Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ephesians 4:26,27 "Getting a Grip on Anger"


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. [1]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” [2]. 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.  

[2] This  saying is attributed to Robert Ingersoll

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