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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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*Preface 

“On hearing [His unorthodox teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’

 … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (John 6:60-64, 66-69). 

Scripture abounds with “hard teachings,” difficult concepts that make readers scratch their heads. God’s Word, and Jesus’ instruction in particular, often disturb our flesh and pride: they make us uncomfortable, point out things about ourselves that need improvement, make us conscious of our complete failure to measure up to God’s standards. While closing the Bible on such passages proves tempting, followers of Christ must grasp that both our relationship with the Lord and our spiritual growth suffer when we do. God does not call us to always understand or even “agree” with His Word, but He does call us to love, believe, and live it! 

Even those who walked with Christ for nearly three years, saw His miracles, and observed the perfection of His life sometimes struggled not to reject His teaching simply because they didn’t comprehend it or because it made them feel uncomfortable. In fact, the tendency led Peter to actually take the Lord aside for a quick rebuke—a decision that did not go over well (Matthew 16:21-23). And even Christ’s own mother surely felt confused by His words as He identified not her personally but “those who do God’s will” as His “mother” (See Mark 3:31-35).

Christ spoke of the utter sinfulness of man, of the absolute authority, holiness, and glory of God; He elaborated on the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation, and He gave—particularly in The Sermon on the Mount—a myriad of seemingly unrealistic demands to those who would follow Him wholeheartedly. Truly, some of the Bible’s teachings are difficult to accept. At times, we can even find ourselves offended by them. We will not, however, reach our full potential as Christ’s disciples unless we choose to open our hearts and minds to them.

Sadly, some people reject the hard teachings of Jesus and Christianity from the beginning. Atheists, agnostics, and followers of other, easier-to-follow religions reject Christ outright. They prove unwilling to accept any of Christ’s claims and will not surrender their lives to a sacrificial, spiritual, and God-centered ideology. Other individuals gladly accept Christianity, only to abandon their faith when the entire counsel of God’s Word fails to meet their expectations. These individuals feel attracted to what Jesus offers, but they are often repelled by what He requires. Taking up a cross and denying themselves proves too much. In both instances, teachings wrongly perceived as overbearing and exaggerated prove too taxing to those on the fringe of faith in God. Even some who profess to follow Jesus so water down, rationalize, and liberalize God’s Word that it hardly resembles the true gospel. In doing so they reject Christ as soundly as those who never fully embraced Him in the first place.

God’s Word is often offensive and so is the cross, yet their message is wholly reliable. Every true follower of Christ must affirm that Jesus is the Holy One of God. They must embrace that His words are the truth of eternal life. When in John 6 Peter asked, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of life,” he got it right. The Bible offers the only teachings that reveal how we can know God. It shows that Jesus provides the revelation of the kingdom of Heaven. He is the King of Kings. He alone stands worthy of our trust and obedience because only through His sacrifice and His words—no matter how challenging—do we have any hope. 

God enables those who will believe and accept His Word (v. 65). Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The word translated draw in John 6 pertains to drawing water from a well. It could be translated “to pull” and indicates our utter dependence on God to both understand His gospel and come to Him.[i] Simply stated, we can’t get our heads around Christ’s difficult teachings without God’s intervention! That’s why I often say that I can teach the truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart it (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

Growth in discipleship requires us to believe Jesus’ teachings even when we don’t fully understand them, to affirm them even when we might prefer to reject a particular passage, to live them out by faith even when they seem a puzzle. This kind of trust and yielding demonstrates obedience to God who truly draws us to His truth by His Spirit and gives us His life: it encompasses the story of one who means to follow the King and serve as part of His kingdom. Oswald Chambers said, “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the way we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”[ii]

As you saturate yourself in this in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, know that while following Christ’s teaching is neither for the weak nor the faint of heart, the Holy Spirit serves as your guide in the process. Ask the Lord to grow you, to stretch you, and to teach you how to patiently grapple with His teachings. Through faith and surrender, every true believer can thrive in the knowledge that God’s words are truth and life. Jesus is who He claims; you can stake your eternal destiny on His words.


[i] Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon (Clarendon Press, 1889).

[ii] Chambers, Oswald. The Psychology of Redemption (London: Simpkin Marshall LTD, 1947), 34.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are: 

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1     

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2 

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king 

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit, backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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