What is righteous anger?

by Matt Slick

Righteous anger is that anger which is properly motivated and is, therefore, without sin. It is that anger that is against unrighteousness, the profane, that which is evil, etc.  However, on the one hand, we are told to put anger aside (Col. 3:8; Eph. 4:31).  But on the other, we are told to be angry, yet without sin (Eph. 4:26).  In fact, when we look at Scripture we discover that God got angry.

  • Exodus 4:14, "Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, “Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart."
  • Judges 3:8, "Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years."
  • Jeremiah 51:45, "Come forth from her midst, My people, and each of you save yourselves from the fierce anger of the LORD."

So, if God gets angry, then anger is not automatically a sin.  Of course, whenever God gets angry, it is a righteous anger. He gets upset with people when they commit idolatry, are rebellious, lie, steal, etc. In fact, he hates those who do iniquity (Psalm 5:5; 11:5).  But, God is also loving (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8) and extremely patient with us (Romans 2:4).  We, on the other hand, often get angry unrighteously. Therefore, we have such verses as the following.

  • Col. 3:8, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth."
  • Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."

Because we are sinners, our judgments are often motivated out of self-righteousness and not the glory of God. When we are wronged we get angry we want justice upon the offender. But, often we do not have all of the facts, and so we commit a kind of murder in our hearts when we get angry.  Jesus taught a harsh message about unrighteous anger.

  • Matthew 5:21-22, "You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."  

Anger is a judgment, an accusation of unrighteousness, and even a desire for the injury of someone else. Such judgments are not our responsibility. Only God has all the information and knows the motives of the hearts of all people. Therefore, he is the only one who can judge righteously, be angry with people, and not sin.

  • James 1:20, "for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."

Jesus got angry

Many people see Jesus as the blond-haired, blue-eyed, Caucasian surfer dude, who's dressed in a woman's nightgown, standing at the door of our heart, asking for permission to come in and save us. This passive and feminized view of Christ is unbiblical. When we look at the Gospels, we find out that Jesus got angry.

  • Mark 3:5, "After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored."
  • Matthew 21:12, "And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves."

In fact, Jesus was often judgmental.

  • Matthew 23:27, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness."
  • Mark 12:38-40, "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation."
  • Luke 13:15, "But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?"
  • John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father..."

Ephesians 4:26

Ephesians 4:26, "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger."  

 What do we do with Ephesians 4:26 were Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 and tells us to be angry?  Is it okay to be angry?  Yes, it is.  Let's look at the context.

  • Ephesians 4:24–27, "and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity."

Paul the Apostle is contrasting the old sinful ways with the ways of righteousness which, of course, are exemplified in Christ. We are to speak the truth, and we are to be holy. In that context were told to "be angry" and it is anger towards evil, the opposite of holiness. Of course, our anger should emulate Christ's anger. Two examples are recorded in Mark 3:5 and Matthew 21:12. In the former, Jesus was angry with the Pharisees who were plotting to kill him for healing someone on the Sabbath. In Matthew 21:12 Jesus is rightfully angry with those who are using the house of God per profiteering. Of course, we can find other examples, But it should be obvious that we are to follow righteousness and be angry at the promotion of evil. Therefore, righteous anger is that godly attitude of condemnation and judgment of that which contradicts the character and will of God.




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.