Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:26a “Be ye angry,. . .”
This is not a mistranslation. It is exactly what Paul meant. Anger is a natural instinct put in us by God to achieve certain purposes. All our natural impulses are given to be used. Plutarch put it well, “Passions were given to man as winds to fill the sails of his soul.” Without them we would be blobs, jelly-like masses. Our passions are not poisonous plants in need of eradication, but wild plants in need of cultivation and careful control.
Anger has its rightful place, and is often a duty. We can sin by not being angry. Often a Christian must do more than shrug his shoulders and walk by. Anger is the only appropriate response to some situations.
Believers are not meant to be stoics, and nowadays need to display more anger. Proper anger is a sign of spiritual life and health. Lost people are the ones characterized as being “past feeling” (4:19). They are spiritually calloused and hardened. Their moral sensibilities are dull and blunted. Believers should not be governed by this old mentality. Complacency belongs to our past. Apathy is no virtue. Indifference is a mark of decadence. There may be no surer evidence of utter moral depravity than an inability to become angry. “Be ye angry.” Now we hasten to Paul’s next command.
Eph. 4:26b “. . .and sin not:. . .”
Paul had a remarkable grasp of human nature. He knew what begins as righteous anger often becomes perverted. His phrasing of this passage reminds us it is easy to pass from sinless anger to sinful anger. This particular path of duty is extremely narrow, with deep and precarious pitfalls on both sides. Anger is a dangerous passion, even for the best of men. Once blood boils, it is hard to control which channel it will flow through.
What, then, is proper anger? How can we tell the right from the wrong? The answer is found in looking at our perfect Savior. In seeing what upset Him whose life was sinless we learn what is okay for us to be mad about. Jesus’ anger blazed forth on at least two occasions.
He first of all became angry to protect the glory of God (JN 2:13-17). Stirred when evil men brought dishonor to His Father’s house, Jesus cleansed the temple. He made a whip, drove out the money-changers, and turned over their tables. He was in such a passion the disciples thought of the Psalmist’s (69:9) words, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”
Jesus’ second display of anger was for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). When discussing the man whose hand was withered, Jesus looked upon the Pharisees “with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.”
For the glory of God, and for the good of others–these are the justifiable reasons for anger. John Trapp put it succinctly, “He that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin.” Herein is the purpose of anger. This passion, given to us by God, serves as an instinct which arms us quickly against wrong. Anger is meant to motivate us to do deeds for the honor of God and the help of others. A word of caution–once anger has motivated us do certain deeds, it must be subdued. Once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, calm thyself.
If we are not careful, our anger for sin and the wreckage it causes can sour and lead to hatred against a person. This makes us guilty of murder (MT 5:21-22; 1 J 3:15). Jesus became angry for the glory of God and the good of others, but He also, on the cross, prayed for His enemies. This is often forgotten by many, including the two pro-lifers who recently shot abortionists. Remember, the lives of abortionists are as sacred as the lives of the babies they abort. We are not to do evil that good that may come. Once anger stimulates proper actions, squelch it–“sin not.”
Another pitfall we must avoid is self-serving anger. Anger is sinful when it results from personal provocation or wounded pride. Jesus roused himself for the glory of God and for the good of others, but when affronted Himself, He yielded to a cross. Anger is safe and good when mingled with love for God and others. When mingled with love for self, anger is sinful. The moment self comes in, anger becomes “evil in itself, and dishonorable to God; being the vomit of a proud heart” (Thomas Boston).
We must all be careful about this, for our anger is quickly kindled by a personal slight or affront. Our old man is very sensitive. His pride gets wounded very easily. Be sure our anger has no selfish motives. Otherwise we prove self and the old man have regained control over us.
Be careful about anger, but do let it perform its God-intended role. Be angry over our own personal sins. Be angry about sins rampant in our culture. “A nature ardent for truth and justice burns with indignation against cruelty and wrong” (Findlay). Be roused to do something constructive. As sin abounds, we are ever in danger of becoming numb to it.
When confronted with sin, we should be shocked and aroused. Something is wrong if we can hear our Savior’s name blasphemed, and not be stirred, or if we can without concern view on TV and movies torrid sex scenes and portrayals of violence and injustice. Complacency is ever a danger. It is possible to become numb to sin around us.
Be sensitive to sin. The godly F. W. Robertson, coming upon a man who was trying to lure a young girl into prostitution, became so angry that he bit his lip until it bled. When inspired and directed by God, anger flashes forth with a marvelous, majestic power which thunders against evil. The world would be a worse place had it not been for Wilberforce’s blazing against slavery, and Shaftesbury’s anger against factory working conditions. We would not be here worshiping in this place had it not been for Luther’s anger against religious oppression and error. When he was handed the edict which contained news of his excommunication by the pope, Luther held the document high in the air and thundered, “And I, Martin Luther, excommunicate the pope.” Be stirred when you see wrong. Let proper anger flow properly. “Be ye angry, and sin not.”
Eph. 4:26b (continued) “. . .and sin not:. . .”
Anger, a God-given emotion, has a rightful place in our lives, but must be carefully controlled. As the life of Jesus showed, we must become angry only for the right reasons: for the glory of God (JN 2:13-17), and for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Also, once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, self must be calmed, the anger has to be subdued.
Another warning–even when our motives are right, we must not overreact in deeds or words. A Christian who is angry remains responsible for what he does or says. Our deeds and words must always be under control.
A fit caused by anger is never a minor matter. An uncontrolled temper is as dangerous as a fire-breathing dragon in an explosives factory. A temper fit is a keg of dynamite exploding into misery for everyone nearby.
Ill temper has brought prominent men to their knees. In a fit of anger, Herod the Great killed the only woman he ever loved. He went to his bed and hugged her corpse until it began to rot. In a moment of rage, Alexander the Great killed his best friend. In remorse he went into a drunken stupor from which he never recovered. Temper fits toppled Moses. One cost him forty years tending sheep on the back of the desert; another cost him standing on Canaan’s land. An uncontrolled temper is serious business.
Anger is sinful when it carries us beyond proper bounds, and into intemperate excesses. Anger can throw one into a tantrum appropriate only for bees and wasps. The body becomes deformed, muscles tense, limbs tremble, fists are clenched, jaws clamped, face flushed, ears turn red, eyes get big and bulge, veins pop up in the neck. Deeds and words run amok, objects are thrown, doors slammed, people slapped and beaten, ugly words shouted. We lash out, sacrificing others to our cursed lack of control.
Anger spinning out of control wreaks absolute havoc in our homes. Often we store up anger caused at work or school. Then we come home and spread its vile venom on those we love most. Every one of us has done or spoken things in anger we would give anything to retrieve. Though forgiven, some actions and statements leave permanent wounds. Words spoken in anger can leave deeper scars than physical blows. Among church families, more children are scarred by anger than by alcohol, drugs, and liberalism combined. Allow me to correct the old nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will crush me.”
Esau’s anger destroyed his family. It forced Rebekah to send away her beloved Jacob, whom she never saw again. The history of my own family was forever altered by anger. In a dispute over some dogs, a neighbor killed my great-uncle Henry Hill in 1909. His younger brother Hosea Hill was so angered that he planned to kill the neighbor. The family thus had to send Hosea away to Memphis, where he lived the rest of his life.
“Be ye angry, and sin not.” This is not an admonition easy to heed. It requires carefully guarded motives and meticulously controlled reactions. Realizing the difficulties of anger, Paul gives us even more helpful advice.
Eph. 4:26c “. . .let not the sun go down upon your wrath:. . .”
Polycarp, referring to this phrase in his letter to the Philippians, said, “Blessed is the man who remembers this.” I agree. No verse has been of more practical help to my family in our life at home.
Phillips paraphrases, “Never go to bed angry.” One day is more than enough time for a flush of anger to last. The day of an anger-bolt’s birth must also be the day of its death. Do not nurse anger and keep it warm. Throw it out before fermentation begins. Anger flashes forth in a good man, but “resteth in the bosom of fools” (EC 7:9).
By command of William the Conqueror, the English extinguished their fires and candles when the curfew bell was rung. By command of Holy Writ, let us douse all sparks of anger at sunset. Even the loveliest sunset can be made more beautiful by flinging into it all our anger. Let every sunset be a clarion call to test our inner self to see that we are tranquil.
Why does anger need to be calmed by sundown? First, for our own good. What a gracious God we serve. He commands us not to be miserable. It is a blessing at end of day to relax, to let tensions and bitterness go. Setting aside anger quiets the spirit, helps make our pillow soft, and serves as a great sedative. Retaining anger strains the mental faculties, racks the nervous system, and begets insomnia. A person who refuses to release anger eventually becomes unhappy. When we carry anger into tomorrow, we lose innocence in the dark river of the night. Like the manna, anger is God-given and appropriate for a day, but corrupts and breeds worms if kept till dawn. Old anger is to the spirit what fever is to the body. It festers, produces misery, discomfort, restlessness.
Kept long enough, anger becomes a bitterness which puts out roots (HB 12:15). It digs in and takes hold. As a result, all of life becomes sour. Psychologists tell us that depression, the most common form of mental illness, is anger based. “If every Christian would obey this verse of Scripture (EP 4:26), allowing himself to be angry but maturely getting rid of all grudges by bedtime, no Christian would ever get clinically depressed” (Happiness Is a Choice, Minnirth and Meier, p. 50).
When we have felt anger at someone, we need to get the fire out of our bosom quickly. It is hard to sleep when the mind is pursuing a foe. Why let an enemy invade the privacy of our bedroom? To hold on to anger against another “is to revenge the fault of others upon ourselves” (Pope). “Fence out your enemies by the golden bars of the sunset” (Talmage). For our own mental well-being, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Our anger needs to be calmed by sundown, secondly, for the good of our personal relationships. If during the day we give vent to anger in an improper way, confess it and rectify matters at the latest by nightfall. If possible, never let anyone leave our presence angry. For two people to be reconciled, they must be together. When the rift itself occurs, they are together, and possibly for the last time. Try to stay together till calm.
Elapsed time makes reconciliation harder. It is extremely difficult to cure long-continued animosity. The longer a rift continues, the harder it is to mend. Deal with breakdowns in relationships as quickly as possible. If we were in the wrong, ask God to give us humility to take the first step to make amends. If in the right, ask God to give us grace to still take the first step to make matters right. Ultimately, blame does not matter. A relationship, when broken, must not be sacrificed due to one’s stubbornness.
Leontius Patritius was one day unreasonably angry with John, Patriarch of Alexandria. At evening, the patriarch, the one wronged, sent a servant to Leontius with this message, “Sir, the sun is set.” Leontius was deeply smitten and immediately sought reconciliation.
Someone might say, “I get angry often, blow up, but then everyone knows it is over. That’s just my personality.” No, my friend, it is not over. When we explode, feelings are hurt, egos smashed. If we did right, if every night before going to bed we went to make things right with the one we offended, maybe we would soon tire of our temper tantrums. If we do not correct ourself, the habit and its resulting devastation will continue.
Our anger needs to be calmed by sundown, thirdly, for the good of our relationship with God. Zeroing in on a particular time of day provides us a daily built-in deadline for coming face to face with our innermost selves. We are thereby forced to take spiritual inventory on a regular basis.
Be careful with anger. If weak in this area, learn to avoid flammable situations at all costs, walk away, shrug things off, change the subject, count to 10. . .thousand.
Most importantly, muster spiritual resources. Confess temper fits are sin. This brings the battle into the spiritual realm, where God’s power flows. We get no help from God to overcome a particular evil till we admit it is sin. Never make excuses to justify fits of rage. Never be tempted to say, “But I was born like that.” As Christians, we are born again, and must let the second birth overcome the first. The new man must surmount the old. Never surrender and give up the battle. Pray by sundown. Retreat nightly to our heavenly seat, and ask God to crush this evil in us.
Every day, no later than sunset, take care of business. Be at peace with self, make matters right with others, conduct spiritual inventory and settle accounts with God. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Eph. 4:27 “. . .Neither give place to the devil.”
This verse is connected to the previous phrase, and thus continues Paul’s analysis of anger. As we have already learned, “be ye angry, and sin not” (4:26a-b) requires us to become angry only for the right reasons, and to make proper reactions to our anger. Jesus demonstrated the right reasons: for the glory of God (JN 2:13-17), for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Proper reactions to anger entail deeds and words kept under control. Also, once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, self must be calmed, anger has to be subdued.
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (4:26c) presented another safeguard against the wrong use of anger. A rush of anger must never last more than a few hours. By sundown the spirit must be calm. This is for our own good; it removes inner tension and bitterness. Peace by dusk also helps our relationships with others; the longer a rift continues, the harder it is to mend. Being calm by sundown also helps our relationship with God. It gives a daily built-in deadline for taking spiritual inventory of ourselves.
Paul’s analysis of anger now expands to include a new personality. Anger can affect self, others, and God, and when mishandled, it also involves Satan. If we are not careful, our anger can “give place to the devil.” “Place” here refers to any portion of space marked off from the surrounding territory. To “give place” thus refers to allowing someone a foothold, a base which provides opportunity for acting. Anger, when abused, permits the devil to build within our hearts an outpost, a headquarters for operations.
Satan is no myth. He is a real, powerful, cunning, living personality, under whose influence all Christians are capable of falling. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 P 5:8). Satan stalks us, studies us, scrutinizes our defenses to find a hole in the wall. When Napoleon prepared for combat, he had fresh maps of the battlefield drafted and brought to him. He would spread out the maps upon the ground, and stay down on his knees poring over the documents until familiar with every physical feature. He memorized the locations of rivers, bridges, fords, hills, valleys, rock formations. Napoleon knew the war zone. Satan does the same with us. He pores over our hearts, and surveys our essence, seeking an entrance.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us overreacting to anger. An uncontrolled temper flings our heart’s door wide open to the devil. Whenever we have a fit of temper, he sees his chance and comes to investigate immediately. He enjoys fishing in troubled waters. When he sees the storm kindled, he loves to employ his bellows in keeping it churning, and in turning storms into hurricanes. During a tantrum, we are ships adrift upon troubled seas, having the devil as our pilot.
A fit of rage will “give place to the devil,” and allow him to construct within us an encampment from which he dictates behavior. This explains why “a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (PR 29:22, NASB). An angry man out of control is under the sway of Satan and thus capable of committing any sin known to man. In a fit of anger, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel. As a result, on July 11, 1804, at Weehawken, New Jersey, America lost two of her greatest minds. Hamilton died; Burr was ruined. When Mordecai would not bow, “Haman was full of wrath” (ES 3:5). This fury set in motion cruel and sadistic edicts and events which Haman thought would destroy the Jews, but instead resulted in his own death on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Anger can lead to any evil. The devil wants us to be depressed, to feel overly guilty, to hate, to envy, to murder. A temper fit allows him opportunity to involve us in all these at once. The devil loves a temper raging out of control.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us keep anger past sundown. Anger retained gives the devil “a half-open door” (Moule), and tempts him to tempt us. An old Latin proverb says it well, “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.” When angry upon our beds, we throw ourselves into the arms of one who loves to seize every occasion to cast us down by doing dirty work within us at night.
When we slam shut our heart against reconciliation to another, we open it to Satan. He traces many victories, church fights, family squabbles, and divorces to nights when believers let the sun go down upon their wrath.
In the old school of Pythagoras, his students would throughout the day argue and engage in heated debate, but as shadows began to lengthen, they would gather round, embrace each other, and give one another a kiss of peace and brotherhood. If pagans could do this, surely our Christianity is shallow if we believers cannot settle accounts before tomorrow.
Even if you did not blow up at anyone during the day, do not hold in secret anger. Release it unto God at bedtime. Do not harbor smoldering resentment in the heart. Anger must not be cherished and nursed.
Brooding over anger can be as dangerous as temper fits. Anger unreleased can ultimately produce as cruel a deed as anger unleashed. The most infamous name in American history is Benedict Arnold. He turned traitor in 1780, after three years of letting his anger stew. In 1777 Congress promoted five men younger than he to Major General. Overlooked, he never released his anger, and for years sought a chance for revenge.
Anger prolonged readily aligns itself with our old man’s selfishness, producing a sinister duo which hacks away at the tender plant of love which is to dominate our hearts. Beware secretly retaining anger against others. Ruminating over it is fun. We lick our wounds, smack our lips, roll over our tongue the tasty morsel of upcoming revenge. Given time, such anger tends to overtake the psyche, and saturate one’s inner self.
Our anger may be caused for the right reasons, and our reactions in the day may be controlled and reasonable, but if retained, “good” anger becomes “bad” in the night. God can control and calm our anger by day, but somewhere in the night–Satan’s favorite time of day–the devil takes over, and whenever he, rather than God, gains control, the result is always sin.
Anger allowed to linger in the heart becomes a mighty weapon in Satan’s hands. After sunset, he begins to use our anger for his purposes. He turns our detained anger, which is an evil in itself, into a mother of evils. Anger, allowed to fester, bears a multitude of wrongs in its womb. In the dark, Satan spawns our anger into all sorts of evils–self-pity, self-righteousness, grudges, poisonous hatred, an unwillingness to forgive, vengeance, depression. Lucifer uses tonight’s anger to produce tomorrow’s sins.
These verses on anger (EP 4:26-27) force us to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of anger. We can never be effective for God until we deal with our temper-trouble. Anger has spiritual ramifications, and if abused, causes people to forfeit God’s favor. Naaman almost missed being healed in Jordan because he “was wroth” (2 K 5:11). One of Scripture’s most memorable revivals occurred when Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching. Some 120,000 souls were saved, but the prophet, missing out on the celebration of a lifetime, was miserable because he was angry (Jonah 4). One of the happiest scenes portrayed in Holy Writ is the party given at the return of the prodigal, but the elder brother did not enjoy it. “He was angry and would not go in” (LK 15:28). Even our prayers are ineffective when offered from a heart full of anger gone awry. “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 TM 2:8).
Be careful with anger. Permit it to rise only from proper motives. Let it prompt only controlled deeds and words. Never retain it past sundown. Right reasons, right reactions, right releases–heed all three, otherwise we will “give place to the devil,” something we never want to do.
Do not let the heart, our sacred temple of the precious Holy Spirit, be available for even a moment to the intrusive influence of Satan. Never “give place to the devil.” Do not open the heart’s door to him. Refuse to admit Satan. Do not let him in. Keep him out of the innermost citadel.
If we give the devil a foothold in but one place, he will soon cover the whole platform of the heart. Given an inch, he will take a mile and try to occupy all the inner throne-room. Give him no uncontested spot of ground to stand on. Whenever he attempts to land on the mat of our heart, make sure he is always having to wrestle. Let there be no yielding and no compromise with him. Satan must know two things: he is always unwelcome in our hearts, and if he tries to enter there, he will always have a fight on his hands. “Pray without ceasing.” Retreat often to our heavenly seat. Handle anger correctly–right reasons, right reactions, right releases.