This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
Does Anger Equate to Sin?
What is righteous vs. unrighteous anger? What does the anger of God look like? Glean insight about the right time and application for anger by reading these verses and commentary adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Paul gives practical examples of how church members build up Christ’s body (cf. Eph 4:13–16), based on what is true of them as Christians. Paul will show how Christians are to put into practice the truths explored in Eph. 4:17–24. Not all anger is sin, but the believer should not be consumed by anger, nor should one’s anger even be carried over into the next day, as this will only give an opportunity to the devil.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
The dangerous and destructive effect of human anger is likewise stressed throughout Scripture (e.g., Prov. 20:2; 22:3; 29:22; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; James 1:20). Anger typically entails a desire to damage or destroy the other person, either in some personal way or literally in the form of murder (cf. Matt. 5:21 and James 4:1–2). Calling someone a fool is closely related to anger, in that it represents a destructive attack on one’s character and identity. Thus Jesus warns that the person who violates another person in this grievous way is liable to the hell of fire.
Reconciliation with the person who has something against you must take precedence even over offering one’s gift in worship. The one who initiates the reconciliation here is the one who has wronged the other person.
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Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
“Works of the flesh” means actions flowing out of fallen human nature and its desires. Apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, these are the actions toward which sinful humans instinctively gravitate. When people reject God, they turn in on themselves, and so relationships between human beings are destroyed as well.
The present participle (Gk. prassontes, translated here as “do”) refers to those who “make a practice of doing” such things, as a pattern of life. Their outward conduct indicates their inward spiritual status: that they are not born of God, do not have the Holy Spirit within, and are not God’s true children. The Spirit fights against sin not merely in defense but also in attack by producing in Christians the positive attributes of godly character, all of which are evident in Jesus in the Gospels.
Christ and the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) come together as the source of the believer’s life. Christians have crucified the flesh, or died with Christ to sin (see Gal. 6:14; Rom. 6:4–6). Now that the old order of things has passed away for believers, their old sinful selves that belonged to that order have crumbled as well—so they should pay no attention to them. “Flesh” here should not be understood to mean physical bodies but rather fallen, sinful human nature with all its desires.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Based on their death and resurrection with Christ and the hope of a future life with him, Paul encourages the Colossians to continue eliminating sinful behaviors from their lives and cultivating Christian virtues. Paul calls the Colossians to make a decisive break with the sinful tendencies they have carried with them into their Christian lives. Because believers have died with Christ (2:20; 3:3), they can get rid of sinful practices (Rom. 6:11; 8:13). The language of putting to death indicates that Christians have to take severe measures to conquer sin. Watchfulness and prayerfulness against it will be the first steps (see Matt. 26:41), with self-discipline following (Matt. 5:29–30).
In line with the Old Testament prophets, who spoke of the day of the Lord as a time of coming wrath (e.g., Zeph. 1:14–15), Paul reminds the Colossians that God will suddenly intervene in human history and will hold everyone accountable. Those who live evil lives will face final judgment. Paul lists five more vices (cf. Col. 3:5) that Christians need to get rid of. These five all have a bearing on social relationships among believers.
Know this, my beloved brothers: 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.
The central theme of this section is practical Christianity mandated by “the word of truth,” which is the gospel (James 1:18), and characterized by both truly “hearing” and then resolutely “doing” the truth. Obedience is the hallmark of the true child of God. James encourages the church to pursue hearing the word, and to avoid hasty speech and unrighteous anger.
James echoes Jewish Wisdom tradition on the misuse of the tongue and the anger that can result (cf. Prov. 10:19; 11:12; 15:1; 17:28). Lack of listening, combined with lack of restraint in speech, leads to ill-tempered action. Slow to anger does not mean that all human anger is sinful (cf. Eph. 4:26), but the quick-tempered, selfish anger of the world (“the anger of man,” James 1:20) betrays lack of trust in God and lack of love for others.
The self-reliant anger of man, even when directed against some wrongdoing, fails to recognize that mere human reproach cannot change another person’s heart, and thus it does not produce the righteousness of God; nor indeed is such anger fully righteous itself. God is holy and righteous, requiring that his people emulate his righteous character (e.g., Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:16). “Righteousness” here is not Pauline legal or forensic righteousness proclaimed in God’s court of law but is closer to the usage of the Old Testament (Isa. 61:3) and Jesus (Matt. 3:15; 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1, 33; 21:32), in the sense of conducting one’s life by the will of God, according to his standards.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Proverbs 29:8-11 describe the rage, havoc, and violence that accompany evil and folly. Such men set a city aflame (Prov 29:8), are abusive and rude in a dispute (Prov 29:9), hate people of integrity (Prov 29:10), and give full vent to every passion they feel (Prov 29:11). The ESV footnote for Prov 29:10b, “but the upright seek his soul,” means that the upright are concerned to vindicate the hated blameless man.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Paul begins his admonition with a negative action to avoid, followed by a positive action to develop. Paul addresses the responsibility of fathers in particular, though this does not diminish the contribution of mothers in these areas (see Proverbs 31). Obedient children are particularly vulnerable, so a domineering and thoughtless father’s actions would be discouraging to them (Col. 3:21). Parents play a crucial, God-ordained role in the discipleship of their children “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1); see Deut. 6:1–9. Parental discipleship in the discipline and instruction of the Lord should center on the kinds of practices already outlined in Ephesians 4–5.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Another allusion to Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:39). Feelings of revenge can be overcome by realizing that God will make all things right, and that he will visit his wrath on those who deserve it. “Burning coals” is quoted from Prov. 25:21–22. Most interpreters think Paul is teaching that the Christian is to do good to people so that they will feel ashamed and repent, and that sense is possible. But in the OT “burning coals” always represent punishment (2 Sam. 22:13; Ps. 11:6; 18:8, 12–13; 140:10), so another interpretation is that Paul is repeating the thought of Rom. 12:19: Christians are to do good to wrongdoers, recognizing that God will punish them on the last day if they refuse to repent. Overcoming evil with good will ordinarily include acts of kindness toward evildoers, but it may sometimes also include the “good” (13:4) of the civil government stopping evil through the use of superior force (military or police), as Paul explains in Rom.13:3–4.
God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
The singers of this psalm see their requests as part of the larger picture: God is a righteous judge (Psa. 7:11), to whom all the peoples of mankind, and not just Israel, are accountable (Psa. 7:7, 8); thus his anger (Psa. 7:6) and indignation (Psa. 7:11) are directed against those who threaten his faithful ones (the righteous, Psa. 7:9; and the upright in heart, Psa. 7:10). In the Psalms, judging is more often than not a saving action, God intervening on behalf of the innocent and oppressed. (In English the word “judge” tends to focus more on condemning than on rescuing.) The particular deliverance, then, is part of God’s larger project of putting the whole world back to its right order (Psa. 7:9).
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The Lord’s proclamation of his name and the declaration of his character becomes a central confessional passage for the Old Testament (e.g., see Neh. 9:17, 31; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13). This confession describes the Lord’s gracious character in preserving Israel as a whole for the sake of God’s overall purpose and in sparing those individuals who look to him in true faith. Moses will argue these very words back to the Lord when he intercedes for the people after their rebellion following the spies’ report on Canaan (see Num. 14:18–19). The description emphasizes the merciful and gracious character of the Lord (see Ex. 33:19), whose steadfast love and forgiveness extends to thousands (probably of generations, cf. Deut. 7:9) in contrast to the few generations upon whom he visits iniquity. Moses will appeal to Israel’s need for the Lord’s gracious and merciful presence so that he might forgive them and take them as his inheritance (Ex. 34:9).
All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
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