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How to Be Angry without Sin--Anger Like Jesus'
"He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored."--Mark 3:5, NIV
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."--Ephesians 4:31, NIV
Do those two verses seem somehow incompatible? Does it seem odd that Paul commands us, in the words of the KVJ, to let all anger be put away from us, yet Jesus was angry? Earlier in the same chapter (4:26), Paul quotes Psalm 4:4: in anger, do not sin. There is the key. Anger is sometimes sinful, but not always.
I know when I get angry: when I'm frustrated or thwarted or when someone acts unpleasant toward me. My anger, in those cases, focuses on me, my desires, and my not seeing those desires immediately fulfilled.
I also know what will probably happen as a result of my anger if I don't deliberately keep it from developing. I will very likely say or do something unpleasant and inappropriate, and if someone else responds unpleasantly, a bad situation will become worse. But I find it easier to curb my my actions, or even my tongue, than my mind.
Even if I say nothing in my anger, the real danger comes in letting an unpleasant incident fester in my mind. As I replay it again and again, saying or doing nasty and vengeful things in my imagination, I can't concentrate on anything else.
Reading, listening to music, praying, getting to sleep all become impossible. I'm no good to myself or anyone else until I can get control of my thoughts and cast the repeating imaginary dialog out of my mind. I don't even want to know what kind of biochemical activity happens within my body with that anger silently churning within me.
Perhaps you, the reader, behave very differently in anger. Perhaps your reaction is more verbally or physically confrontational than mine. Perhaps you manage to deny even to yourself that you are angry at all--and then respond with passive aggression. In any case, if it controls you, it damages you and, potentially, people around you.
People get angry at different kinds of things and behave in different ways as a response, but the root probably grows from selfishness more often than not. Even righteous indignation at some injustice can be self-centered if we either identify with the victim and feel the same anger had the same injustice happened to us, or if we judge the aggressor for doing something we ourselves would never do.
The verse from Mark comes in the context of Jesus attending a synagogue service in Capernaum. He had already told Pharisees that he, the Son of Man, was Lord of the Sabbath. They were ready for him. The congregation included a man with a withered hand. I suspect the Pharisees may have even brought him to the synagogue for their little test. Would Jesus heal on the Sabbath?
Jesus asked the man to stand in front of the congregation and asked the Pharisees which was legal: to do good or evil? To save life or to kill? They did not respond to his question at all, either by word or by softening the stony judgmentalism on their faces.
It is at that point Mark says that Jesus looked around in anger. Had his critics done anything to him? No. Did they prevent him from reaching one of his goals? Certainly not. Crowds coming for healing when Jesus wanted to teach or pray quietly thwarted Jesus with some regularity, but he never got angry with them. Try as they might, the Pharisees never managed to thwart Jesus.
Why, then, did he become angry? Because no one in the congregation really cared about the man with the withered hand. Apparently no one seriously doubted that Jesus would heal on the Sabbath, but many disapproved. They figured the man could keep suffering until at least the next day in order to preserve their sense of decorum.
Mark does not say that Jesus was angry at the people in the congregation, or even just the Pharisees. He says Jesus was distressed at their stubborn hearts. They thought they knew what godly behavior looked like on the outside, but they showed no sign of love or compassion on the inside.
In other words, Jesus got angry at the sin on display and not at any of the sinners either corporately or individually. Jesus' anger remained appropriate, focused, controlled by the Holy Spirit, and soon dissipated. His human ego remained untouched by his godly anger. He perfectly demonstrated how to be angry without sinning.