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Ephesians 4:26-27 – “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

Last week we looked at the dangers of anger. Although God gives us anger as a way of motivating us to point out and correct wrongs, because we are weak and self-centered, our anger tends to lead to more unrighteousness and injustice. James 1:20 says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

We also looked at the many warnings in the scriptures about the dangers of anger. If you allow unrighteous anger in your life it will destroy your relationships with others and with God.

We begin today by noting that –

Not all anger is unrighteous

  • In Mark 3:5, when many objected to his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus was angry. Angry that they couldn’t get it that people in need should be helped, perhaps especially on the Sabbath. This grieved him.
  • In 2 Corinthians 7:11 Paul commends the Corinthians for their indignation to clear their name about a matter he addressed in an earlier letter.
  • Of course, our text, Ephesians 4:26 – “Be angry and do not sin,” shows that you can be angry without sin.

How to express your anger in a righteous way

If not all anger is unrighteous, what’s the difference? There are three characteristics of the righteous expression of anger:

1. Be slow to anger. Another way of saying this is don’t be quick-tempered. Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” James 1:19 says “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (In almost any argument or disagreement, isn’t it nearly the opposite? We are slow to hear, but quick to speak and quick to anger.)

There are several aspects to slowness of anger:

  • Don’t judge by appearances: John 7:24 says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Make sure what really happened. Don’t assume you know the whole story from afar. Be slow to get upset in these situations. Check things out first.
  • Patience with one another: Colossians 3:13 says, “bear with one another.” Patience means long-suffering, which means that you suffer for a long time. We are to suffer with each other and our weaknesses for a long time. Don’t’ have a quick trigger. Learn to put up with others’ quirks and idiosyncrasies.
  • Overlook an offense: Don’t always feel you have to respond in anger to everything; be willing to overlook the small or insignificant stuff. As Proverbs 19:11 states, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

In all these ways we are being slow to anger; careful and cautious before we become angry. This is all about restraint and self-control.

2. Let your anger motivate you to act. If it is a situation that you have checked out and it is real, and serious enough that it cannot be overlooked, you need to act. Not in the heat of anger or a fit, but after you are able to think clearly, and gather yourself together. The point is – don’t put it off for weeks, or months. Ephesians 4:26 says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Work to resolve the issue. It is dangerous to let your anger become deep seated within you. Don’t let bitterness take root.

3. Act in accord with God’s righteousness. Our text gives us a caution here with regard to anger. Ephesians 4:27 says, “give no opportunity to the devil.” When we act in anger in a way that is not according to righteousness, we end up with broken relationships and sinful anger in us, which Satan loves and uses. It’s like opening a door and inviting the devil into your life.

There are several aspects to acting in righteousness with our anger:

  • Don’t give full vent to your anger. Rather, exercise restraint. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Never vent or unleash your full anger against someone. It will only destroy.
  • Act in love for the person. Our natural tendency is to let our anger move us to vengeance, punishment or retribution; to give back what we got. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:15 – “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” We are to love those who harm us and return good for evil.
  • Go to the person in peace and seek resolution of the issue. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Luke 17:3 adds,  “if he repents, forgive him.” We are to give mercy and forgive.

In all of this what I am saying is – use anger according to God’s righteousness. Let your anger stir you up – not to destroy, tear down or punish, but rather to find peace and healing of relationship with the one who has wronged you.

What if there is no resolution?

If a person is unwilling to deal with the issues; they won’t repent – what do you do with your anger then? Having done all this so far, can we now strike out and punish?! No. In this situation you must learn to give your anger to God.

Paul says in Romans 12:19-21  -“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Give your desire for justice over to God. God can handle these things. And we trust that God will act on our behalf as God sees fit to make things right for us. As Jesus says in Luke 18:7 – won’t God act to give justice to those who cry out to him? Yes. God will act for us.

  • If you don’t give your anger over to God, you will be overcome by evil (v. 21); filled with unresolved anger, bitterness and rage with no way to address the situation according to God’s righteousness.
  • But if you give your anger over to God and move on with mercy and love for the person, then you have overcome the evil done to you. You have overcome it with the good of mercy and love.

Finally, you need God to help you

Anger can be powerful; it can enslave you. To be free is a matter of the transformation of your heart. Something has to change within you. And you can’t do that in your own strength. Remember – sin is powerful, but God is more powerful! So seek God’s help when you struggle in this area of anger and allow God to set you free.

William Higgins

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Anger is something we all struggle with, and it can really damage and destroy our relationships with each other. It also is a false substitute for the process of dealing with those who have offended you. Instead of going to the offender in love and seeking peace, as Jesus teaches, we go in anger to verbally (or otherwise) punish them. So today we look at the danger of anger and next week, Lord willing, righteous anger.

James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved sisters and 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.”

Anger is meant to lead us to righteousness

Anger is a God given desire for justice; that things be done rightly and fairly. This is the way that God has made us to function. It arises when we think that we or others have been wronged in some way. And it prompts us to act to make things right. God gave this to us to promote righteousness. It is meant to lead to the pointing out and correction of injustice

However, our anger often leads us to sin. There is a paradox here, for even though it is meant to promote righteousness, our anger often does not promote true righteousness. As James 1:20 says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Why? 1) Anger is difficult to control. It is explosive, like a fire that quickly rages out of control. As Proverbs 27:4 says, anger is “overwhelming.” We become angry but can’t control our anger. 2) Our anger is often guided by our own distorted sense of what God wants us to do. It stirs us up – but to do what? We often have a warped understanding of justice that turns our behavior into hateful vengeance. And as Christians, we often forget the way of Jesus and ignore God’s call to mercy, love of enemies and forgiveness. Instead, in our anger, we seek to punish others.

So, in the hands of self-centered, weak humans (like all of us) anger leads us not to do God’s righteousness – but to do our own unrighteousness. Proverbs 29:22 says,  “one given to anger causes much transgression.” Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Examples of how anger often leads us to sin against others

1) Instead of loving others – it can lead us to murder – Genesis 4:5-7. Cain felt he had been wronged when God did not accept his offering, but did accept his brother’s. This made him angry. He did not control his anger and it led him to murder his brother. 

2) Instead of building up others – it can lead us to tear down others with our words – Matthew 5:22. “. . . Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Jesus teaches here that angry words that tear down, simple insults and expressions of judgment, are also a form of murder. They are also a breaking of the sixth commandment

3) Instead of living in peace with each other – it leads to quarreling and strife.  Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered person stirs up strife.” Anger often leaves in its wake wounded people and broken relationships.

4) Instead of kindness to others – it leads us to be cruel in our words and actions – Proverbs 27:4. Our anger makes us say things and do things that are extreme and cruel to others – things we wouldn’t do and say if we were not angry.

5) Instead of being willing to love and forgive – it leads us to hold on to bitterness. Bitterness is an unwillingness to forgive. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you.” Notice the connection between bitterness and anger is this verse.

6) Instead of acts of love for others – it leads us to do acts of malice. Malice has to do with acts of hatred towards others. This also comes from Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Not only does it destroy our relationships with others . . .

Unrighteous anger destroys our relationship with God

We cannot be in right relationship with God, when we are not in right relationship with others. This is a principle that the NT teaches. We see this in the following.

1) It blocks our ability to be in relationship with God.  I Timothy 2:8 says, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” It is inconsistent to pray when there is quarreling and unresolved anger – as if nothing is wrong. Matthew 5:24 teaches us to first be reconciled to the one you have offended by your angry words, before you come to worship God. We must deal with those we have wounded through our anger first

2) It leads to our condemnation before God. Galatians 5:19-21 teaches that outbursts of anger are works of the flesh. It then goes on to say, “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath . . ..” These things are a part of our old life that is to die. In verse 6 Paul says, “on account of these things the wrath of God is coming.” Our sinful anger lead to an outbreak of God’s righteous anger. Matthew 5:22 teaches that even simple words of angry insult like “you fool,” will lead to our condemnation before God as a breaking of the sixth commandment.

The danger of anger

What I’m saying is that anger is so hard to control, so easily corruptible, so easily leads us to sin, and the consequences are so grave – we must beware!

1) Anger is so dangerous . . . If we are angry, we must be very careful for sin. As Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry, but do not sin.”

2) Anger is so dangerous . . . We should not befriend someone who cannot control their anger. Proverbs 22:24 says – “Make no friendship with a person given to anger, nor go with a wrathful person.”

3) Anger is do dangerous . . . We should be careful not to provoke others to anger – which could cause them to stumble into sinful anger.  Ephesians 6:4 says,  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger . . ..” This admonition can certainly be more broadly applied in other relationships.

Conclusion

Next week we’ll talk about righteous anger – What anger looks like when it is not out of control; when it has not forgotten Jesus’ call to love our enemies; when it is not busy destroying our relationships with others and with God. But for today I want us to hear, and take home, and ponder the serious warnings in the scriptures about the dangers of anger – that we should beware!

William Higgins

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