Be angry and do not sin
I get angry. Just ask my kids. (Okay, please don’t ask my kids.) It isn’t a secret. People that know me have heard me share about my anger. I’ve shared about this in my preaching. It is one of my besetting sins that I hate and fight against and pray that God would be pleased to miraculously take away from me.
This week we at SOMA are memorizing the following Fighter Verse which speaks to my struggle with anger:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. - Ephesians 4:26
The Bible has a quite a lot to say to me and others who get angry. Here are just a few passages.
- Proverbs 14:29 - Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
- Proverbs 15:18 - A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
- Proverbs 16:32 - Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
- Proverbs 29:22 - A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
- Ecclesiastes 7:9 - Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
- Matthew 5:22 - But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
- Ephesians 4:31 - Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
- James 1:19–20 - Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The overall picture is pretty clear. But then we come back to this weeks Fighter Verse in Ephesians 4:26 - Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
That ought to slow us down. Why would the apostle Paul seemingly command anger in verse 26 and then just a few verses later command us to “put away” all “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander… along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31)? Is the apostle Paul confused?
Here in Ephesians 4:26 the apostle Paul is no doubt quoting Psalm 4:4: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah.” So Paul wasn’t coming up with some new and strange idea. While there is clear teaching in the Bible about the problems associated with much anger (go back and re-read the sample passages above!), there also seems to be a place for at least some form of anger.
R. C. Sproul in his commentary on Ephesians says that "we have a tendency to think that anger, in and of itself, is a sin. We imagine that there is something intrinsically wrong about getting angry. If this was the case, however, it would reflect badly on the character of God. You see, the Bible speaks frequently about the wrath of God and there are episodes in the Gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, where he manifested anger (e.g. Mark 3:5). (R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994, 114.)
So in Ephesians 4:26 we have what would seem to be both a command and a concession. As a command, it is a command to what is often called “righteous anger.” Evil and injustice anger God and evil and injustice ought to anger us as well. But this verse is also a concession in that in our anger we need to be careful not to let it cross over into a place of sin. “Anger can very easily become an occasion for evil, an open door to Satanic enticements and temptation. This is simply because anger can be a very strong emotion and we can lose control of ourselves in what we call the ‘heat’ of anger” (Sproul, ibid.).
Ephesians 4:26 is not a free pass at all anger. It is a command and concession that needs to be prayerfully obeyed. Especially if you struggle with anger like I do. May the grace that is in Christ Jesus strengthen me to be angry without sin. May the Holy Spirit fill me and control me in those times when I find myself angry. I’m praying this for myself. I’m praying this for our church.