We live in an age of outrage.((This phrase is not unique to me. For example, Ed Stetzer published a book in 2018 titled Christians in the Age of Outrage. But, I think it fits the time we’re in.))
It’s an age filled with conflict and division. It’s a time when the slightest offense can lead to a social media firestorm. It’s a culture that moves swiftly to “cancel” those who fail to follow the shifting cultural norms of the day.
It seems that everyone is angry about something. Each time you pull out your phone, you may wonder, “Who – or what – is the internet mad at today?”
Sadly, Christians are not immune to this age. Many times, we eagerly join the fight. For example, consider the alarming surge of COVID’s delta variant. Opinions regarding the efficacy of masks and vaccines continue to create sharp disagreements – especially among God’s people. These disagreements often lead to snap judgments, angry outbursts, and fiery debates on social media or in Sunday School classes. The result is that relationships are severed, churches are divided, and our Christian witness is tarnished.
This reality grieves me deeply. But we can do better. As the redeemed people of God, we must do better. Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about our anger. Here are 7 Bible verses to read whenever you’re angry:
#1: Proverbs 14:17, 29
“A quick-tempered person acts foolishly, and one who schemes is hated … A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.”
In these two proverbs buried deep in the Old Testament’s wisdom literature, we learn that a quick-tempered person is a foolish person. In verse 17, we read that this person acts foolishly, which means that their rush to anger is a foolish act in and of itself.
In verse 29, we read that this person promotes foolishness. In other words, their folly is evident to all who witness their outburst. They put it on display for all to see. Have you ever been in a restaurant when an individual angrily and loudly yells at their server because the order was wrong? If you’re like me, I don’t see that individual and think, “Boy, that’s such a wise person. I wish I could be more like them.” No, a quick-tempered person promotes foolishness.
But it’s worse than that…
#2: Galatians 5:19-21
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul’s list of the works of the flesh includes some obvious culprits. Sexual immorality is there. Idolatry too. Sorcery and drunkenness made the list as well. But there’s a phrase buried deep within this list that you may have overlooked. However, for our current purposes, it needs to be highlighted. Paul says that one of the works of the flesh is outbursts of anger.
We’ve already learned that a quick-tempered person promotes foolishness. However, Paul takes it a step further. As a work of the flesh, he declares that a person who “practices such things” will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Let me say that no one is perfect. We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2), and we are all prone to the occasional fit of anger. However, someone who “practices” outbursts of anger is a person who does so regularly. They are known for these episodes of outrage. Similarly, a “quick-tempered person” has earned that label from past experiences. Paul says that it’s likely that such a person is not a genuine Christian and will not inherit the kingdom of God.
#3: James 1:19-20
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
In these verses, James provides three ways to respond whenever our blood pressure starts to rise. We should be (1) quick to listen, (2) slow to speak, and (3) slow to become angry.
However, many Christians take the opposite approach. We are often (1) slow to listen, (2) quick to speak, and (3) quick to become angry. When we hear someone takes a different position on an issue or they do something we don’t like, we don’t take time to listen to their position or hear their side of the story. Instead, we rush to judgment and anger. We begin to talk about them to others. We may give them a piece of our mind. We quickly spout off a rant on social media. We are offended, and we want the world to know it.
As followers of Christ, James provides a better way to respond. Be quick to listen. Take the time to hear the other person’s perspective. Listen to their story. Allow them to explain their actions. And do so without interrupting. You may find that you still disagree, but you can disagree in a way that honors the Lord. As James reminds us at the end of verse 20, human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
#4: Matthew 5:21-26
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.”
Jesus shares these words near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount.” In this sermon, he explains that while certain external acts – such as murder – are sinful and subject to God’s judgment, our inner motives are also subject to judgment. In the case of murder, it reflects a heart that is filled with anger. Both are sinful and subject to the judgment of God.
That’s why Jesus provides a model of how to deal with anger. In his example, a person worships the Lord at the altar when he remembers someone is angry with him (“has something against you”). Jesus’ advice is to go immediately and be reconciled and then return to worship. In other words, deal with anger quickly regardless of whether you’re angry with someone else or they’re angry with you. The application is the same: drop whatever you’re doing and deal with your anger.
If you find yourself angry with someone right now, go and be reconciled with them as soon as possible. If necessary, get the log out of your own eye (Matthew 7:1-5) as part of the reconciliation process. Our next verse will show why it’s so important to deal with your anger quickly.
#5: Ephesians 4:26-27
“Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity.”
In verse 27, Paul reiterates Jesus’ point to deal with anger quickly. He says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Then, he explains the consequences when we fail to do so. Our festering anger allows the devil to capitalize on our failure to deal with it quickly. He will plant seeds of bitterness in our hearts. He will convince us that those who transgress against us are not worthy of being forgiven. He will tempt us to cancel the relationship. The longer we wait to deal with our anger, the more opportunity the devil has to devour our love for one another.
It’s also worthy of note that Paul begins in verse 26 with an interesting statement. He says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Perhaps you’re wondering, “How is that possible?” It’s only possible when you understand the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. For example, Jesus experienced righteous anger at times. In Matthew 21, he was angry when he threw the money changers out of the temple. In Mark 3, he was mad at the hypocritical religious leaders of the day.
However, his righteous anger always occurred due to offenses against God or other people. He never became angry due to personal insults or mistreatment. As Peter explains in 1 Peter 2:23, when Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in return. When He suffered, he did not threaten. Instead, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
However, we usually get angry over the slightest personal offenses or mistreatment. When we are reviled, we revile in return. When someone yells at us, we want to return the favor. When someone resorts to name-calling, we eagerly throw a few zingers in the opposite direction.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because of the gospel, there is hope. We can resist these temptations to respond with sinful anger. The following passage shows us how.
#6: Ephesians 4:31-32
“Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”
Paul understands that while we should deal with our anger quickly, we don’t always do so. Sometimes we allow our anger to fester and to grow into something worse. Even then, we’re not beyond rescue. The apostle implores his readers to remove all bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting, slander, and malice.
The way to do so is to replace these sinful responses with better ones. Instead of experiencing bitterness toward others, extend compassion. Rather than being filled with wrath and anger, be filled with kindness. Instead of shouting at one another, forgive one another, just as the gospel reminds us how much God has forgiven us through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You don’t have to live as a slave to your anger. The gospel has set you free. You can be kind and compassionate toward others because Christ has been kind and compassionate toward you. You can forgive others because Christ has forgiven you. You can love others because God loved you so much that He sent His only Son to save you from your sins. If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36)!
#7: John 13:35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
In this verse, Jesus says that everyone – including those inside and outside the church – will know that we are His disciples if we meet one specific criterion. We must love one another.
Given the debates over masks and vaccines and the growing political divide in our churches and the way that we argue on social media and the way that we assign labels to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and the way that we are quick to cancel those who disagree with us over non-essentials, what message are we communicating?
In this age of outrage, God has called the church to be different. We are called to love one another, even when we disagree with one another. May God give us the grace to do so!