Combined with the previous chapter, anger is the topic of which Bridges devotes the most space. After reading the chapter, it’s no surprise – anger is a serious, oft-overlooked sin. In many places, Paul includes anger with other “ugly” sins like bitterness, slander, obscene talk, conceit, and hostility.
This chapter is devoted to nipping anger in the bud. If we let our sinful, malignant anger fester, it can lead to “noxious weeds” of anger, which include resentment, bitterness, enmity, and grudges. Bridges offers three basic directions for nipping anger in the bud: always looking to the sovereignty of God, praying that God will enable us to grow in love, and learning to forgive as God has forgiven us.
The story of Joseph in Genesis is a great example of trusting in the sovereignty of God in all circumstances. When he was sinned against, he guarded against the temptation to become angry by firmly believing in the sovereignty of God. Romans 8 promises that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him. This good doesn’t always mean that we will be elevated to second in command like Joseph, but it means that in every circumstance, God has our greater good in mind – becoming more like Christ.
In every circumstance in which we are tempted to be angry we are to pray that God will enable us to grow in love. This love, Briges says, doesn’t just magically appear, but comes as “we pursue it diligently in dependence on the Holy Spirit.”
We must also forgive as God has forgiven us. One of my favourite parables is when the king forgives an astronomical debt a servant owes him. This forgiven servant then throws another servant in jail who owes him a decent amount of money – but nothing close to the amount the first servant was forgiven. We are like the first forgiven servant – forgiven of a debt of sin so great that we can never pay it back. This debt is determined not by the severity of our sin, but by the value of God’s glory and holiness. “Every sin we commit, regardless of how insignificant it seems to us, is an assault on his infinite glory.”
It cost God to forgive us – the death of his son, Jesus. God paid our debt through Christ to forgive us of the enormous spiritual debt we owed. Because of this truth, we must forgive as we have been forgiven. “Until we acknowledge that we are the ten-thousand talent debtor to God, we will struggle with forgiving people who have wronged us in significant was or people who continue to wrong us.” Overlooking someone else’s sin does not minimize their sin, but their sin does not make our sin of anger right or justified. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven, and elsewhere we are charged to have a love that overlooks a multitude of sin.
My anger often comes when I have been sinned against. But it is not a righteous anger – it is an anger that comes from my pride and selfishness. I was convicted by Bridges’ words that “while there is plenty of injustice that deserves a response of righteous anger, we should not use that as an excuse to evade the reality of the sinful anger that so often arises in our hearts.”