Ephesians 4:26 (NIV) states, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Is it really possible to be angry and not sin? Since this instruction is in the Bible, it must be possible. So how should we handle our anger in a godly way?
In part 2 of this series on Anger Management, I talked about the difference between inappropriate and appropriate anger. Inappropriate anger is when we assume someone has wronged us, but in fact no one has. Appropriate anger is when someone has wronged us or sinned against us. We can easily let go of our inappropriate anger. But how do we handle the appropriate anger? What do we do when someone has sinned against us?
There are several stories in the Bible that give us some help with anger management, but the one I like the best is the story in Genesis about Joseph. What if you were sold into slavery by your family members? What if you were falsely accused of sexual immorality and placed into prison? Would you be angry? I would. How would you handle such anger? Both of these terrible sins happened to Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his jealous and cruel brothers. He was falsely accused of sexual immorality and placed into prison. So if anyone had reason to be angry, Joseph certainly did. People close to him had sinned against him. So what did Joseph do?
If you remember the story about Joseph, God had mercy upon him while he was in prison. Because of his unique ability to interpret dreams, Joseph was released from prison and given the honor of being second in command of Egypt. His job was to store grain for seven years of abundant harvest knowing that it would be followed by seven years of famine. When the famine did occur, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him. He tested and questioned them to find out if they were still the cruel brothers he remembered or if they had changed. He found out that his mean brothers had changed. Eventually, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Then, Joseph moved the entire family to Egypt where he could care for them with his authority and power. Later, Joseph’s father died and his brothers became afraid of Joseph. Let’s look closer at several ways Joseph handled his anger against the sin of his brothers.
1. Joseph grieved. Genesis 50:15-17 (NIV) states, When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. This was not the first time Joseph cried in response to seeing his brothers again. Rather than keep it all bottled up inside, Joseph cried. All of his hurt and pain came out in tears. So crying and grieving when others have sinned against us is a good thing. It helps us to release the hurt and pain.
2. Joseph refused to seek revenge. Genesis 50:18-19 (NIV) states, “His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?’” Because of his position and his authority, Joseph could have had his brother’s killed and no one would have questioned him. However, Joseph knew that revenge belonged in God’s hands, not his. Joseph knew that using his anger in the behavior of revenge would be a sin.
3. Joseph confronted the sinful behavior. Genesis 50:20 (NIV) states, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In Joseph’s story, he did not have the opportunity to confront his brothers until they showed up in Egypt looking for food. But he did confront them, and he did state the sin. The purpose in confronting is not for revenge, it is for reconciliation. When God confronts us with sin, his purpose is for us to be reconciled with him. He wants us to repent and be in fellowship with him. Our purpose in confronting must be the same.
4. Joseph looked for the good in his pain. Look again at Genesis 50:20 (NIV). “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph was able to see how God had worked all of this out for good. Rather than focus on his hurt and stew in his anger, Joseph recognized that God was saving lives through his position of authority in Egypt. God had placed Joseph in the right place at the right time. How he got there was due to the painful sin of his brothers. However, in his anger, Joseph looked for the good that God was working.
5. Joseph forgave his brothers. Genesis 50:21 (NIV) states, “‘So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” So rather than taking out revenge, Joseph forgave his brothers and promised to provide for them.
Rather than sin in his anger, Joseph turned anger into affection. He turned resentment into reassurance. He turned rage into rescue. He turned bitterness into benevolence. He turned temper into tenderness. I hope that Joseph’s example will be of some help to you today as you learn how to handle your anger in a way that honors God rather than sins against him. “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”