But everyone has limits to their patience; everyone has a “fuse” that burns down eventually – when patience gives out to anger. So whether we are someone who naturally has a “short fuse” and whose anger is more quickly ignited or whether we are more patient and have a “longer” fuse, as Christians we all have to control the anger we sooner or later experience.
Anger in itself is not wrong. It is a necessary emotion, but one which must be applied carefully. The Bible shows that God himself exhibits “righteous anger” – for example, when he is angered by the mistreatment of helpless refugees, widows, and orphans (Exodus 22:21-24) – and the more we learn to see things as God does, the more we will be angered by such things, also. But proper expression of anger requires three things, and we will look at them in turn.
Once we feel our anger “fuse” has begun to burn, we need to immediately take stock of what it is that is motivating the anger. Are we angry because our pride was somehow hurt, because we feel others are not respecting us, not giving us due credit, or have insulted us or hurt us in some other way? If so, that anger must be controlled as quickly as possible. A good rule of thumb is that if we are angry about something that has been done to us personally, we need to be particularly careful that the motivation for our anger is right and not just an expression of the “get even” desires of human nature.
Another thing we should consider when human relationships are involved is whether we are getting angry at a person or at an unacceptable behavior. The Christian’s motivation in anger should never be to correct a person, but to correct a situation.
These are things we can all reflect upon. What causes anger in us when we do become angry, and what is our goal in expressing anger? Thinking this through in order to curb angry feelings that are not properly motivated is the beginning of being angry without sin.
Even when anger is justified, it can still be wrong if it is not expressed properly. Anger that is expressed with hurtful comments or any kind of violence is clearly wrong. Just as we said that the Christian’s motivation in anger should never be to correct a person but to correct a situation, we can extend that to say anger that intentionally hurts people in the way it is expressed is always wrong.
We should always strive to express our anger in an assertive but non-hurtful manner. This involves stating our concerns and needs clearly and directly, without resorting to belittling others or trying to control them. Only as we properly direct feelings of anger to behavior that does something about the problem – rather than reacting to the problem – can we properly control and apply our anger.
We see this in the Bible’s description of how God controlled his anger at ancient Israel: “… he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath” (Psalm 78:38). Likewise, our anger should always be under our control rather than taking control of us – only then will we be able to express it in a manner that is not wrong. That is why the apostle Paul wrote “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 3:4 ESV), showing it is not anger, but the lack of control and proper expression of anger that is problematic.
Controlled timing is also vital in proper anger management. The longer we are able to delay before anger sets in, the more likely we are to be able to control it. Thomas Jefferson famously and wisely said, “When angry, count 10, before you speak; if very angry, 100.” The apostle James put it this way: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). As we noted above, both the Hebrew and Greek words translated patience in the Bible mean slow to anger. Putting the brakes on anger early often saves us from skidding out of control when it is fully developed.
And even legitimate anger must be limited in its duration. Once anger has been properly expressed, we need to put it to rest. The Scriptures are very clear on this. Paul’s words to the Ephesians “Be angry and do not sin” are followed immediately in the same verse by “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 3:4). Paul quotes these words from Psalm 4:4, and it is sometimes helpful to read that psalm and see how David learned to bring his anger to a close.
So we should always strive to be slow to engage anger and quick to bring it to an end. If we can learn to do this, while being careful to check our own motivation regarding what angers us and being unwavering in the proper expression of our anger, we will be exercising principles that do indeed help us to be angry and not to sin.