In the recent aftermath of the Target transgender restroom announcement, a divide seems to have emerged in the evangelical community. I’m not speaking of the cultural divide that separates those who are embracing homosexuality as right and normal from those who believe it is sinful. The particular divide I’m speaking of has occurred within the Christian community that holds to the biblical view of sin and has risen between those who have chosen to respond in love and those who have chosen to respond in anger.
The first group believes that homosexuality is a sin, but also firmly maintains that Christians should be characterized by love and not anger. The second group consists of well-meaning Christians who seem to believe that anger is the best response. They are afraid that advocating for love will lead to moral compromise and believe that an angry public outburst is a stand for God’s truth. While I greatly admire their courage and willingness to stand for what they believe, I am greatly concerned at the intensity and frequency of anger I see coming from the Christian community.
Jesus Got Angry…
One of the stories these angry Christians frequently point to in the Bible is that of Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple. Though it is a shame to use this story to justify sinful anger, one of the many lessons we can learn from this biblical example is that there certainly are things in our world that should make us angry. God hates sin and we should too, so of course there are specific manifestations of sin that we should oppose.
But Not Often!
While this story certainly reveals to us that Jesus was capable of anger, the reason it stands out in our mind is that it was a rare occasion. Though there are indeed things that we should stand against, equally obvious in this example is the fact that this kind of public anger should be rare. While Jesus was capable of anger, he certainly could not be characterized as an angry person. This anger should not be the thing that characterizes us as a person or as a church.
Not Angry about Everything
Closely related to the rarity of Jesus’ anger is the specificity of the sin that led to his outrage. In fact, it would be foolish to dismiss Jesus’ responses to all of the other sin that He encountered. Consider the fact that in Mark 2:15 we find Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. While he states his desire was to bring them to repentance, there is no expression of anger whatsoever. Similarly, when the scribes and Pharisees grumble in Luke 15 that He is again eating with sinners, Jesus tells three parables expressing his compassion for the lost. In Luke 7:31-35 we again find that Jesus is accused of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. His response was not to deny it or defend himself, but to admonish the religious leaders that condemned His actions. Immediately after this occurrence, we find a sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment and wiping them with her own tears and hair. His response to this is again void of anger, but instead is filled with forgiveness.
We find this to be the constant story of Jesus’ life. From Zacchaeus to the woman at the well to the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ response to sinners was compassion and forgiveness, not anger. Additionally, we should consider that Jesus did not rant and rave against some of the generic sins of the culture like slavery and adultery even though he certainly found them detestable.
Instead, it is only in these two instances of cleansing the temple that we find him this angry. Consequently, it seems that there is something about this particular sin that causes His anger. He is not giving blanket approval to angry outbursts. Rather, He is expressing His righteous anger at the corruption of God’s house at the hands of the religious establishment. Those two elements are the key to understanding Jesus’ actions: the corruption of God ordained religion and the defilement of God’s house. While this story is often used to defend the anger of the religious toward sinners outside the church, it is more accurately an indictment of those same religious people and their corruption of God’s system of faith.
It wasn’t a Socio-Political Statement
Jesus’ anger was at a specific and genuine sin that directly assaulted God’s holiness in His own house. It was not directed at a cultural or social norm, policy or standard. It was not a political statement. It was not opposing or furthering any agenda. I think it is shameful that many will take Jesus’ perfectly holy actions and use them to defend their political and social activism.
It Wasn’t Selfish
A final observation I would like to make about Jesus’ anger is that it was not selfishly motivated. Jesus was not working toward personal gain. In fact, the sin He opposed would have made the practice of His religion easier, not harder. In contrast, most of this so-called righteous anger today is not legitimate or righteous at all. To the contrary, the greatest anger seems to be generated not by sin but by the inconvenience the sins of others might cause. The consistent defense offered by these men and women is that we have to “stand up for our rights” and “I’m afraid.” These are signs that the real trigger for their anger is sinful selfishness at being affected by the sin rather than at the sin’s affront on God’s holiness.
A Final Thought
While this one incident in Jesus’ life makes it clear that there are rare occasions when an angry outburst may be proper, His life makes it abundantly clear that overall we must be characterized by love and a passion to reach the lost. This admonition toward a more loving response to our culture is not intended to attack my fellow Christians nor compromise holiness in any way. However, I do wish to encourage genuine believers to evaluate their actions in light of the truth of God’s Word and make every effort to conduct themselves in a way that is both honoring to the Lord and loving toward others.