Ephesians 4:26–27 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.”
“To dissolve our sinful emotions, we must believe that God is absolutely sovereign in all the affairs of our lives (both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’) and that all the words and actions of other people that tempt us to anger are somehow included in His wise and good purposes to make us more like Jesus.” — Jerry Bridges
What happens when you are running late for an important appointment and you get stuck in traffic? What if you dump coffee on your pants or your phone battery dies? Most of us find ourselves in situations when anger of some sort—impatience, frustration, irritation, bitterness—spills or spews out. But is anger always wrong? What about the fire that rises in your soul when you hear of a child abused, or dozens of people killed by a terrorist, or a scam that takes advantage of unsuspecting senior citizens?
“Be angry!” Paul’s imperative, which at first may seem confusing, is a divine command. But is he referring to unlimited or unrestricted anger? In these two verses, Paul gives four direct commands concerning the way believers should handle anger.
|Be ye angry,||Be enraged over sin,|
|and sin not:||but don’t sin in your anger.|
|let not the sun go down upon your wrath:||Don’t let angry irritation go unchecked,|
|neither give place to the devil.||and don’t provide an opening for the slanderer.|
First of all, Paul acknowledges that situations will occur in which God’s people should experience anger.
Tensions will arise between believers because of various issues, such as negligence, ignorance, stubbornness and inconsistency. Christ Himself was angered over the hardness of human hearts (Mark 3:5). Included in this allowance to be angry are the corruption and injustices believers face every day in this fallen world. Blatant evil within society should incite the anger of believers and motivate us to take a stand for righteousness. Because of evil in the world, many of God’s people have responded by starting great ministries: crisis pregnancy centers, orphanages, addiction programs, Christian schools, relief organizations and mission societies. Paul commands us to be angry for a righteous cause.
Secondly, Paul quickly restricts anger—“and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).
Being angry and yet not sinning requires that a believer be angry at nothing but sin. Paul is citing an Old Testament text: “Stand in awe, and sin not” (Ps. 4:4). The Psalmist’s experience with the vanity and lies of his enemies caused him great distress. The command is to trust God with the unfairness of life and not to indulge in anger. The jump from initial feelings of anger to sin is not very far. Anger can degenerate very rapidly into emotional outbursts, irritable attitudes (manifested in looks and words), or resentment and bitterness. Indulging in anger seriously hinders the unity of the body of believers and the joy they have in their relationships with one another.
Thirdly, Paul places a time limit on anger as a safeguard.
He is not telling us to dispense with our anger as we watch the sun set in the evening. His proverbial saying implies that anger should be dealt with promptly. The very nature of anger makes it extremely hard to control, and it can easily turn, therefore, into something that is unrighteous. “Let every man be … slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). The two words in this passage, anger and wrath, reveal the primary issue at hand. Righteous anger can begin as a permissible attitude. However, it can fester, leading to unrighteous indignation. Therefore, a good rule for sanctified living is “Don’t go to bed mad.”
Finally, Paul unveils a warning of immense proportion.
He urges us to give no “place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). Satan uses anger as a base of operation to exert his influence over us. Devil means slanderer, one who makes false statements with the intent to damage the reputation of another. This is a prime example of spiritual warfare. The devil’s intent is to provoke us to distrust one another. Satan wrestles with believers in the moral sphere seeking to gain a foothold through uncontrolled anger. He aims to create a spirit of distrust within the church, ultimately dividing the fellowship and disrupting the unity created by the Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
God does permit His people, who live in a fallen world of imperfections and evil, to “be angry.” However, keeping righteous anger pure is very difficult. Since our adversary, the devil, is an opportunist, we must vigilantly deny him the opportunity to work his evil through our unrestrained anger. In all situations, we are to commit ourselves to God, who alone deals with injustice in a righteous manner: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves … for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
For further help with anger, see David Powlison, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness (Greensboro, N.C.: New Growth Press, 2016).
Listen to Dr. Pettit speak on Ephesians 4:26–27:
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