“Wrath” is defined as “passion (as if breathing hard).” Thayer adds that it means “the rage with which the man pants and swells.” Vine offers that it is a more agitated condition of the feelings, an outburst of wrath from inward indignation — it quickly blazes up and quickly subsides, though that is not necessarily implied in each case.
In Galatians 5:20, it follows the word “jealousies,” which when smoldering in the heart, break out in wrath. The sacredness or sinfulness of anger and wrath is determined by its motivation, intent, and expression. It is not wrong to feel passionately about something. However, such strong emotions must be given proper channel and expression. The Bible speaks of the wrath of God, the wrath of Satan, and of sinful men. We can properly distinguish between righteous indignation and sinful anger.
The Wrath of God
God manifests both wrath and indignation towards those who are selfishly ambitious and disobedient (Romans 2:5-10). The book of Revelation repeatedly speaks of “the wrath of God” that is poured out on sinful mankind (14:9-10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15).
The Wrath of Satan
The Apocalypse describes war in heaven, waged between the forces of good and evil. Satan lost this battle, and was cast down to earth. Filled with passionate hatred for all that is good, he persecuted the church, knowing that he has only a short time in which to oppose the work of God (Revelation 12:7-13). He is a malicious foe of all that is good and godly (Job 1:6-22; 1 Peter 5:8).
The Wrath of Sinful Man
Paul was fearful that when he returned to Corinth, the saints would still manifest a sullen and sinful temperament (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). The New Testament furthermore contains two great statements on the danger of sinful wrath (Ephesians 4:26-27; James 1:19-21).
In Galatians 5, “outbursts of anger” are listed among the soul-condemning works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). The emotions of wrath and anger, with their various outward manifestations, must be purged from the lives of faithful disciples, and replaced with the spirit of kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:31-32). Sinful anger and wrath are not reflective of one who has been created anew in the image of Christ (Colossians 3:8-10).
- The wrath of sinful man was directed against saints of old. Not fearing the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses chose to cast his lot with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the temporal treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-27).
- The wrath of sinful man was directed against Christ. When rebuked by Jesus for the superficiality of their faith, the inhabitants of Nazareth were filled with murderous rage (Luke 4:16-30).
- The wrath of sinful man was directed against Paul. Demetrius the silversmith, fearing that Christianity was cutting into his profits, lead a rage-filled mob into the great amphitheater at Ephesus, where for two confused hours they chanted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:23-28).
- The wrath of sinful man was directed against Christians. Persecution was a reality for many saints. Rome had a corrosive influence on the nations. Yet punishment awaited both the corrupter and the corrupted. Having become satiated with the wine of the passion of immorality (Revelation 14:8; 18:3), sinful man would drink of the wrath of God (Revelation 14:9-10; 18:4-8).
As we have seen, there is a significant distinction between the anger of God, Satan, and sinful mankind. Ascribed to God, anger denotes His displeasure with sin and sinners. Lovers of truth will experience strong displeasure when something evil presents itself to our view. In itself, anger is a reflection of our emotional makeup, and is not necessarily sinful. However, it may become an occasion of sin when the expression of anger is causeless, careless, excessive, or protracted (cp. Numbers 20:1-13; Psalm 37:8-9; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Timothy 2:8; Ephesians 4:26-27). Therefore, let us be angry but sin not (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Adapted from Mark Mayberry