There’s not much convincing needed from scriptures and personal experience to know how anger can be sinful and destructive to others and ourselves in many ways. Let alone how it offends the God of the Universe. How that anger manifests may be different for you whether you’re prone to explosive outbursts and outrage or instead a slow burn of silent anger that leads to relationally withdrawing and forsaking convictions to love and do good to one another. Regardless of your tendency, it’s sinful and we are well aware of the effects of how this sin leads to bitterness, resentment, pride, and ultimately death (James 1:15). However, in Ephesians 4:26 we find a strange command and it beckons the question, is there a redemptive way to be angry?
“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
The Sin of Apathy and Indifference
In a culture of busyness and cynicism, we don’t have the time, mental energy, or affections to respond beyond a “Thanks, but no thanks” or “Whatever, I don’t really care.” Tragedies happen all the time. As we scroll through our newsfeed, we have become so desensitized to the articles over “ISIS Beheading Christians”, “Boko Haram Kidnappings”, and “Another Racially-Motivated Killing” that our natural response has been to keep moving in order to self-protect and not feel really much of anything. But is that really what was envisioned by the command of “do not sin?”
This type of apathy and indifference not only affects what type of information we digest, but also ripples out to our relationships. We either become relationally disengaged or if we do engage it’s only with the uninvited agenda to problem solve an issue. However, what we find in Ephesians 4:26 is sometimes the proper response is anger.
In order to have an anger that is righteous, we need to take the perspective not of sinful man, but of One who is truly righteous and gives definition to words like “good” and “right”. This comes with a realization that we are not God with Sovereign power and being moved to a humble posture of learning how things should be and how they are not according to Him and His word.
Therefore, practically a proper response of anger may be allowing yourself to be fully present and feel the depth of a current reality. Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus’ death (John 11:35). He recognized death was a product of our sin and rebellion. Before flipping over tables, Jesus recognized God’s word that “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be a called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13)
Minimizing The Gospel
Righteous anger is about things that break God’s heart and go against His will. It’s a mix between grief and sadness that leads to a response that can often look like the calling out of sin. Which if we’re honest, can be extremely difficult for many of us as we are natural self-justifiers and fearful of confrontation. Recognizing these “robbers” stealing, defaming, and misrepresenting God for self-profit, Jesus doesn’t just move on or passively aggressively allude to an offense, but justifiably gets angry. Jesus, the perfect God-man without sin gets angry. Meekness is not simply weakness, but power with self-control and discerning when it’s appropriate to exercise that power.
We’ve become so fearful of the command, “do not sin” that we miss the first part of that verse and become numb to the tragic effects of sin and brokenness altogether. We ignore the depth of hurt of our wife or roommate for a quick “Romans 8:28 pat on the back”.
We not only suppress feelings of hurt, but also train ourselves to suppress convictions of the Spirit. We don’t allow the Spirit to press on places where we may have contributed to this problem or how we can actively engage in it. Coming across great injustices like abortions, racism, poverty, oppression, human trafficking, fatherlessness, or the lack of access to the gospel our response is sometimes “Meh…what’s for lunch?” However, by not stopping and affirming current broken realities, we minimize the height, depth, and scope of the gospel. By minimizing pain, sorrow, devastation, and tragedy, we do great injustice to the gospel. Because what solution and good news is the gospel if we don’t have a deep, catastrophic problem?
Over and over again, we find Jesus come in contact with people or crowds and after recognizing their need; he is then led to have compassion on them (Matthew 9:36, Luke 7:13, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 15:32). Jesus had compassion on us despite any merit of our own. He could have walked on by; He’s sufficient without our praise. Yet He was moved with love and calls us to love likewise.
Therefore, our response moves beyond indifference to an emotion-filled one that creates a longing and desperation for the Lord to intercede and come quickly. Our confidence is that God is in the business of softening hearts and renewing all things. Therefore, be angry about sin and injustice and trust that His promises are true.