Anger is complicated. Even if we spend little time considering the anatomy of our anger, we all intuitively recognize its dangerous power (which, of course, is why we leverage it as we do). I deeply appreciate how the Bible carefully nuances this important issue. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul writes:
"Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." (Eph 4:26)
In other words, anger is OK if we can (1) express it sinlessly ("do not sin") and (2) it is short-lived ("do not let the sun go down on your anger"). Yet, only five verses later he says, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger...be put away from you." (Eph 4:31) What is Paul doing here? Is he giving divine approval for short-lived, sinless anger or mandating that we put all anger away? Yes. He's acknowledging there will be times where short-lived, sinless anger is permissible, but they should be rare.
Even in Jesus' sinless ministry, we see very few instances of this form of anger. In the overwhelming majority of cases, anger is something that we must "put away". Why? Because the gospel demands it, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph 4:32) How, then, do we sever the root of anger in our lives?
#1 Consider the fact that you have sinned against God more than anyone can or will ever sin against you.
If God has forgiven you for your sin, in Jesus, how could you not forgive the sins of others? How could you be angry with anyone else when God is no longer angry with you – despite all you’ve done against him? When tempted to anger, a Christian's first thought must be, “But God has forgiven me for much worse…” (cf Mt 18:21-35) That is why the Bible treats unforgiveness as such a major issue. Lack of forgiveness reveals you don’t actually grasp what God has done for you in Jesus – and that is a salvation issue.
#2 Consider that anger and bitterness is an open invitation for the devil to gain a foothold in your life.
Again, in Eph 4:26-27, the Apostle Paul says, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." In other words, by allowing sinful anger and bitterness to go unchecked we are giving the devil an opportunity for influence in our lives. How does the devil use our anger against us? For one, it damages and destroys our relationships with others, little-by-little. At the same time, it increasingly leaves us isolated in a little world of our own making, where we're always right and our sin is always justified.
#3 Consider keeping short accounts with your anger by confessing and asking forgiveness immediately.
To "not let the sun go down on our anger" means that we should deal with it, and its consequences, immediately. Don’t brush it under the rug. Even though it might seem like your anger is not negatively impacting your relationships with those around you, there are likely things growing under that rug you’re not aware of. By confessing and asking for forgiveness immediately it will (1) allow you to maintain a clean conscience, (2) remove Satan's potential foothold, and (3) give you less time to determine out how to justify yourself.
#4 Consider where your anger will lead.
Ask yourself, "What good has ever come of my anger?", "Why do I turn to anger as I do?", "Where will my anger lead if left unbridled?", "What do the current state of my relationships with others reveal about the effects of my anger?" Learn from past. In the moment anger (whether an angry outburst or an angry silent treatment) may seem justified, but it never brings health and life into your relationships. "A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression." (Pr 29:22)
#5 Consider why you feel the need to take matters into your own hands instead of entrusting them to God's.
Anger almost always boils down to not believing God is who he says he is and/or that he will do what he says he will do. When do you tend to get angry? Who do you tend to get angry with? How does your anger reveal your sinful desire to control others? What would it look like to entrust those situations into God's hands rather than angrily taking matters into your own hands?
#6 Consider that God can change you.
Often, when it comes to sins of the flesh, we can so closely identify ourselves with them that we think, “That’s just the way I am.” Yet, if you’re in Christ, that is not just the way that you are. You are justified, adopted, sealed and eternally loved. God promises that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil 1:6)
#7 Consider entrusting the final verdict to our good God who knows and sees all things.
It makes a difference to know that no sin, in the end, will go unpunished. The sins of Christians committed against us have all been dealt with on the cross. All other sin will dealt with on the day of judgment. If we believe that Christ will come in final and inescapable judgment then we don’t need to be anyone’s judge right now.
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free. And then to discover that prisoner is you." Lewis Smedes, The Art of Forgiving