Is the expression of wrath appropriate in the pulpit?
Followers of Christ, including pastors, are not to let anger ferment in their hearts so that they become wrathful and seek vengeance on others. According to Scripture, a man who is an elder or leader in the Church must not be an angry man:
For a bishop [superintendent] must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers (Titus 1:7–9).
Pastors need to speak the truth, expose evil, and warn their congregations about false teaching and deception. Just as a shepherd is vigilant and will defend his flock from dangerous predators, so a pastor should address difficult issues with courage and determination. The cost of ignoring evil is destruction for a congregation, as well as for a flock. In his approach to the sheep, a good shepherd is not violent, but patient. Likewise, a pastor should approach his congregation with care and wisdom.
A spirit of anger is contagious.
When a pastor exhibits a spirit of anger as he preaches and leads his congregation, his people will tend to imitate that attitude in their lives, because a spirit of anger is contagious. We are warned in Scripture: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul” (Proverbs 22:24–25).
Pastors are responsible to lead their congregations in patience and righteousness. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24–25).
Pastors are to “shepherd” with love and care.
God compares a pastor to the shepherd of a flock, not to the barking dogs that corral the sheep. The strong, gentle demeanor of the shepherd and his willingness to lay down his life for the sheep should be the nature of a pastor in the pulpit. If a pastor promotes a spirit of wrath, his people will likely become judgmental and consequently influence others to reject the Word of God.
A shepherd will approach his sheep differently than he would approach a wolf or lion that seeks to destroy his flock. Similarly, a pastor needs discernment when responding to the situations his congregation faces. His resolve against evil is an essential element of successful leadership. Even in situations where firmness is required, a pastor should not operate in wrath, but rather he should remember that vengeance is God’s responsibility.
The prophets of Israel spoke of God’s wrath but also brought hope.
The prophets of the nation of Israel were sent by God to warn the people of God’s coming judgment. They spoke of God’s anger and wrath, but they themselves were messengers of hope who appealed to the people to repent and obey God. Prophets were awed by the holiness of God and repulsed by the sin of the people, but they were representatives of God’s mercy and love, not His anger and wrath.
The prophet Jeremiah demonstrated the balance of truth with love as he delivered God’s warnings to the nations of Israel. However, Jonah’s angry response to God’s mercy was rebuked as selfishness and a lack of concern for the people of Nineveh. (See Jonah 4.)
Jesus’ message to the Church is not vengeance, but mercy.
Jesus boldly confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He directly exposed unbelief in His disciples and others. Yet, Jesus described Himself as being “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29), not harsh or angry in spirit. Those who heard Jesus speak “wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22).
Every pastor is an under-shepherd of the Lord Jesus and is therefore required to represent Christ’s nature as well as His message. Scripture clearly denotes the attitudes all believers should portray when representing the Gospel, whether in or out of the pulpit: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (I Peter 3:15–16).
The Epistles confirm that wrath has no place in our behavior.
James wrote: “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 3:17–4:1).
The warning that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20) certainly applies to a pastor in the pulpit. The administration of wrath belongs solely to God, who will bring justice to all and work vengeance where it is required. (See Romans 12:17–21.)
The Apostle Paul exhorted the believers in Colossi with these words:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. . . . Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:5–17, ESV).
This article is adapted from pages 17–18 of the Anger Resolution Seminar Workbook. Learn about the Anger Resolution Seminar.