“Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah 4:4

By Steven Chan

1. Have you been angry? Anger is a common emotion that we see manifested almost every day. When a driver drives inconsiderately and almost caused you to have an accident, you will feel anger.  The Bible warned against letting anger lead you into sinful actions: Eph 4:26-27: ““Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.”  

2. The unfortunate reality is that anger that is not controlled, is likely to cause one to sin against God in our words and actions.  The Bible warned against being quick to anger in Ecc 7:9: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” James 1:19-20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” 

3. The earliest record in the Bible about anger pertained to Cain: his anger led him to the murder of his own brother.  Cain was angry with his brother that his brother’s offering was accepted by God while his offering was rejected by God (Gen 4:1-8).  Our Lord said in Matt 5:22: “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” The implication here is anger which is without a “just” cause such as Cain being angry with his brother, and the reason for his anger was unjustified.  

4. “The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen 4:6-7). 

God asked Cain to examine why he was angry. God reasoned with Cain to examine his own action – was his action acceptable to God? If it was, then there was no need for him to be angry. If his action was not acceptable to God and Cain continued in his anger, then Cain was faced with the likelihood of committing sin. He subsequently succumbed to sin when he murdered his brother, Abel.

5. Jonah was also very angry when God turned away from punishing the Ninevites because they had repented after hearing Jonah’s preaching.  “Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4).   God then showed Jonah that his anger was not right or justified because God is “gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. “ (Jonah 4:2).

6. In 2 Chron 26:19, the Bible recorded the instance when King Uzziah attempted to “burn incense to the Lord” – while this may appear to be a noble desire on his part, it was nonetheless not permitted by God because God had specified that only “the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense” (2 Chron 26:18) – and so, when the priests stopped him from doing so: “Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead” (2 Chron 26:19). 

Anger against those who are trying to correct our mistakes has severe consequences.

7..Since God’s Word in James 1:20 tells us that the wrath/anger of man does not produce what is right or acceptable to God, we are exhorted in Eph 4:31-32 to “let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And bekind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Anger needs to be replaced by kindness, having an understanding and considerate heart and ever ready and willing to forgive in the same manner as Christ has forgiven us. Matt 6:14-15: ““For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

8. But we often protest: but they continue to sin against us!! How can we forgive them!? It appears that they have not repented because they keep committing sin! Let’s recalled the conversation between Peter and Jesus in Matt 18:21-22, 35: “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven…  “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”  

Would we want God to treat us when we sinned against Him, in the same manner as we treat those who sinned against us? (Matt 7:1-5)

9. It is not for us to judge or condemn those who do evil or commit sin; it is God who will judge them: Rom 12:17-19: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” 

If they do wrong, they stand self-condemned (Titus 3:11). Let’s leave the judgement or condemnation to God who will dispense it on Judgement Day: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (1 Cor 4:5)

Of course, we ought to do our best to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1) so that we may save that soul from death (James 5:19-20) even if we have to “mark and avoid such a one” (Rom 16:17; 1 Cor5:11; 2 Thess 3:6, 14; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11)

10. Anger is a problem that rears its ugly head every so often among some Christians. Anger needs to be put away as it is a work of the flesh: “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions” (Gal 5:20). And we need to replace them with the fruit of the Spirit, i.e. the attitudes that result from us following the teachings of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.”  If we are kind, desire peace, are longsuffering, kind, gentle and exercise self-control, then we will not be quick to anger. 

Such is only possible if we have put to death our “old man of sin” (Rom 6:6,11), recognizing that “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). 

We are exhorted in Phil 2:5-8 to “have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.” (ASV). Jesus emptied himself and became a humble servant and suffered the death on the cross so that we can have forgiveness of sins.

Similarly, we need to empty ourselves of our pride and self-centeredness so that we will be transformed to offer our bodies a living sacrifice to God – no longer easily angered or provoked by what others do or say to us – always sacrificially seeking to glorify God by behaving as God would have us behave – not returning evil for evil. When others treat us badly, we do not treat them badly in return: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21)

Too often I am angry because “I” have been hurt, “I” am not happy, “I” am not respected, “I” am ill-treated, “I” am not loved, “I” have not been treated fairly, “I” am not served properly, “I” think you are not behaving in the way “I” want you to behave”(Rom 14:4) etc.… BUT brethren, “I” am supposed to have been crucified with Christ. “I” the old self-focused self-centered man, ought no longer to be alive. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).  What’s important is what God wants “I” to be!

We are now children of God and we belong to Him. YOU are not your own: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor 6:19-20).  

If I am not mine own and I now belong to God, then why am “I” so easily angry!? Am “I” obeying God by being easily angry? Am “I” glorifying God with what “I” am insisting of doing and behaving, e.g. losing my temper? Does God want me to be angry? Am I glorifying God by insisting that things (not required nor forbidden by God) be done “my way”?

Brethren, is it right for you to be angry? – from God’s perspective? Remember Cain, Jonah and King Uzziah. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whomthe ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)