Many seem to regard anger as bad. However, Scripture teaches us that God gets angry. For example in Deuteronomy 9:8, it is written, “Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.” (Deut. 9:8) Also the Bible says in 1 Kings 11:9-10, “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded.” Since man is made in the image of God, we thus conclude that anger is given to man by God and is part of the make-up of man.

Why then is the anger of man regarded as bad even in numerous sections of the Scripture? The reason is that man often gets angry for the wrong reasons. As man’s anger is frequently tainted by sin, it often leads him to make foolish decisions and commit deeds of gross evil and wickedness. “An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.” (Prov. 29:22) Proverbs 25:28 adds, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”

The expression “wrath of man” is found three times in the Bible. What lessons can we learn from these verses concerning sinful anger?

The Wrath of Man Worketh Not the Righteousness of God (James 1:20)
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
This exhortation follows James’ instruction that his readers be, “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1:19). It is a general rule that one be careful in hearing and evaluating what others say before acting. Careless hearing often leads to a lack of restraint in speech and ill-tempered action rooted in selfish anger.

However, the expression “swift to hear” in the immediate context refers to the ready hearing of God’s Word. When one is not prepared to receive the faithful preaching of the Word, it can result in misplaced anger and careless speech. Such wrath that arise from a prideful heart in rejecting the truth will never persuade or bring forth any righteous action. It causes great harm to the offender and also to fellow men.

Thomas Manton astutely observes that the text also warns us against any anger that seems to be a just displeasure against an offence which “looks upon revenge not as irrational excess but as just punishment, especially such anger as carrieth the faith of zeal, which is the anger spoken of in the text. Rage and distempered heats in controversies of religion, … such carnal zeal, (no matter) how just and pious soever it seems, is not approved and acquitted as righteous before God. It is observable that… more is intended than said; for the apostle means it is so far from working righteousness, that it worketh all manner of evil.” Listen more and act carefully with a regulated spirit, even if we suppose that we are right, for it may be that we have been careless or misguided in our judgment. Uncontrolled anger will lead us to do that which stands in contrast with the example of Christ, who is the meekest and most humble Saviour.

The Wrath of Man Praises God (Psalm 76:10)
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” (Psalm 76:10)

This verse seems to contradict James 1:20. However, on closer examination, we see that it is teaching us that nothing shall frustrate the decretive will of God. Man in his rebellion will often rage against the Lord and His saints. Thus, the godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). God will surely thwart the wrathful schemes of the wicked and this leads people to acknowledge the absolute sovereignty of God.

Are you suffering at work or school because you seek to walk with integrity before the Lord? Let this verse be your comfort and remember that God gets praise even from the wicked schemes of unjust and wrathful men. Let all the saints worship the Lord in love, praising the absolute sovereignty of our God.

The Wrath of Man Results in Retribution (Proverbs 19:19)
“A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.” (Proverbs 19:19)

The second half explains the first half of this proverb. When a man is full of controlled anger and refuses to deal with it, you realise that there is little you can do to restrain. You may help him the first time but since he stubbornly clings on to his sinful passions, the cycle continues, just like a stone rolling down the hill. While this raging bull of a man may hurt others in the process, he will ultimately inflict punishment on himself when he bears the consequences of his wrath. He will soon find himself standing alone from the fall out of his rage. “Wounded pride and unquelled resentment leave the wretched criminal in his brooding chamber within, suffering an intolerable burden of self-inflicted punishment.” (Bridges) And so will be the end of the one who refuses to control his anger, but gives in to its burning flames.

Dearly beloved, beware of sinful anger. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew


Selected observations by Thomas Manton on James 1:19 (Abridged and Edited)

1. It teacheth men not to adventure upon the preaching of the word till they have a good spiritual furniture, or are stored with a sufficiency of gifts. It is not for every one that can speak an hour to adventure upon the work of teaching. John was thirty years old when he preached first (Luke 3:1).

2. It showeth that we should not precipitate our judgments concerning doctrines and points of divinity. That we may not rashly condemn or defend anything that is contrary to the word of God, or of which we have certainty from the word. Be slow to speak; that is, do not speak till you have a more sure ground. To take up things hastily engageth a man to many inconveniences… How mutable do men of a sudden spirit and fiery nature appear to the world! Rashly professing according to the present apprehensions, they are forced to change often. There should be a due pause ere we receive things, and a serious deliberation ere we defend and profess them.

3. That we be not more forward to teach others than to learn ourselves. Many are hasty to speak, but backward to do, and can better master it and prescribe to others than practise themselves, which our apostle noteth, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1), that is, be not so forward to discipline others when you neglect your own souls. The apostle speaketh so earnestly, as if he meant to rouse a benumbed conscience, “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Rom. 2:21) And I have heard that a scandalous minister, in reading of it, was struck at the heart and converted. Even a heath could observe, it is far more easy to instruct others than to practise ourselves.

4. That we do not vainly and emptily talk of the things of God, and put forth ourselves above what is meet: it is good to take every occasion, but many times indiscreet speaking doth more hurt than silence. “He that hath knowledge spareth his words” (Prov. 17:27). Empty vessels sound loudest; and men of great parts, like a deep river, glide on with the least noise.

5. It teacheth us not to be over-ready to frame objections against the Word. It is good to be dumb at reproof, though not deaf. Let not every proud thought break out into thy speeches. Guilt will recoil at the hearing of the Word, and the mind will be full of vain surmises and carnal objections; but alas, how odious would men appear if they should be swift to utter them – if thoughts, that are the words of the mind, should be formed into outward words and expressions. Thoughts may be corrected upon further information, but words cannot be recalled; thought do only stain our own spirits, words convey a taint to others; thoughts are more indeliberate than words; in thoughts we sin with our mind only, in words with our mind and tongue.