Fighting for Faith: Anger
Before your Community Group:
Read Psalm 4 out loud. Try to summarize the psalm in a sentence or two.
What are your typical trigger points in anger? (What situations, scenarios or times do you typically experience the emotion of anger?)
What is causing David to experience anger in this Psalm? How does he respond? Does anger serve any good purpose?
What does it mean to “offer right sacrifices”? Look to Psalm 51:16-17, Hosea 6:6, Isaiah 58:1-7 and Micah 6:8 to help you answer this question.
We see that anger is closely tied to our sense of “justice” or “what is right”, whether what we think is right is really correct or not. Anger is tempting because it can also offer us a sense of momentary joy and peace (Look at Psalm 4:7-8), yet we know that anger is more often destructive than constructive and the joy and peace it offers is fleeting. Looking at Psalm 4 as a whole, what does this passage teach us about turning to God in our times of anger?
These community group study guides are not designed to provide an exhaustive approach to the various emotions we will be studying, but to help us interact at a basic level with these core emotions we experience as we follow Jesus in faith.
Anger may be our most dangerous emotion, largely due to the intensity of the energy we can feel in times of anger and, at it’s extreme, rage. Many of us go through life and can assume we are not angry people, that is until life’s frustrations lead us from a simmer of frustration to a pot boiling over. Anger at its root cries out “this is not right!”. Anger is an issue of justice and will be rooted into a moral assessment. You may be angry at your boss at work for treating you unfairly, your kids for inconveniencing you or maybe even God for the way your life has gone. When you step back and examine these moments of anger you are responding with anger because you believe that you do not deserve unfair treatment, or to be inconvenienced or for your life to be difficult. Maybe you’re right… but, maybe you’re wrong. God has given us the emotion of anger as a “justice compass”. We get angry because we’re made in the image of God and he gets angry in scripture. In its most redeemed form anger sees the injustice of this world and helps us to respond with God’s holiness, as well as his compassion. However, our “justice compass” does not point to true north. We feel slighted so we lash out with harsh words, something “unfair” happens to us so we express our outrage on social media and when God does not dance to our tune we distance ourself from him and his people.
Anger can range from a righteous and protective love, on one hand, to an unrighteous vengeful self-interest on the other. We may get angry about things like human trafficking, racial injustice, people in our communities being marginalized or even specific crimes committed against us; all of which are things that God says are unjust. However, for many of us who struggle with anger experience what we’d call unrighteous anger.
It looks like this: Your emotions and frustrations flare up and you quickly look for a loved one to lash out against. At the end of the ordeal we experience a level of blame shifting; “if only my life was not so stressful…” And, we walk away with a good level of guilt and shame; “I will never do that again”. Yet, tomorrow rolls around and we find ourselves in a similar scenario falling into the pit of anger yet again. But, we still claim “I am not an angry person”.
Due to the presence of sin, your emotions are disjointed with who you were made to be in God’s image. You have anger, but you struggle to be angry and not sin. The bright side is that we can expect that as we grow in holiness and sanctification we will experience more and more righteous anger and less and less unrighteous anger because our compass for justice is pointing more and more often to its true north — the holiness and justice of God.
How does scripture help us navigate this in-between time in how we experience anger? Our main study will be around Psalm 4, but many other helpful scriptures teach us about anger. Let’s look at a few of those scriptures in addition to Psalm 4.
In Psalm 4 we learn that David has been in times of distress before. In verse 1, “distress” can be translated as “up against the wall”. It appears that in this particular case there are men who have openly dishonored and shamed him who are spreading ties (4:2). In response, David speaks the gospel to himself and reminds himself that the LORD is with the godly and is gracious to hear his prayer (4:3). Psalm 4:4 gives us the famous verse from this passage, “be angry and do not sin” showing us that anger in and of itself is not a sin, it is the response that is either righteous or unrighteous. In its most righteous state, anger is a gift from God to tune our hearts to his sense of justice, but is also an emotion that is prone to be abused and has intense power to control us. David is able to navigate his anger with that reminder of God’s presence (4:3), and he allows that reminder of God’s presence to do a few things in his heart. First of all David slows down to ponder in his own life; this is showing us that anger should lead us to internal reflection (4:4). Second, David remains silent fighting the initial urge to lash back which is in line with James’ admonition for us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (Psalm 4:4, James 1:19). Third, David moves forward with the call to offer right sacrifices demonstrating a trust in the LORD. “Right sacrifice” in scripture is not simply presenting the appropriate offer at the temple, but the language the Bible uses to talk about how our faith in God moves us forward to faithful obedience. Psalm 4 ends by showing us where joy and peace come from which teaches us that the lie of unrighteous anger is that we can have joy and peace if we express our anger with intensity. What Psalm 4 shows us instead is how we can fight that temptation through reflection, being slow to lash out and moving forward with faithful obedience — responding to our situation in a way and means that honors God.
You may wonder what causes anger in your life. James 4:1-4 tells us that our passions are at war within us, which means that disordered passions can lead you to anger. Others of us have created a habitual sin response where our tongues lead us to sin (James 3:8-9). Many of us may experience unrighteous anger because we believe that it is up to us to get vengeance when we’ve been wronged instead of leaving that in the hands of God (Romans 12:17-21). It could also be that you give in to unrighteous anger because you do not understand the gospel, namely that God, instead of taking vengeance on us for our evil and sin poured out his wrath on his own son so we can have forgiveness and reconciliation with our true Father. Sure, when you look at it your day to day experience of anger could be frustrating situations at work or kids who won’t stop with their demands or a husband/wife you think isn’t living up to your expectations… but let’s do what Psalm 4:4 says, let’s stop and look into our hearts. Why are you really angry? Frustrating work, demanding kids and a spouse who doesn’t live up to our expectations are all secondary causes. The primary cause is much deeper that that… warring passions, sinful habits, a desire for vengeance or a misunderstanding of the gospel.
Instead of giving in to the temptations these things provide us, slow down and ask the question “am I angry about the right things or selfish things?” and “is this anger leading me to do things that honor Christ or dishonor Christ?” Allow your anger to remind you that you have a God who is in control and not only has a better compass for justice than you do but expresses it with perfect righteousness. So, be angry… but do not sin!
Questions for discussion:
At your community group: Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
We typically do not like to admit that we struggle with anger. What synonyms for anger do you typically find yourself using instead? Why is it so tempting to give in to feelings of anger?
As a group, define “righteous” and “unrighteous” anger.
Read Psalm 4 as a group, what are the cases behind David’s anger? Would you say that they are righteous or unrighteous? How does David respond differently than someone who is “being angry and sinning”?
As a group read Psalm 4:4, Ephesians 4:26, James 1:19-20, James 4:1-6 and Romans 12:17-21. What are a few of the deeper causes of our anger and what does scripture instruct us to do in response?