In exploring the topic of anger, we know from the Bible that anger can be a totally legitimate emotion. But the question is, when is anger right and when is it wrong?

James wrote that “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20, NASB) or “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” So, we see a differentiation in man’s anger and God’s anger. What’s the difference?

When we are angry strictly for personal reasons, then we need to be very suspicious of that anger. It’s interesting that Jesus did not display anger when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, nor at his mock trial. He had every reason to be angry at the injustice being done to him, but he shows no sign of anger then. But he angrily threw money-changers out of the temple because of their desecration, and he expressed anger at the callousness of the religious leaders who were proud and self-righteous.

Let’s get this down to where you and I live. Is it right to be angry when someone has hurt your feelings? Suppose a coworker treats you indifferently, doesn’t invite you to join in for certain activities, or seems to purposely do things to hurt you. Are you justified to feel angry in that kind of situation?

What about when someone doesn’t do their job correctly and that causes you some problems? I remember when I was angry with a vendor who had made the same mistake several times, a mistake that was costly to me in time, money, and frustration. Did I have a right to be angry?

Frankly, I find these difficult questions to answer. Everything in me wants to say, “Of course you have a right to be angry.” But if I look at the principle here, maybe the answer is different. Here’s the principle: Anger is justified when it is directed at evil or wrong, not at people; and when it is not simply because we have been hurt or inconvenienced, but when there is a larger picture to consider.

Have you been feeling angry lately? Ask yourself, “Am I angry simply because my feelings have been hurt or my life has been inconvenienced?” If so, James says that the anger of man—that kind of selfish anger—does not bring about the righteousness of God. In other words, it will do you harm to be angry for the wrong reasons.