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Three of the more popular texts that give validity to righteous anger are Ephesians 4:26, James 1:20, and Matthew 21:12-16. Of course, there are the Psalms, which are full of passages where people are expressing anger to God regarding the evil in our world. There are also the Proverbs where we learn about sinful anger.
I do not struggle with putting all of these verses together—or at least some of them—and placing them under the heading of righteous anger. In fact, it is wise to have solid, biblical footing for the things we believe and practice. My concern is that some people are too quick to label their anger as righteous while those who experience their anger are more hurt than helped by it.
Righteous anger has elements that do not comprise sinful anger. Let’s look at three of those elements and spend some time comparing your most recent anger display with them.
Discerning your anger is important, especially if you have been sinfully angry. You must be able to identify any sin in your anger regardless of how you want to categorize it. (See the Anger Spectrum to learn more about some of the categories of anger.) If you do not perceive sin in your anger, assuming it is present, you will not be able to repent.
Unfortunately, if you are anything like me, you will not have all the clarity you need to perceive traces of sin in your anger, primarily when you direct it toward others. This problem is why the best starting point when discussing righteous anger is a healthy dose of self-suspicion. If you are a Christian, you should have enough biblical common sense to know how quickly you can deceive yourself.
This is why a good practice when you become angry is to ask the opinions of your friends about what they have observed from you. If you are truly righteous, you are humble enough to ask others how they experience you. True righteousness is a gift from God that He will only give to a humble person (James 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:7).
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
The most popular passage used when talking about righteous anger is when Jesus turned the tables over in the temple. (See Matthew 21:12-16). This passage is essential in the discussion. This portion of Scripture is narrative; it is telling a story. The point of the passage is not about anger, though there are some things we can learn about the anger of Jesus, one of which is the redemptive nature of His anger.
Though He physically harmed a few tables, He did not physically harm people. The point of His anger was not to be verbally abusive toward anyone but restorative in the lives of those who would listen. This outcome aligns with what Paul taught about our communication style.
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 (Ephesians 4:29).
There were some people in the temple that day who were sabotaging the purposes of the temple. Jesus wanted them to know how they had defiled the temple and He would not stand for it. His desire was not to hurt them but to draw attention to the unrighteous error they were making.
The Anger Spectrum
Another interesting observation about the anger of Jesus is that the folks who needed His restorative care were not afraid of Him. Though He hated the sinfulness He observed in the temple that day, those who needed and wanted His restorative care came to Him, seeking His touch.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
Righteous anger does not scare people away from getting their needs met. Jesus was able to be angry and caring at the same time. He had the Lord’s divine power over His human power. Sinful anger is not like this because the unleashing of it comes from destructive human power. The anger of Jesus was Spirit-led and Spirit-controlled.
This “Spirit-controlled anger” allowed Him to focus His anger on the sinfulness at hand, but unlike a raging river out of its banks, His anger did not negatively affect those who needed more than His righteous indignation.
If anger is righteous, it should not be a stumbling block to the innocent to find help, even from the one expressing anger. Righteousness begets righteousness, not unrighteousness.
The Anger Spectrum