permission from "The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way."

Is anger a sin?

As simple as this may sound, some Christians have difficulty with anger. All their lifetime they have been taught that anger is sin. Thus, to admit that they are angry is to admit that they are sinning. But this is not a biblical perspective on anger...the experience of anger is not sinful. It is a part of our humanity and reflects the anger experienced by God Himself. Paul stated it clearly when he said, "In your anger do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). The challenge is not "Don't get angry," but the challenge is not to sin when we are angry.

How Jesus handled anger

On one occasion, Jesus began to teach His disciples that He was going to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and that He would be killed, and after three days He would rise again. The Scriptures record the reaction of one disciple: "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him" (Mark 8:32). Why did Peter rebuke Jesus? Because in his mind, what Jesus was saying was wrong. This is not the way you establish a kingdom. And certainly my master is not going to be killed. Perhaps Peter thought Jesus was depressed, but he certainly didn't agree with what Jesus was saying, so he privately rebuked Him.

In response, "Jesus turned and looked at his disciples." Then "he rebuked Peter. 'Get behind me, Satan!' he said. 'You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men'" (Mark 8:33). Jesus knew that Peter misunderstood reality; that in fact he was speaking the words of Satan. In brief, Peter was wrong, and Jesus clearly confronted him with his wrong. On another occasion, Jesus rebuked James and John for their hostile attitude toward the unbelieving Samaritans. They suggested, "'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?' But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village" (Luke 9:54-56). Clearly, their attitude was wrong, and Jesus brought the matter to their attention.

Rebuke is not verbal abuse. Rebuke is laying a matter before a brother whom you perceive to have wronged you. Such a rebuke needs to be done kindly and firmly, recognizing that there is always a possibility that we have misunderstood the brother's words or actions as Peter misunderstood the words of Jesus regarding the Savior's approaching death. I often suggest that people write their rebuke before trying to speak it. It may go something like this: "I've got something that has been bothering me. In fact, I guess I would have to say I'm feeling angry. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the situation, but when you have an opportunity, I'd like to talk with you about it."

Such a statement reveals where you are, openly reveals your anger, and requests an opportunity to process it with the person involved. You have acknowledged up front that your perception may be imperfect, but at any rate, you want to get the issue resolved. Few people will not respond with an opportunity to talk about it if you approach them in such a manner. If given the opportunity, lay before them your perception of what you heard or saw or think to be true and ask if you are understanding the situation correctly. This gives the person an opportunity to share with you information that you may not be aware of or to explain his motives in what he did or said or to clearly admit to you that what he did was wrong and to ask your forgiveness.

In this context of open communication, each trying to understand the other, the issue will be resolved. Either by this explanation or his confession of wrong, the framework is laid for reconciliation. If the person admits to wrongdoing and expresses a repentant attitude, the clear teaching of Jesus is that we are to forgive the individual.

'Do not let the sun set on your anger'

Implosive anger is fully as destructive as explosive anger. That is why the Scriptures always condemn internalizing anger. The apostle Paul admonished, "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27). Clearly, Paul instructed that we are to process anger quickly, not allowing it to linger inside beyond sunset. I suppose that if we get angry after dark, he would give us till midnight, but the principle is that anger is not to be held inside; in fact, to do so is to give the devil a foothold. That is, we are cooperating with Satan and setting ourselves up to sin even further. The apostle further challenged us to rid ourselves of anger. (See Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8.) This is not an indication that anger itself is a sin; it is an indication that to allow anger to live inside is sinful. Solomon warned that "anger resides in the lap of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). The key word is resides; the fool lets the anger abide in him. The implication is that those who are wise will see that anger is quickly removed. Anger was designed to be a visitor, never a resident, in the human heart.

All of us experience anger. But holding anger inside by denying, withdrawing, and brooding is not the Christian response to anger. In fact, to do so is to violate the clear teachings of Scripture. Bitterness is the result of stored anger, and bitterness is always condemned as sinful in Scripture. (For example, see Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; Hebrews 12:15.)

Author Gary Chapman directs marriage seminars throughout the country and hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast, 'A Growing Marriage.'

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