Sooooooo, we need to be very careful when we are righteously angry at sin. We aren't God, and righteous anger is a bit difficult to identify!
After all, there are not very many times when, in the heat of a moment, we can step back and say, "Oh, you know what? I'm not being fair, here. I am unjustly angry."
As humans, we can ALWAYS justify our anger. We always feel that our anger is in response to someone else's sin. Of COURSE we are showing righteous anger!
Well, think about it . . . have we ever been angry when we didn't think we had a right to be? I suppose it could happen sometimes, but usually, we are mad at someone or something because we feel we are standing up for the right. We think we are on the side of justice.
And yet . . . .
Some of the most horrible things Christians have ever done were done in the name of righteous anger. Most human anger (even if it starts out correctly) is sinful and is very destructive. James said that we don't accomplish the righteousness of God:
And Paul says to "give place" for God's wrath:
Paul is quoting from both Deuteronomy and the Proverbs here. In other words, the Bible is warning us that anger is extremely hard to handle; it's best to leave anger, vengeance, and retaliation to God.
What do we do instead?
Oh, here is the tough part!
Rather than love our enemies, our Savior told us to love them!
When it comes to anger, it's best to leave things up to God. And yet, Paul does speak realistically here......he says, "Sure, you are going to get angry, but....." what does he say next? Make sure we don't allow it to turn into sin.
In all the times I have read that passage, I don't think I paid very much attention to the scripture that Paul was quoting from! He's emphasizing his point by quoting from Psalm 4:4:
Psalms 3 and 4 were written by David at a time when he had every right to be righteously angry!!
David's kingdom had been unjustly taken from him. His own son, Absalom, had lied and tricked a whole lot of people; many of them had rebelled against the king and followed Absalom. In the rebellion, David fled for his life! In addition to rummaging around in the palace and trying on the crown and throne, Absalom also tried on the harem -- he set up a tent on the roof of the palace and had sex with all of David's concubines in the sight of all of the city. (II Samuel 15-16)
Absalom was a wicked man doing wicked things -- it moved David's heart to anger. That's why he wrote that verse, "Be angry and do not sin."
And David didn't sin.
If you read in II Samuel, he acted kindly and behaved justly; he even tried to spare the life of his wicked, treasonous son! All of his actions were kind and loving. He was righteously angry, yes, but he continued to act in love, and did not sin.
If you recall the story, in the heat of battle Absalom's long, flowing locks got caught in a tree and he was killed by one of David's loyal commanders. But David was even upset at this -- he didn't want his son to die; he wanted to forgive and love him.
This story that Paul reminded us of is a positive example. David was angry, but he kept his anger from turning into sin. Our Bible is the best book ever, though, and is
......useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (II Timothy 3:16b)
Along with David's positive example, the Bible shows us negative examples, too. Where other people allowed their anger to become sinful.
Remember the scene where Jacob lies and deceives his dad and steals his older brother's birthright? Esau was certainly angry about being cheated. I expect that we could say his initial reaction was righteous anger -- but his anger led him into sin when he vowed to kill his cheating brother.
Jonah the prophet was righteously angry about the terrible sins of the people of Nineveh. But he let his anger get the upper hand -- he failed to preach the whole message that God had given him to tell the sinful Ninevites. Jonah was spiteful and got comfortable so he could watch the fireworks as God punished the people. But lo and behold, the fireworks never happened. Then Jonah got mad at God, too!
No wonder that Paul is exhorting us to "be angry but sin not"! Anger can so easily burn out of control, and when it does, we fall into sin.