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Experts agree that anger can be a problem both turned outward on other people and especially when turned inward, focussed on ourselves or repressed anger at someone else. It has a way of eating away at us and in many ways can be thought of as being like a restless fire. Within the church this restless fire is looked on in a number of ways, and this study is an attempt to find out what the bible says.

This study on anger was initially written with a group in mind. It's the kind of thing where group members would take it away and think about their answers ahead of time, then share what they've learned with the group and discuss it. It works equally well if you journal the answers, having a discussion with your journal about the topic.

Is it a sin to be angry?

1. Think back, and share about a time when you were really angry. What happened to make you angry - what were you angry at - and how did you handle things?

2. Matthew 5:21-24 says:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

2a. What does it appear that Jesus is saying here?

2b. How do you feel you measure up against this teaching?

3. Mark 11:12-25 says:

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:

'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'?

But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

When evening came, they went out of the city.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

"Have faith in God," Jesus answered."I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. "

3a. Why did Jesus go to the fig tree?

3b. What were His feelings on getting there, and why did He curse it?

3c. Did Jesus ever sin in His life? Trick question: the answer can be seen clearly in the bible in passages like Hebrews 4:14-16:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

3d. What does this suggest, then, about Him cursing the tree - sin or not?

3e. What happened next in the passage, and why?

3f. Why were the people amazed?

3g. In verse 25, why does Jesus talk about forgiveness?

4. We are told time and again in the bible that we should look to Jesus as our example. Given what we've read about Him, does it appear to be a sin to be angry?

5. Ephesians 4:26-32 says:

"In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

5a. In what ways can we sin while we are angry?

5b. Are there healthy expressions of anger?

5c. Looking at 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:

"Everything is permissible" -- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" -- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Given various ways to express anger, all might be permissible, but in what ways could some be beneficial or constructive? When might you have to choose "the lesser of 2 evils"?

6. Matthew 18:15-17 teaches us a way to handle situations where we are angry with someone:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

6a. What are the three steps, and how might they be applied to a real-life situation?

6b. What step comes, even before the first of these?

Tricky question: before you can go to another person to "show him his fault" you need to look at the situation and determine where the fault lies. Be honest! This is the step where people repress their anger, claiming that there is no fault, that it really doesn't matter, etc. In some situations, they may even have the other person telling them that they must simply "forgive", to try to get out of dealing with the situation. The bible is clear: we cannot shy away from an honest appraisal of the situation, and if someone has sinned against us, made us angry, etc, we should recognise that fact and deal with it.

6c. Romans 14:19 tells us:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

What actions lead us to mutual edification and real peace with a person? Remember: the passage says mutual edification, where both parties are built up. This means, one person isn't downtrodden in favour of the other, as this would make a mockery of the "peaceable" outcome.

6d. What actions after the event would preserve the peace?

6e. What are the differences between forgiveness and trust?
For more details, take a look at the article "forgiveness myths."

In closing

Anger can be thought of as being like a restless fire. It's not a sin for that fire to exist, indeed, we can make use of it as a motivation to do good things. However, we need to be careful not to let it burn us, or the people around us and cause them harm.

Anger has a tendency to escalate, in the fire analogy, like a lit match to a campfire, to a forest fire. It's important to catch things early, and to follow what the bible teaches about keeping it under control.

Paul Hawke