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“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” Ephesians 4:26-27.

OK, you aren’t too sure about the title of this post. But don’t get angry with me yet. Please hear me out on this one. Yes, there is much debate about what Paul intended here, especially when you consider what he says in verses 31 and 32 found later in this chapter: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Some say that the tense of the Greek verb suggests concession: that we are bound to get angry but should manage our emotions in a Godly fashion. This is why the NIV translates this as, “In your anger, do sin.” Others, including John Stott and Gordon Clark, say it is not a concession but a command. I would agree with the latter but I need to explain. Either way, this is NOT a suggestion, as proposed by many secular psychologists and some “Christian psychologists,”  to ventilate one’s sin-induced and ungodly (never mind, unhealthy) inner rage (an emotional catharsis where “venting” leads to healing). This is a passage that speaks to a characteristic of God that we should embrace; anger with sin or righteous indignation.

To give credence to this idea, we need to remember these 2 verses are a reference to Psalm 4: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (vs. 3-5). In Psalm 4 God is rightly portrayed as righteous, a God who has an aversion to sin. His holiness demands it. Calvin suggested Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26 are a command to be angry with one’s own sin, but I think it goes well beyond that. I believe it speaks to the new creation we have become in Christ as one that sees sin, injustice, and spiritual rebellion as God sees it – with a paradigm of holy vitriol.

Jesus displayed this same attitude when He cleansed the temple that had been desecrated by thievish moneychangers. We see this in John 2:13-17:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the
money-changers sitting there.  And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Please do not misunderstand. I’m not talking about self-centered anger. We have way too much of that and Paul is speaking to this problem in Ephesians 4:31-32. This is not a license to rage against any and everything. This is about needing to have a God-centered anger against all that stands against Him (including our own sin). It is indignation toward sin, injustice, evil, and immorality. But this is not a dangerous, destructive, damaging type of emotion. This anger is a grieving, love-compelled passion for what is right and good. It’s similar to the way we get upset when our children disobey. Because we love them and want them to honor God, we are angry because they are not living in a manner that befits one made in the image of God. Our desire for what’s best for them fuels  disappointment and requisite discipline.

It is told that at a certain Christian conference John Piper was listening to one of the other panel members who was particularly known for his assessment and criticism of our godless culture. After complimenting him on his astuteness in identifying and decrying the moral decay of America, Piper said, “There is only one thing lacking in your ministry.” The fellow panelist then asked Piper exactly what that was. “Tears,” was his gentle response.

This should cause us serious contemplation. Do we have a God-centered, tearful disposition against all that is unholy (in ourselves, others, and our society) and disrespects our holy God? Or does our wrath only become enlivened when it is us, not God, who is the offended one. I think the church of Jesus Christ needs more God-glorifying, grieving anger towards all that separates us from God. A righteous indignation that is fueled by love for God and others and is communicated through tears. I pray that God transforms us to be the kind of people that images-forth His holiness as His Spirit motivates us to “Be angry and do not sin.” And may it start with me.

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