Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” –
We live in troubled times. . In a culture that is experiencing division and outrage on issues regarding politics, race, gender, and socioeconomics, the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to a church in the first century is unwittingly timely. This is a great truth about Scripture that it still speaks to believers today about how to conduct themselves in a world that is ever-changing, yet not so different from the culture in which it was written. In chapter four of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul gets extremely practical. He is taking the theological framework from earlier in the letter and applying to specific aspects of life (telling the truth, anger, stealing, and public speech). Each of these is extremely relational.. How a Christian conducts himself in relation to these behaviors not only affects himself but his relationship with others. In the text at hand, he discusses the issue of anger.
We tend to think of anger as a bad thing. However, Paul does not denounce anger in general, but specific manifestation of anger, namely sinful anger. Sinful anger is self-focused. It manifests itself when we don’t get our way, or when we feel hurt and is prideful and vengeful at its core. Sinful anger almost always seeks revenge for a wrong (or perceived wrong) done. Righteous anger or righteous indignation, on the other hand, is others focused, namely God-focused. It manifests itself when we see the effects of sin in the world. Particularly when we see injustice ignored and prolonged, it is not vengeful but seeks justice ultimately trusting that the Lord will carry it out in due time.
Be Angry and Do Not Sin
Paul, in this passage, provides three exhortations to help the believer know when anger has crossed the line from righteous to sinful. First, he says be angry and do not sin (vs. 26). This point may seem redundant, but Paul is encouraging believers to check their motives when they get angry. When we see injustice, are sinned against, or experience the pain of someone who has been sinned against it is natural to feel angry. However, when the first feelings of anger well up, we must check our motives. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus equated anger in one’s heart to murder and is liable to judgment (Matthew 5:21-22). Just because we are sinned against “does not give us permission to throw a fit, seek revenge, and dishonor the name of God in public” (Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: Ephesians). We must make sure that we are channeling our anger in the right direction, which will not allow us to slide into sin. This can be done through prayer and the counsel of a wise Christian friend or pastor(s).
Do Not Let the Sun Go Down On Your Anger
Second, do not let the sun go down on your anger. This is a reminder that when we are angry, it must be dealt with promptly. When righteous anger is allowed to linger in our hearts, it can turn into bitterness and resentment. Paul exhorts believers to resolve anger quickly. This will look different in each situation. It may require us to seek and/or administer forgiveness with another person. Jesus speaks to this in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “if you are fearing your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV). At the minimum, it will require us to give the issue over to the Lord in prayer and trust Him through the situation. This must be done quickly.
Give No Opportunity to the Devil
Third, give no opportunity to the devil. The gospel reminds us that Satan and sin have been defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus (Colossians 2:15). As a defeated foe, he seeks to bring any destruction that he can. Jesus reminds us of this in the Gospel of John when he says, “The thief (speaking of Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). One of Satan’s most notorious ways to destroy is in the church is to get angry and not deal quickly with it. Paul warns against that here by exhorting the church not to sin in anger and resolve it quickly. When believers seek reconciliation quickly, it leaves no room for Satan to weasel his way in and corrode relationships. As the old saying reminds us, “don’t go to bed with unresolved conflict, or else you will sleep with the Devil” (Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: Ephesians).
These truths from Paul in this passage are poignant in our divisive culture. In an age of cultural division and the propagation of negative rhetoric, it is crucial for Christians to be reminded not to partake. It is easy to be outraged by headlines and be drawn into fierce debates on social media regarding a host of issues. Christians are called to take a step back and not all the sun go down on this outrage, thereby giving an opportunity to the devil. As sojourners on this earth, believers are called to seek the welfare and pray to the Lord on behalf of our city, nation, and the world (Jeremiah 29:7). The best place to practice this is in church, because “by this, all people will know that you are my [Jesus’] disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). This love that Jesus calls us to is not easy. It will cause to lay down our pride and trust in His grace as we learn to forgive others and as forgiveness from others. Yet, this type of unity is what we must seek. In so doing, we make much of Jesus. When Jesus is lifted up in our lives, may he draw others to himself through the witness of His church in the world.
Zach is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at zachkendrick.wordpress.com, and is a contributor for Servants of Grace. He has written book reviews for Cross-Focused Reviews, Crossway, New Growth Press, Tyndale House Publishers and Fortress Press. He resides in Birmingham with his wife, Courtney.