When Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (Mark 11:15-17), He expressed righteous anger. Those money changers not only exploited the poor by charging exorbitant fees, but they desecrated the house of the God Who commanded His people not to steal. Jesus had good reason to demonstrate His anger against their corrupt practice!
That said, most of us frequently claim that our anger is righteous when deep down we know it’s tainted with selfishness. I’ve often deceived myself into thinking that I could call my violent temper tantrums “righteous indignation” instead of confessing my pride and lack of self-control.
Even on those rare occasions when our anger actually is righteous, expressing that anger usually doesn’t do a great deal to promote godliness.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. ~~James 1:19-21 (ESV)
We can be so arrogant about our anger instead of humbly recognizing that it’s more often than not an indication that we’re not walking by the Spirit. I seriously doubt that I’m the only Christian who lapses into this sinful behavior. Anyone who spends ten minutes on Twitter knows otherwise.
In fact, the Bible doesn’t contain many verses condoning righteous anger. By and large, it depicts anger as a work of the flesh in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ~~Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV)
Typically, I read this passage with my focus on verse 19. But verse 20 starts getting personal, doesn’t it? Most of the behaviors listed in verse 20 revolve around the phrase, “fits of anger.”
Moving to verses 22 and 23, we see qualities that sharply contrast habitual anger. Yes, I realize that love occasionally causes us to feel angry — once at Disneyland I became angry when my friend’s little girl ran off into a crowd where she could have fallen prey to a child molester. Love should include anger at sin! But ordinarily, love isn’t easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Similarly, anger generally doesn’t coexist with joy, peace, patience or kindness. And very rarely does it exhibit self-control! Most anger, even if we convince ourselves that it’s righteous, is decidedly unrighteous.
Please stop deceiving yourselves that your anger is righteous indignation. Once in a while that may be true. Normally, it’s not. The sooner we stop justifying our fits of anger, the easier it will be to repent and resume walking in the Spirit.