|PLEASE NOTE : ANGER IS ON LETTER SHORT OF DANGER|
On this Lord’s day we conclude our annual Family weekend, with our focus on ‘Dealing with the Heart of Anger', by turning our attention to Ephesians 4:17-32 and in particular verses 26,27: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil”.
Our text shows us at least 4 things we need to know about anger:
(i) there is room for righteous anger.
(ii) we must be careful to not let this anger spill over into sin.
(iii) we must keep short accounts of our anger.
(iv) Satan easily abuses uncontrolled anger.
From this outline we can see that anger is a complex emotion, since it has both a good and a bad side. Before we go there, a few introductory remarks to this text are in order.
In the greater context of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this subject is raised within the practical application section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul is always concerned that our Christian faith must have a practical outworking. The knowledge of God and of Christ and of the Peron and Work of the Holy Spirit must work itself out in a life of biblical love and good works. In a nutshell, Christianity is the following of, and the imitation of the life of Christ, our elder brother.
And so it is that Paul reminds this group of Ephesian Christians that, having become Christians, they can no longer walk as the gentiles do, in the futility of their minds…. (4:17- 19). You cannot be a Christian and continue in your old sweet merry way…. That is not the way you have learned Christ! (4:20,21). Instead, Paul says, you must put off your old self, which belongs to your former way of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’(4:22-24). Then, in 4:25-32, he gives a few practical illustrations of what the renewed Christian mind (4:23) looks like and acts like. Among these is to be found an instruction on anger- our focus text.
Christian ability is based on the fact that God has recreated us. There is a great difference between moralistic Christianity and biblical Christianity. Moralistic Christianity is based upon ‘self –effort‘, whereas biblical Christianity is based upon the fact that you have received a new life. What proves the fact that I have become a Christian, endowed with a new nature? My desire to be obedient to a new way of thinking about God and His Word! And it is a new way of thinking! It is often counter cultural, and contrary to the way in which we have been brought up, and contrary to our societal norms. Since we have come under new management we had to learn to put off old habits of thinking and living and put on new habits of thinking and living. In fact, my new behaviour is not simply due to the fact that I have decided to turn over a new leaf, but it is the outworking of an inner miracle! This last Friday I turned 40 years old ! It was on the 22nd of June 1978 that I was converted by the power of God. I was given a desire to follow and to ‘learn Jesus’ (4:20). I still have not recovered from that day, and I am still following and learning by the principle of that inner miracle of conversion, and it is by that power of Christ in me that I live. Have you received that new life and new power by which you can live this Christian life?
So, I trust that you can see that there are immense issues at stake in the everyday issues of truth-telling, and anger, and stealing etc., which Paul deals with now in the verses ahead. Our particular interest lies in dealing with the problem of anger through the recreated heart and the renewed mind.
Ephesians 4:26,27 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.“
We have already observed that there are at least 4 things that this text teaches us.
1. There Is Room For Righteous (Good) Anger
It seems that Paul makes reference here to what David said in Psalm 4:4, “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.“ The Bible recognizes that there is a valid emotion called anger, but there is a fine line between righteous and unrighteous anger. What is righteous anger?
Righteous anger is being angry with that which God would be angry with. Illustration: In Mark 3:5, Jesus was in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He was about to heal the shrivelled hand of a man. The Pharisees were watching to see whether he was going to do, what they considered to be an illegal work, on the Sabbath. The Scripture says, "Jesus looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart ..." [ By the way , if Jesus were here among us today, would He not be righteously angry with our society for the opposite sin of the Pharisees - the abuse of the Lord’s day, which has been turned into a market day, and has ceased to be day in which we delight ourselves in the Lord. In Jesus day the problem was legalism, in our day it is libertinism].
Jesus was angry because these people ‘s hearts made a false distinction between the law, and the God of the law. The law is righteous and holy and good. God is righteous and holy and good. The law represents God. Our problem is that we take the law and make it burdensome by divorcing it from God. The 10 commandments , the moral law of God are designed to be a blessing from God for this life, but people like the legalistic Pharisees thought that they must become the policemen that would help God to maintain law and order, and in so doing they were misinterpreting and watering down the holy intent of the law. God does not want human interference in the application of the law. He simply wants us to love Him and honour Him in the keeping of the law. Can you blame God for being angry with us when we abuse His Name and His holy law? And you as a Christian, with love in your heart for God, and with a renewed, tender conscience,… when you get angry at the misuse of God’s law and the inversion of God’s law … are you not sharing in God’s anger? John Stott writes in his commentary in Ephesians (p.186): ”… there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate it too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours too.
In this spirit Psalm 119:53 says: “hot indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.” There is room for anger, provided that is in agreement with God.
2. In your anger do not sin
Here’s the tricky part about anger. Righteous anger can so easily spill over into self- righteous anger. We may become easily angered at the wrong that others do whilst failing to see it in ourselves. In our anger we must be very careful that we are not hypocritical.
In 2 Samuel 12:5 we read that David’s anger was greatly kindled when the prophet Nathan told him how a rich man (who had a large number of sheep) took the only ewe lamb from a poor family, in order to set a meal before his guest. This unrighteousness greatly angered David. But David had to swallow his words when Nathan reminded him that he was in fact that rich man who took away Bathsheba, the wife of his general Uriah, in 2 Samuel 11. David was caught out – for he engaged in hypocritical unrighteous anger.
Another aspect to David’s perspective: David had seen so much that was wrong in his own family – the rapes and the murders and the shenanigans among his sons and daughters, that he no longer expressed any anger at any evil that they did! He overlooked or seemingly condoned their evil. The reason for this was that David had lost the ‘moral high-ground’ to express his righteous anger. He was in no position to judge his children, because he himself was guilty of these things.
The way to avoid unrighteous anger is to take note of what James 1:19-20 has to say: “… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” If we are slow to anger (i.e. act with patience), and if we control ourselves and consider the matter carefully, then our anger, if it arises at all, l may very well be godly anger when we discover that God's character is dishonoured and not ours, and when God's aims are resisted , and not just ours.
Righteous anger is not self- centered. Righteous anger happens when we become angry when God’s Name is dishonoured, and when other people are dishonoured. So it is important that we look at the motive for our anger , and to make sure that in our anger we do not sin.
3. Keep short accounts with anger
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger" means, that we should resolve our anger on the same day. Sometimes reconciliation is impossible on the same day, because it always takes two to settle the matter. When this happens, make sure that you do not nurse that anger, lest it takes hold of you and makes you a resentful, bitter person (Hebr. 12:15). This reminds us then that anger, though it is a legitimate emotion, is a dangerous emotion and must not be allowed to dominate us, lest it begins to control us. John Piper gives good counsel: Anger is the moral equivalent of biological adrenaline. It is good and healthy to experience periodic secretions of adrenaline in reaction to dangerous situations. But a steady flow would damage the heart. So with anger. It has damaged many hearts because it was not put away, but nurtured again and again into a life-destroying grudge. Seek to settle your anger as quickly as possible, since …
4. Satan easily abuses uncontrolled anger .
The Scripture says that uncontrolled anger gives Satan a foothold – an entrance point into your life. When he finds this foothold, he will ruin marriages, families, churches and countries with resentment and bitterness. He feeds on angry people. It provides for him an opportunity to export his fruit of hatred, violence and whatever else. Anger is a wind that easily blows out the lamp of the mind” . The great danger with anger is that it easily makes us irrational . So, don’t be fooled into thinking that when you become irrationally angry or unforgiving that you are ‘entitled’ to these feelings. The devil is laughing because he has found an effective hold upon your soul, while you are still nursing your grudge and thinking that it is your right to do so. Angry and bitter people ultimately always end up hurting themselves more than those that they are angry with. Unforgiveness happens when there is prolonged and unfinished business with anger. Illustration: In 2 Cor. 2:10,11 the apostle Paul warns the Corinthians that a foothold for the devil is unforgiveness: If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
Let these four convictions from the text then settle in our hearts and minds. You will not find such good and succinct counsel for your soul anywhere in the world. Believe the Word of God and live by it and you will find yourself blessed by God, both now and forevermore. Amen.
 This saying is attributed to Robert Ingersoll