Anger and Sin and God’s Work Anyway

A friend of mine recently told me about an online encounter with someone who claimed his anger wasn’t sin. And yet he was so mad he was leaving the cyber-community in which this discussion took place. No apparent interest in reconciliation or a willingness to confront with a desire to restore relationship. No thought that he was letting the sun set on his anger and was therefore indeed sinning.

That storming-off-angry guy reminded me of something I recently thought concerning Paul. Yes, the apostle. I think he might have been a similar storming-off-angry guy.

He had to be at least “righteously” indignant before his encounter with Christ, because he was dedicating his time and energy to killing Christians.

But when he became a Christian, all that old nature was gone, wasn’t it? Well, yes, in the sense that God forgave Paul and clothed him in the righteousness of Christ. But no, in the sense that Paul still struggled against sin in his life. As he said in Romans 7, “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (v. 15).

Why do I think anger was part of what he struggled with? For one thing after his first missionary journey, he and his partner Barnabas, who the Holy Spirit called to minister together, split because they had a disagreement.

Paul suggested they revisit the churches from their first trip, and Barnabas was evidently agreeable—except he wanted to take John Mark along. John Mark, who later wrote the gospel of Mark, had started out with them on the first trip but left right about the time the persecution started.

On this second trip, Paul refused to take John Mark along. Barnabas insisted. Paul refused. Barnabas insisted. “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39a).

Sharp disagreement. Though the Holy Spirit had called them together, hey separated. Seemingly as a result of Paul holding a grudge against John Mark. Or at least, not forgiving him, not being willing to give him a second chance.

And what did God do? Despite the disagreement, He used both missionary teams to further the gospel. Paul chose a new partner—Silas—and Barnabas set out with John Mark.

But that’s only one incident, and Barnabas might have been the angry one. Except I’m not convinced only one angry person would create a “sharp disagreement.”

Be that as it may, what about an incident that happened on that second trip with Silas. In Philippi Paul and his new partner were doing what they did—meeting with people in the place of prayer and baptizing believers—when a girl with an evil spirit started following them. “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation,” she cried out. Day. After. Day. (Acts 16:17b-18a)

How did Paul react? I would think he’d kind of like it. I mean, he had his own PR person, for free. I imagine people weren’t ignoring Paul and Silas with this girl trailing them. I mean, she was a person people used to hire to tell their fortunes, and here she was, for free, telling the crowds that Paul and Silas were proclaiming the way of salvation.

Apparently Paul didn’t see it the same way:

But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”
– Acts 16:18b (emphasis mine)

Great miracle! And undoubtedly the girl was joyful to be free of the evil spirit.

Her masters, not so much. They seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace and before the chief magistrates accused them of throwing the city into confusion and advocating illegal activities, “being Jews.”

A crowd rose up against them, stripped off their clothes, beat them with rods. Then they arrested them, putting them in the “inner prison” with their feet in stocks. It took an act of God (an earthquake) to release them. In the meantime they testified of their faith in God by singing praises to Him.

When the prison door opened, the jailer attempted suicide because he feared the prisoners had escaped. Paul and Silas stopped him, told him the way of salvation, and baptized him. But not him only—his whole household.

So here’s the point. Paul and Silas could have had an effective witness and brought many to Christ because of the girl who followed them telling people they were proclaiming the way of salvation. Paul’s anger—or annoyance, at least—landed them in jail. But God’s plan wasn’t thwarted. He used the circumstances to bring people to Himself.

And I wonder, could it be He also was delivering correction to Paul concerning His anger? Just a thought.

Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. I think anger is sometimes something that is misconstrued by others do to misperception, misunderstanding, not listening, or haughtiness on behalf of the perceiver. Is the person really angry? Sure a rage of anger that results in violent behavior and hurting others is one thing, but outright honesty, vigorous discussion, logical argument, or just shutting down may or may not be anger, but may be misinterpreted by others.

    Anger might be a stumbling block to a Christian’s testimony to unbelievers, but unwarrented angry accusations directed by Christians toward other Christians and non-Christians alike create a communcation barrier.

    The cyberworld is not a good place to judge anger, unless of course the langusge becomes so reprehensible as to make the anger obvious. I know I have been accused of being angry or snide when I was trying to have civil discourse and make observations and speak truth as I saw it. I have been at times chastized for it and even had what I had intended as intelligent comments intended to engage a conversation to be deleted by a recipient. I wonder who the angry one really was?

    Interesting thought about Paul that I had not heretofore considered.

    What Would You Do?


  2. Interesting post. I think it’s likely that Paul did get angry. He certainly wasn’t sinless. And, as you point out, he was zealous and that does sometimes lead to anger, I think.

    I had never thought that Paul’s annoyance at the evil spirit who controlled the girl in Philippi was sinful, though. I always wondered why he didn’t cast the spirit out earlier. Why allow an evil spirit to control a poor girl? And when he finally cast the demon out the girl became part of the small church at Philippi. So it was a very good thing he did finally set the girl free.

    IN regards to anger in general: I think when we are angry at someone we are saying, in effect, “You are sinning.” What other reason is there to be angry but that someone is sinning?

    If the person is really sinning then the anger is justified, though we shouldn’t ever think we are better than the sinner as if we are above that particular kind of sin. But if the person isn’t sinning, if we are taking offense for no reason, then the anger is sinful. And whether the anger is justified or not, we are always to express our anger in love and to try to help the sinful one we are angry with.

    I’m just making this up as I go along, so don’t hold me to it. What do you think? Am I missing something?


  3. Hi, Lee, thanks for weighing in on this topic. Certainly people can misunderstand one another, and the chances of that happening with online communication is probably greater than in face-to-face when you can read body language or stop the person at the first hint of anger to clear up a potential problem before it gets going.

    I am an intense person, and when I’m passionate about something, I know the pitch of my voice goes up and I get more forceful in my delivery. That might be misconstrued by some to be anger.

    On the internet, however, we only have the words to go by, so I think we need to work extra hard, especially when we know we’re dealing with a sensitive issue, to choose words that aren’t emotionally charged—words that might communicate a hostile attitude.

    I’ll give you a negative example. Some months ago I visited a blog by following a link from another one I was subscribed to. I was in a hurry that day and left a comment about the subject, voicing a differing view. All would have been well, except in my rush, I started my comment with something like this: I’m shocked you think thus and so.

    “Shocked” is one of those loaded words, but I wasn’t meaning it as an attack or an angry reaction, but that’s the way the site owner took it. I was “really shocked” when I saw his response to me because he unloaded.

    I realized what I’d done, tried to modify my tone and present a more conciliatory manner without changing my position. Didn’t work. The original author continued to say all kinds of things that were … negative.

    Finally, I realized I needed to apologize for starting our exchange on such a bad note. Too late. He had blocked me from his site. Then he and his friends, who I don’t think ever came over to my site, proceeded to say all kinds of things against me, including questioning my Christianity.

    That one hurt, but I had only myself to blame. I was the one “who started it.”

    I knew better, too. I’ve been on a mini crusade against Christians blasting other Christians. It’s not the testimony Christ told us to have.

    At any rate, I’ve come to the view that I need to be willing to be wronged, to respond to others by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and to check to see if I am communicating truth in love, not just communicating truth.

    That’s the goal anyway, and I think it’s easier online than in real life. No one but God knows how much I screech at what I read and what all I have to delete or reword because my attitude is wrong. 😮 With online communication, I have more time to pray before responding. I give the Holy Spirit time to work. I only hope I can learn to do the same in person, too.



  4. I think when we are angry at someone we are saying, in effect, “You are sinning.” Interesting thought, Sally. I’m not sure I agree. I think I might get angry at someone who does something thoughtless.

    Here’s a really horrific example. When I was teaching, one of our students was killed in a car crash on the way to school. I think a parent’s reaction might have been anger toward the other driver. But was that person sinning? No—just not paying close attention.

    And Scripture seems to bear out the idea that anger in and of itself isn’t wrong. Moses was angry a lot, but only when he let his anger lead him into disobedience did God chasten him. It wasn’t for the anger; it was for the disobedience.

    That’s why I thought Paul might have an anger problem. You asked a good question—why didn’t he cast out the evil spirit right away? Could it be that God wanted that evil spirit to tell others that Paul and Silas were proclaiming the way of salvation? (God used various spirits in the Old Testament—a deceiving spirit, for example, to convince certain prophets to give a false message).

    The fact that Paul only acted when he got so annoyed he had to do something makes me wonder. His motives don’t seem to be pure—he wasn’t apparently thinking of what the benefits would be for the girl or how God’s name would be glorified. He was thinking of stopping this annoying yelling!

    I don’t think he was thinking that she was sinning against him. I mean, she was speaking the truth. But it irritated him. Maybe her voice was screechy or maybe he couldn’t hear himself think because she was so loud. Maybe her masters were trying to extort money from him because she was “divining for them.” Scripture doesn’t say WHY Paul was annoyed, just that he was. And then he acted.

    I’m suggesting that most of the time, it’s the action an angry person takes that is wrong. Anger is an emotional response to something we don’t like, and we can either feed it, let it grow, then act on it, or give it over to God and let it die. Sometimes “giving it over to God” entails repentance. Sometimes anger serves as a trigger to remind us to back off and let God handle the circumstances we don’t like; in which case, I don’t think repentance is in order, but yielding a specific situation or person and definitely my reaction to God, is.

    Don’t know if I answered your question.



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