There is a perception that to be a follower of Jesus means that you are never angry, always have a smile on your face, never get mad, and always say things like, “Bless your heart” when you really want to say something far different. It seems to stem from an idea about Jesus that looks at him as some very quiet, meek, introspective wise-man. It also seems to come from an idea that if God is love it means that he is more of a sweet grandfather who never corrects us or challenges us.
Many people think that to get angry is a sin. The fact is, the Bible has a very different view of anger. There are times when it is not only appropriate to be angry but in fact there are situations that if we were not angry it would be tantamount to sin. Our example comes from the oft misunderstood event in the life of Jesus when he cleared the money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” John 2:14-16 (ESV)
The Temple in Jerusalem was intended to be a place in which all people could come and pray and worship God. What the religious leaders had done was turn it into a place to rip off people. In order to make your offering you had to use the Temple coins and no other. So you had to exchange the common currency for theirs. If you have ever had to do a foreign currency exchange you have dealt with the fees involved. In this case the fees that got charged were outrageous and tantamount to robbing people. If you brought your sheep for the sacrifice it had to be inspected and approved. People learned quickly that their own sheep would be rejected thus forcing you to by a pre-approved sheep from the Temple stock at highway robbery prices. Jesus was furious that people had taken something God intended as a blessing and turned it into their own little money-making rip off of the common man. He was mad because such sinful practices actually turned people away from God when they most wanted to get closer to Him.
There are other times when the Bible is clear that anger is justified. God’s repeated calls for justice for the oppressed, the care of widows and orphans, the feeding of the hungry, and hospitality for the foreigner should tell us something of God’s character. When these things are not done, God is not happy. When there is injustice and oppression we should be angry. How can you not get angry when you learn that there are more people in slavery today that at any time in the worlds history? How can you not get angry when you find out that millions of children are victims of the global sex-slave industry? How can you not get angry when you are confronted with blatant racism or barbaric cruelty? Yes there are times when anger is what is called for; righteous anger, just anger, biblically based Christ-like anger.
But there must be a word of caution. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:26 & 27 “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (ESV) We are told by Paul that there are times to be angry. But we need to make sure that in our anger we do not sin. You may be justly angry over oppression and cruelty. But the answer is not to become cruel and oppressive in response. There is also a clear warning to not marinate in your anger. Don’t continue to focus on your anger letting it infect every cell of your being. Not letting the sun go down on your anger is a way of saying “Do not be consumed by it”. Make sure you deal with it in a healthy and constructive way. Find a way to constructively work against the injustice. Otherwise it will build and build and come out in sinful ways. That, Paul says, is what gives room to the the devil. It gives him opportunity to take a righteous anger and twist it into unrighteous action.
Jesus was flat out mad in the Temple. But he did not sin. Even in turning over the tables of the money changers and driving them out with a whip, he did not sin. If your picture of Jesus is one who is always quiet, with head bowed, never causing a stir, then your picture of Jesus is woefully incomplete. When it came to being persecuted and beaten, he certainly took the punishment, unjust as it was. But when it came to injustice and cruelty being inflicted on others, he acted decisively and boldly.
There is a lesson in there for us. We Christians are so quick to call foul when we are personally inconvenienced or even slightly persecuted. Yet we are silent when others are facing death and torture. It must be the other way around. We need to be much more willing to accept the persecution that comes our way for following Jesus and completely unwilling to accept what is done to the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner, the sick, and the poor.