Having determined that anger can be very dangerous from our Lord’s description in Matt. 5, and seeing that Solomon in the inspired Proverbs describes actions taken in anger as those of a fool and yet learning from Paul that it is possible to be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26), we now turn to the question of whether any actions taken in anger are approved of by God. Or is anger without sin merely the emotion without ever acting on it? To answer this question, we turn to the New Testament which has several examples of both Jesus and various Apostles getting angry and acting on their anger. We will look at these, determine if sin is present (obviously not in the case of the Lord) and then examine what made these men angry and what the extent of their actions were. We will then try to draw some conclusions about this issue.
Obviously, our Lord never sinned (Heb. 4:15). So His angry actions should be the most instructive. The most famous events in which He showed anger came at the very beginning of His ministry and again at the very end, when He cleaned the Temple of merchants. John records the first instance:
John 2:13-17 “And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and he made a scourge of cords, and cast all out of the temple, both the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the changers' money, and overthrew their tables; and to them that sold the doves he said, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house a house of merchandise. His disciples remembered that it was written, Zeal for thy house shall eat me up.”
While the other three Gospels record the latter event (Matt. 21:12ff, Mark 11:15ff, and Luke 19:45ff). Here is Matthew’s account:
Matt. 21:12-13 And Jesus entered into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of he money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he saith unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers.
In both cases, His anger was real. He made a scourge (a really souped-up whip) in the first instance, to drive out the livestock (and the merchants?) and in both cases He overturned tables, dumped out money, and forced the merchants to leave. In the later episode, He combine two Old Testament passages (Is. 56:7, and Jer. 7:11) into one quote in which He intimates that not only had the merchants turned the worship of the Father into a commercial exercise, but that their activities were not on the “up-and-up”. Read up on the House of Annas sometime, and you’ll see their shenanigans.
So, our Lord was obviously angry, and He took some rather drastic actions. He made a scene! He raised His voice and was physically violent!! Worst of all, He probably hurt their feelings!!! Why was He so riled up? Look at what He said: they were turning the worship commercial and were thieving as well. In the process of this, they were polluting the Father’s House. This is where the people of Israel came to worship and commune with God. It was to be holy. These merchants were making it common. This enraged the Lord and, as His disciples noted, zeal for the Father’s house consumed Him. So, He exercised His anger against the pollution of God’s House.
Another time the Lord was angry was recorded in Luke:
Luke 9:41 And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and bear with you?
He sounds pretty angry here, doesn’t He? “Faithless and perverse”? When you read the corresponding passages in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 it becomes clear that His anger here was directed at His Apostles for their lack of preparation for handling the major challenges they were to face. What’s perhaps most instructive is the fact that, though He expressed His anger in the above statement, He took no angry action against the Apostles. He let them know He was angry at their failure, then He instructed them in how to be better in the future. In other words, He seems to follow the principle given in Eph. 4:26. He was angry with them, but did not sin in His anger.
Next we turn our attention to Paul, who has several recorded instances of anger. The first takes place during his first missionary journey:
Acts 13:8-11 “But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him, and said, O full of all guile and all villany, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.”
Obviously, Paul is angry here. You don’t say someone is full of all guile and villany an call him a son of the devil if you are feeling light and happy-go-lucky. So, the first question is, did Paul sin? Did he go too far in name calling and in striking this man blind? Even a cursory reading gives the answer as a resounding no. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when he did these things. They weren’t Paul’s words and actions so much as they were Holy Spirit’s. So what made Paul (and the Spirit) so angry? What justified such harsh actions? Elymas was trying to turn a listener away from the faith. In standing against the Gospel, he earned his fate. Twice more Paul displayed anger, in Acts 13:44-47 and 18:5-7, when the Jews tried to keep the Gentiles from hearing the Gospel and/or stood against it on their own. They also blaspheme both times. In both cases Paul angrily leaves them to their fate and turns to teaching the Gentiles alone. Other than his words denouncing their thickheadedness, though, he takes no actions against them in his anger. In fact, his actions mirror Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in Matt. 10:14 as he shakes out his cloak at them.
Finally, we have an instance of Paul cursing in his anger:
Gal. 1:8-9 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Here Paul literally pronounces a curse upon a class of people. Did he sin in so doing? Obviously not, as he was writing as the inspired prophet of God in recording the epistle to the Galatians. What has him so worked up? People who changed, perverted, the Gospel in some way or other. And this makes sense: if the Gospel is God’s power to save (Rom. 1) then changes to it would undo the salvation inherent in it. So Paul was angry and took approved actions (leveling a curse) in his anger.
While this is not quite an exhaustive list of instances of approved anger in the New Testament, it does cover every major category of approved reasons to act on anger. These are
1) When the House of God is being profaned.
2) When someone is actively trying to keep an individual from hearing the Gospel.
3) When people are opposing the preaching of the Gospel generally.
4) When people blaspheme.
5) When some try to pervert the Gospel.
In looking at the first category, I’m reminded that the Church is now the House of God (1 Cor. 3:16). When people are profaning the church by their sectarianism or their disregard for authority, or in whatever way they are profaning the Church and making it just a common, worldly social group, I had better follow my Lord’s example and get angry. The profaners need to be rebuked into repentance or driven out (“FIRST pure, THEN peaceable” James 3:17)! The sanctity of God’s House must be maintained and I had better care enough about it to get angry. When I look at number four, I wonder at my reaction to people who take the Lord’s name in vain – the most common form of blasphemy. These are the times it is ok to be angry. Indeed, these are the times I should be getting angry and that actions taken in anger will be approved of by God as long as they don’t go too far. NOTE: Jesus drove the merchants from the Temple, He didn’t hang them from the battlements.
Another thing I note as I look at the above list is that there is no mention of it being ok to take action in anger when the reason I’m angry is someone did something to me. When someone commits an affront to God (blasphemy) or pollutes His house, or stands in the way of the Gospel, it is permitted/expected for me to act in righteous anger. When someone does something to me, I am to “turn the other cheek”. Paul deals with this:
Rom 12:19-21 “Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord. But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
God claims the right to avenge wrongs done to us. If you think about it, He has priority. After all, when someone injures a son of God, that is an affront to deity, to God Himself. His family has been affected. Surely He has priority in the vengeance line over me merely trying to avenge myself. And, of course, God’s vengeance will be just, whereas I might go overboard. So, as Paul says, give place to God when angry over personal slights, but be filled with righteous zeal when any pollutes the House of God, perverts His word, or stands in the way of the Gospel. Those are the only approved actions from anger mentioned in the New Testament.