Anger

Ephesians 4:26

Audio Version

There was once a rebellious Israelite who thought he would show Israel just what he thought of worshiping this God Jehovah. So what he thought he would do is to marry an absolute pagan, a Midianite, and show her off to the rest of the Israelites while they were weeping because the Lord had plagued the people of Israel. In fact, the sin of the people was idolatry, which is spiritual adultery. In the midst of that this Israelite punk shows up with his Midianite wife, committing the very sin for which all Israel was being punished! But someone saw and got angry. Righteously angry. He picked up a spear and ran in through both the man and his Midianite wife. The Lord richly rewarded Phinehas for being zealous for the cause of the Lord. He was rewarded for being righteously angry.

The Lord Jesus was also righteously angry on more than one occasion. Of course, the most famous is the cleansing of the temple, where all the money-changers had desecrated the entire purpose of what the temple was supposed to do. It was supposed to be a house of prayer, but the money-changers had turned it into a den of thieves. Jesus made a whip and drove them out of the temple. Again, an example of righteous anger. Paul is primarily talking about righteous anger in this verse. That is evident by the fact that sin is to have no part in this anger. Obviously, if there is no sin in this kind of anger, then it is a righteous anger.

As with all emotions, there are two dangers to avoid. One is in thinking that the emotion itself is sinful. But the two examples from Scripture that I have just quoted show us that anger can be rightly placed. The equal and opposite danger, however, is to include too much in the definition of what righteous anger is. We think we are being righteously angry, when as a matter of fact, we are only being selfish. Paul is very careful to guard against both of these dangers. Let’s see how he does that.

Firstly, Paul guards against the danger of thinking that anger is in itself sinful. We have already seen this in the two examples of Phinehas and Jesus Himself. But notice also that Paul commands anger in this context. This is somewhat obscured by the NIV, which says, “In your anger, do not sin.” Almost all other translations say this: “Be angry, yet do not sin.” The form of the verb for being angry is an imperative. That is, it is a command. Paul here commands us to be angry. Surely, we can safely assume that Paul meant that we should be angry in the same way that Phinehas and Jesus were angry. We should be angry at injustice, the taking of God’s name in vain, abortion, euthanasia, racism, oppression, and such things. Most of the time, we do not bother to get very excited about those kinds of things. After all, we think to ourselves, what can we do? Besides, isn’t anger the very worst form of intolerance and narrow-mindedness? I’ve got news for you: the very people who preach tolerance and open-mindedness are about as close-minded about and intolerant of and angry at people who don’t agree with them. It is about time that we got angry about things we should be angry about. Should we not be writing letters to our congressmen about abortion, about the lottery, about gambling, about oppression, about the breaking of the Sabbath? Should we not be voting our conscience? Should we not be involved and informed in politics? Should we not press for godly legislation both in our state and in our country? Don’t just sit back and be angry. That doesn’t accomplish anything. Do something about it!

This leads us to the second error from which Paul carefully guards us. That error is to include too much in the category of “righteous” anger. If you think about those things about which you should be angry, you will recognize that they have something in common: they are not about me! When it comes to my supposed “rights,” I am not to be angry. We need to recognize that we do not deserve any rights. We are sinners in the sight of God, and deserve the punishment of hell forever. But instead of actually giving us that, God has given us something that is completely opposite. Not only are our sins forgiven because of Christ’s blood shed for us, but we have been given the inheritance of everlasting life! How dare we stand up for our rights! It is God who will stand up for us on the Day of Judgment, and we should be content with that.

However, it is not just being angry about the wrong thing against which Paul warns us. Specifically, Paul warns us against being angry for too long a period of time. Paul tells us that we should not let the sun go down on our anger. That is, we should keep short accounts. Now, this applies to all of our relationships. We should never remain angry at someone who has offended us. We should seek to make it right. Even though this principle applies to all our relationships, it seems to me that it applies especially well to marriage. How many times a spouse will hold on to something practically forever. As Chuck Swindoll says, when his wife is offended, she doesn’t get hysterical, she gets historical. How carefully some spouses keep a long and ever lengthening list of wrongs done to them by their spouse! How wrong that is! If you have such a long list, then you need to shorten it. There needs to be reconciliation. You need to commit yourself to forgetting that list. That means not mentioning those sins again. It means not using those sins as a weapon against your spouse. You see, anger is not necessarily the final form of that sin. Anger that lasts for a long period of time is called bitterness. Your spouse has done so many things to you that you just don’t feel like forgiving them. Well, do you want God to feel that way about all the times you have offended Him? God has forgiven you in Christ Jesus, if you will but trust in Him. Why then can you not forgive your spouse? For those of us who do not have such long historical lists, the way to keep that relationship strong is always to keep short accounts. If your spouse offends you, mention that one incident to them as something that made you feel bad. If you have to stay up all night talking about it, that is far, far better than storing away the incident so as to remind your spouse about it later. Siblings, you can practise this principle as well. If your brother or sister has offended you, you can go to him or her and talk about it. Don’t store it up so that your relationship is always one of competition to see who is the better sibling. Sometimes, it seems to me that sibling relationship is simply assumed to be one of abuse. People think that it is simply the natural way to go about things. Competition in doing good is fine, I think, and very difficult to avoid. However, siblings these days think of their brothers and sisters as objects of scorn, ridicule, physical abuse, and any number of other hurtful things. Love your brother and sister. It does not matter how hard they are to get along with. You are still to love your brother and your sister. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So Paul tells us that there is such a thing as righteous anger. However, since it is so easy to cross the line from righteous to unrighteous anger, Paul gives us these boundaries beyond which we cannot go. We should only be angry at for the right amount of time, for the right reason, in due proportion. That is the message for us today from Paul’s command.

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