What’s the difference between regular anger and righteous anger? Even more important, how can we have righteous anger like Jesus?
Have you ever sent an email in haste that you wish you could take back? Or accidentally replied all when you were responding in anger?
Years ago, another pastor and I were interacting with a local ministry leader that was not our favorite. This ministry leader sent an email to our college pastor, who forwarded it to me and unleashed all of the annoyance he had. The key phrase there is, “to me.”
Because, as it turned out, he sent it to the ministry leader, too.
I didn’t notice that he had replied all until after I read the entire caustic email. I immediately ran down the hall to his office, only to find him face-first on the floor. All he could say was, “I know.”
Thankfully, the ministry leader was gracious about it, but, understandably, our relationship with them has never been great. You just can’t take that stuff back!
There are good ways and bad ways to deal with anger, and hindsight too often seems to be the key to knowing the difference. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t look back and wish they could take something back they said or did in anger.
The best way to know the difference between good and bad anger is to follow the example of Christ. The Apostle Paul seems to summarize Jesus’ approach to anger in his confusing instructions in Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry and do not sin.” That verse may seem odd, but it perfectly depicts Jesus. Yes, Jesus got angry, but he was always sinless.
Jesus shows us three right ways to be angry:
1. Righteous anger is redemptive, not vindictive.
It is directed toward the problem, not the person. Here’s how Paul says it: “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 ESV).
Your goal should be to build up the other person and show grace, like Christ did for you.
Loving anger is void of the slightest drop of malice or desire to make that person pay for what they did. Jesus had the best illustration for this in Matthew 5:39: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one also.”
Having your cheek slapped isn’t an attack so much as it is an insult. So when it happens, you have three choices: (1) You can strike back, revealing that anger is controlling you. (2) You can offer them the same cheek, taking a passive aggressive approach until you finally lose control and explode. Or, (3) you can turn to them the other side of your face in an attempt to confront the evil in them and restore the relationship.