Be Angry and Do Not Sin
I would like to invite your attention to the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and specifically verses 25 – 32 where the Apostle writes….
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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.” (Ephesians 4:25–32, ESV)
If Christians are supposed to be “perfect” people as many falsely believe, then there would have been no need for Paul to include this section in his letter.
If it is true that when a person is born again they no longer need to worry about sin (sinless perfection), then why would Paul give these commands?
The reality is that Christians are not perfect people, they are not sin free people. The reality is that all Christians struggle with the sins Paul describes along with a multitude of other sins.
Maybe there is someone here this morning who desires to be a Christian, but you know that you’re not perfect, and you’re plagued by the sins the Bible addresses in the verses we just read. You have a problem being truthful or anger issues and those sins have led you to despair that salvation is not for you.
Take heart. The only kind of people Jesus saves are imperfect ones. The only people Jesus saves are liars, people with anger issues, thieves and people with foul mouths. Jesus saves imperfect sinful people and over time through the power of the Holy Spirit he makes them has-beens. He takes those who used to be and moves them to the “no longer are” side of the ledger. Listen to this reminder that the Apostle Paul gave to the saints in the church at Corinth.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)
Normally to be called a “has been” is not a compliment. But the Christian is happy is thrilled to be a “has been”. A Christian may have been all these things in the past, but that is not what they are now.
If you’re here today and you’re not perfect if you will come to Christ, you will become a “happy has been”. When it comes to being a Christian I would much rather be a “has been” than a “never was”. If you would like to talk to me about coming to Christ, please see me asap.
When God works in us and brings us to repent of our sins and to place our trust in Christ He immediately begins to change us, to conform us to the image of Christ. As the believer hears the Scriptures preached the Holy Spirit takes the preached word and begins to apply it to the life of the believer so that every believer begins to make incremental progress in becoming like Christ.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit works directly on our minds to change the way that we think. Remember earlier in Paul’s letter he described the futility of the unsaved mind. The Believer is renewed in the spirit of their minds by the Holy Spirit.
Then there are other times that the Holy Spirit works directly on our actions. The Believer is given specific commands to stop doing certain sinful actions and to replace them with godly ones.
That’s what we have this morning in the text. In verse 25 you as a believer are instructed to stop lying and to begin speaking the truth with your neighbor. In verse 25 there are two commands, stop lying and begin telling the truth. Those commands are given to change our behavior. They are given to us to keep us from engaging in behaviors that are sinful and must not characterize a believer in this case (lying) to a godly behavior (speaking the truth) that must characterize a believer.
BE ANGRY BUT DO NOT SIN!
In verses 26 and 27 again we are given a command which seems to contradict what the Bible teaches elsewhere.
Paul commands you as a believer to “Be angry”. Many of us read that and say finally a command I’ll have no problem keeping! I’ve got this one down!
But before we do let’s make sure we have a proper understanding of what Paul means when he commands us to “Be angry”.
First let’s define the kind of anger Paul commands. The kind of anger that Paul advocates is a deep seated, determined and settled conviction. It’s a belief, it’s a core principal, a guiding principal.
It is not a momentary outburst, it is not a display of temper. It is not boiling over rage. The anger Paul commands you as a believer to have is controlled, it is determined, it is settled. In order to have this kind of anger you will need to know God and to know God’s Word.
COMPARE SCRIPTURE WITH SCRIPTURE
A helpful way of understanding one specific text is by comparing Scripture with Scripture. What Paul writes here in Ephesians 4 is similar to what David wrote in Psalm 4:4
“Be angry, and do not sin;” (Psalm 4:4a, ESV)
Both Paul and David teach two things:
- We are commanded to be angry
- It is possible to be angry, to express anger, to experience the emotion of anger and still not sin.
But how do we reconcile Ephesians 4 and Psalm 4 with the numerous commands found elsewhere in Scripture warning us and commanding us to put away anger. For instance, in Colossians 3:8 Paul wrote:
“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8, ESV)
Psalm 37:8 tells us to “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!” Ecclesiastes 7:9 says “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”
Later in this same passage in Ephesians 4:31 Paul wrote:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31, ESV)
So how are we to understand verse 26? Hopefully it’s clear from the verses just referenced that there are two distinct kinds of anger addressed in the Bible.
There is an anger that honors God, that pleases God and there is anger that displeases God that dishonors Him and is sinful.
ANGER WHEN GOD IS DISHONORED
Sinful anger is anger that is self-defensive and self-serving. Sinful anger is anger that is resentful of what someone does to us, has done against us. It’s the kind of anger that leads to murder and all other destructive sins.
Righteous anger (positive anger) is anger that must be expressed when God is dishonored. When God’s laws are broken. When God’s word is disregarded. It is righteous indignation, it is anger directed at evil. It is anger that abhors injustice, immorality and ungodliness. We are commanded to be angry when God is dishonored.
It’s the kind of anger that Jesus expressed in Mark 3
“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5, ESV)
It’s the kind of anger that Jesus expressed when he cleansed the Temple and threw out the moneychangers and all the merchants selling their overpriced goods. Jesus expressed a righteous anger over the treatment of His Father’s house which was to be a place of prayer a place of worship and they had turned into a religious mini-mall.
There is a kind of anger that pleases God. Think about that! The kind of anger that pleases God is a controlled, righteous anger. Anger over injustice. Anger over the mistreatment of the poor and the vulnerable. Anger when God, His Word, His Spirit, His Son are dishonored.
MLJ “We are to be angry over evil and wrong.”
“O you who love the Lord, hate evil.” (Psalm 97:10, ESV)
Yet in our anger, we must be careful that we don’t cross the line and turn righteous anger into sinful anger.
There are wrong ways to be angry and to express anger.
For instance, the Christian should not be a hot head. The Christian should not be bad tempered. You know the kind of person who you have to walk on egg shells when you are around them.
The Christian should not be easily provoked to anger. There are a lot of professing Christians that are angry, but they are angry for all the wrong reasons, it is misdirected anger. I once knew a man who was so angry over a style of a song sung in church that he was literally shook with anger. He was not expressing righteous anger but sinful anger.
Any anger that is excessive and uncontrolled is sinful anger.
Anger is a very common source of sin. As a believer you must make sure that when you think of anger that you are thinking Biblically and not as the world thinks. Many are told that there is not much they can do about their anger. They need to manage it, or they need to do their best to suppress it. Containment is the goal.
Please don’t let anyone tell you that it is okay to be angry. Especially if the person telling you that it’s okay to be angry is not a believer. I realize this may contradict what many people believe.
As a believer you need to remember that the mind of the unbeliever has been darkened and corrupted by sin. Paul describes the mind of the unbeliever as futile, which means they can never arrive at the truth it can never come to the right conclusion. I mean look what happens when Dr. David Banner gets angry! He turns into the incredible hulk! Don’t tell him it’s ok to be angry.
The problem with a blanket statement such as “it’s okay to be angry” is that it is a completely unqualified statement.
That may challenge what you have been told and perhaps what you have come to believe but hear my reasoning before you reject it.
How can we begin to determine if a statement such as “it’s okay to be angry” is truthful or not?
First, realize that there is no context to such a statement.
Second there is no qualification to that statement.
Where should we look for some context and qualification? To the Scriptures.
If someone says it’s okay to be angry because God is being dishonored then the Bible would say, yes that’s right, yes that is a proper expression of anger.
But if someone were to say “I don’t like what you did to me and that makes me angry” that is not a valid, legitimate expression of anger for you as a Christian.
If you’re angry because you’re personally offended the Bible doesn’t condone that kind of anger. If you’re angry because God has been dishonored, His will has been violated etc. then it is right to be angry. In fact, it would be sinful for us to not be angry considering the teaching of Scripture.
But when an unqualified statement such as it’s okay to be angry is made we must make sure that we must use biblical discernment to examine what we are being told, or perhaps what we believe to make sure that it agrees with the Scriptures.
ANGER PROVIDES OPPORTUNITY FOR INSTRUCTION
Mom and Dad, because anger is such a common emotion expressed by your children it provides you with a wealth of opportunities to teach your children about the difference between righteous and sinful anger. It provides you with numerous opportunities to teach your children about their heart and to teach them about their need for a new heart that only Christ can give.
Don’t get angry when your child gets angry, see it as an incredible opportunity to teach them why they are angry and then point them to Christ. Don’t be surprised when your child becomes angry. Anger is an expression of our selfishness, of their selfishness.
Let me talk to the kids for a moment. Every time you become angry with your mom or dad or your brother or sister, your anger is pulling back the curtain of your heart and showing you something about yourself. If you have been saved your anger is still teaching, you about the condition of your heart and the work that still needs to be done in you by the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t yet been saved your anger is God’s way of showing you that you are a sinner in need of a savior. Talk to mom and dad about what is going on inside you and let them show you how Jesus can change your heart.
For the rest of us just as I asked you last week to monitor your speech and see how you are doing with telling the truth, I challenge you this week to examine yourself to see how often you are angry and what it is that makes it you angry. Is it righteous anger or is it sinful anger?
I’m afraid that many of us are angrier over how others have treated us than we are over how others are treating God. What is Paul’s command to you as a believer? Be angry! There are times when you as a believer need to be angry over the sin that destroys lives. We need to be angry when God is dishonored. When God is being misrepresented. We need to show more righteous indignation over the injustice built into every layer of our society.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “I sum up the whole position like this. Hate sin, hate sin in the sinner, always; but never hate the sinner. Both sides of the truth are essential. Sin must never be condoned. Sin must never be excused. Sin must always be condemned.”
Be angry and sin not!
Our expressions of anger do not need to be ugly, they should never be violent. Our expressions of anger should be loving as strange as that may seem. Righteous anger does more than just talk, it acts, it gets involved. It acts. It does what needs to be done and can be done to stand up and fight for what is right.
What are some ways we can express righteous anger?
Speak the truth. Don’t let error go unchecked. Remember to speak the truth in love.
Be careful that your entertainment choices are not condoning sin. I’m assuming you would never watch a t.v. show or a movie that is blatantly anti-God and openly blasphemous. Yet how many times are we entertained by material that is anti-God and sinful it’s just being presented in a much more subtle and nuanced way. We entertain ourselves with material that should make us angry over the sin and violence being portrayed.
As Christians we should be angry over abortion. But the way to express that anger is not by shooting a doctor or bombing a clinic, those are expressions of sinful anger. A righteous demonstration of anger would be to get involved in foster care like Chris and Heather. Volunteer your time at the local pregnancy help center. Provide financial, emotional and spiritual support to a single mother who thinks abortion is her only option.
Anger is a God given emotion that can be redeemed through the gospel. When you struggle with unrighteous anger remember that God’s sovereignty includes your emotions. Your anger can be more than managed, you don’t have to suppress it. The solution is to confess not suppress, and to put it to death through the help of the Holy Spirit.
But don’t stop at putting away sinful anger. Put on righteous anger. Take a stand. Get involved. Examine your life and how you entertain yourself. Be angry but do not sin.
How can you develop the kind of anger that pleases God? By getting to know God. Not just knowing some facts about him. But by learning His heart.