March 17, 2024

Be Angry and Do Not Sin (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2023-2024) Scripture: Ephesians 4:26–27


Children's Lesson (click here)

I. The Wrong Right Turn 

What kinds of things make you angry? When I asked myself that question, here's one everyday example that came to mind: I don't know about recently, but it used to be that at certain times of the day, if you were going north on Verrado Way (here in Buckeye) and approaching the I-10 from the south, the line of cars wanting to turn right onto the freeway could back up all the way down to the West-Mec campus at Van Buren. As many of you know, when this occurs, what often happens is that some people keep driving north in the middle lane until they see an opening where they can cut in closer to the freeway. Now in certain cases I think this happens because some people simply don't recognize what's happening in terms of the backup until it's too late (of course, in such cases, it would still be better for them to simply cross the freeway and do a U-turn instead of cutting in line). But what really makes me angry is when someone (Are you ready for this?... when someone), in the lane next to the turn lane, drives all the way up to the turn, but then, at the last minute, turns right alongside of the cars that are turning from the actual turn lane; that is, they self-designate their lane as a right-turn lane as well. Not only is this selfish and disrespectful, but it can also be dangerous if the other driver turns too wide. So...

II. The Passage: “On Your Anger” (4:26-27)

What kinds of things make you angry? Keep my example in mind, or hold on to your own answer as we look together at Ephesians 4:26-27. Let's also keep in mind the context here. In our previous study, from Ephesians chapter 3, we celebrated the unique unity that God produces and sustains through the gospel of Jesus. As we learned, it's this unity by which God displays his amazing wisdom... through the Church. This is why Paul, beginning in chapter 4, calls his readers to live, to really walk, in light of that stunning truth. How? By instructing them to be (4:3) “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And the rest of chapter 4 goes on to include practical ways to do just that; to safeguard and cultivate that Spirit-forged unity. One of those practical instructions is found in verses 26-27. Paul writes... 

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil. 

Notice what we have here. We've been given a chance to think this morning about the place of anger in the Christian life. Whether we like it or not, anger is (and always has been) part of the human experience. But whether or not you personally struggle with anger, our thinking about this topic can easily be influenced by worldly voices and/or by our own painful experiences, rather than shaped by God's word. So let's use these verses to do just that this morning. So... 

The first thing I hope you noticed in 4:26-27 is that though anger isn't always wrong, it should always be examined. The first imperative (or command) in verse 26 may surprise some readers: “be angry”. How can Paul command the Ephesian disciples to “be angry”? Well, the clearest explanation is found two verses earlier. Look back at verse 24... Paul calls them “...put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Our new identity in and through Jesus Christ is shaped by only one standard: that we become more and more like God, not in terms of his God-ness, but “in true righteousness and holiness”.

So with that in mind, now scan over to 5:6. What do we learn there about what God's like? Paul writes, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [i.e., the immorality and impurity mentioned in vs. 3-5... because of these things] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” The word “wrath” in that verse, is just a noun of the same word we find in 4:26. So “the wrath of God” in 5:6 could also be translated as “the anger of God”. 

How can Paul command the Ephesian disciples to “be angry”? Because God gets angry. In fact, the psalmist tells us that “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” (Psalm 7:11) To grow as a Christian it to become more like God. And to mature as a disciple of Jesus is to become more and more like Jesus. Consider what Mark 3:4–5 reveals about him... 

And he [i.e., Jesus] said to them [i.e., the Pharisees], “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. [5] And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man [with a withered hand], “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 

What kind of anger is God-like or Christ-like? The kind that's informed by righteousness and justice and a divine love that grieves over the hardness of human hearts. 

But building on that first point (especially the part about examining your anger,) it's important that we also acknowledge that, second, though anger isn't always wrong, it usually is [!]. I can't stress enough that most of the time Scripture speaks to this subject, it's correcting us, not commending us. For example, the writer of Psalm 37 calls us to Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated ​— ​it can only bring harm.” (v. 8)(CSB). We read in Ecclesiastes 7:9

Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” Jesus warned in Matthew 5:22 that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”. And James, the half-brother of Jesus, left us these wise words, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 

I believe this is precisely why everything that comes after “be angry” in Ephesians 4:26 is a caution or warning. Look back at the three qualifications Paul gives us in our main text: “Be angry”, but 1) “do not sin”, 2) “do not let the sun go down on your anger” and 3) do not “give [an] opportunity to the devil”. So what are those three qualifications warning us about? Well... 

Number one, Paul is warning his readers about sinful anger. If you simply drop down to v, 31, the Apostle uses a variety of terms to describe this kind of heart; the sinfully angry heart; he uses words like “bitterness and wrath and [there's] anger and clamor and slander... along with all malice.” I think we're all familiar with that disposition or temperament. Another way to think about that kind of sinfully angry heart is simply to consider the opposite kind of heart. Look at verse 32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” 

You see, the sinfully angry heart is not informed by righteousness and justice and a divine love that grieves over the hardness of human hearts. In one way or another, the sinfully angry heart distorts these things and elevates personal injury over moral injustice; which then leads, not to divine love and grief, but to contempt. So when Paul writes, “Be angry and do not sin”, he wants them to examine themselves. “If you're angry, is it for righteous reasons or unrighteous reasons?” 

Number two, Paul is also warning his readers here about prolonged anger. We heard that in the second half of verse 26... “do not let the sun go down on your anger”. What does that mean?

It means deal with your anger quickly, but in a healthy way. Even when your angry over some-thing for the right reason, anger always has a 'use by' date. Correct it or direct it. If its unrighteous anger, it needs to be corrected. If its righteous anger, it needs to be directed to a godly end. Don't let it linger; don't take comfort in it; don't feed it; don't coddle it. If you do, it will fester; it will spoil and make your heart sick. If your angry with someone else, forgive them and take steps toward reconciliation. If you're angry over a circumstance that can be changed, with wisdom, be part of the solution. If you're angry over a circumstance that cannot be changed, seek the grace to be at peace with that fact. And if you don't know what to do, you can and should always pray. 

Finally, number three, since our anger usually is wrong, Paul also wants to warn his readers about exploitable anger. If we do not take the time to prayerfully examine our anger in light of God's word, and if we do not consider the time, allowing anger to linger in our hearts, then, as is obvious from the warning in v. 27, we become painfully vulnerable to our Enemy's schemes. Unresolved anger is like an unattended gate into the kingdom of your soul. The longer it stays open, the more opportunity we give for poisonous things to enter in. When you make excuses for sinful anger, or you make provision for prolonged anger, you should expect that things will get worse, not better. Why? Because the Enemy loves to use anger to poison our perspective and priorities and relationships, even beyond the one that was originally provoked. And when you're angry for the right reasons? If that anger is not directed in a constructive way, then yes, it becomes fertile soil for the devil to sow the seeds of frustration that leads to fleshly action. 

III. Anger and the Cross 

Brothers and sisters, friends, let's go back to that right-turn lane on Verrado Way. If I'm angry because those guilty drivers are being disrespectful and taking advantage of others, because rules are being ignored, because someone's reckless driving is creating dangerous conditions, then my anger is not sinful. But if I'm angry because I feel personally insulted... because someone is getting an advantage over me, and deep down I resent that person, and want to lash out at that person, because of what I believe that insult says about me, then my anger is sinful. Of course, the most obvious way to tell the difference is by what I do with my anger. I feel confident that I don't need to describe what a sinfully angry response looks like in that scenario. We see enough of that every day on the road. But what would a godly response look like? Maybe praying for the driver, and for the safety of others on the road? Maybe using the circumstance to check yourself and recommit to setting a good example when you're behind the wheel? I'm not sure. 

I believe that example is something all of us can relate with, but I recognize it's a mundane example. I know there are far more serious circumstances involving anger. And very often, those circumstances involve meaningful relationships that are, maybe even today, being endangered by sinful, unexamined anger. Maybe even this morning some of your hearts are being poisoned by anger that has been festering. But here's the good news: in addition to equipping you with biblical truth about anger, our ultimate goal this morning should be this: to drive us to Jesus, that we might find correction and healing for angry hearts, and/or... that we might find inspiration and instruction for godly anger. How absolutely staggering it is that the righteous anger of Jesus and the unrighteous anger of his enemies led to the same place: the cross; and that's the very place where Jesus endured the righteous anger of God against our sins, that we might be forgiven, and that we might become like our Creator: slow to anger, but when angry, angry for the right reasons; with an anger informed by truth, anchored in goodness, reaching for faith, coupled with grief, tempered by humility, and always leading to love. This morning, there is hope for the angry heart, and there is guidance for virtuous anger. How is God stirring you this morning? Bring that anger to him. Share that struggle with a trusted brother or sister. “...Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” as Paul encouraged in 4:23, and, in light of God's grace to you, choose forgiveness.