Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath nor give place to the devil.”
This passage, which the first part comes from Psalm 4:4, is a call to righteous anger. Because anger can be selfish do we rarely understand that we can be angry without sinning. But much of that I believe comes from a misunderstanding of what the Bible says about anger. That’s why I want to take the next few days to talk about this subject.
I would like to begin by asking a simple question, “What is anger?”
Anger is an emotion, like laughter and sadness. To deny anger is also to deny other emotions you possess. What we need to understand is that it is normal and natural. All of us become angry, the question is, when is it the right kind of anger?
Anger is also a feeling of displeasure. Webster defines anger as “a feeling of displeasure resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc., and usually showing itself in a desire to fight back at the supposed cause of this feeling” (Second College Edition, p.53). The only problem with that definition is that it is one-sided. It is talking about YOUR “injury, mistreatment, opposition” and YOUR “desire to fight back at the supposed cause of this feeling.” That is not what Ephesians 4:26-27 is saying. But before we look at when it is right, let’s see this definition in action. In 1 Samuel 25:13 we learn that David was angered at how he and his servants were mistreated by Nabal. Verses 21-22 tells that he wanted to take vengeance because of his mistreatment. David’s anger was unjustified. It was “evil” (v.39) as he later admits. His pride was hurt and he was determined to avenge himself because of it. This is a good example of our definition of “a feeling of displeasure resulting from injury, mistreatment, opposition, etc., and usually showing itself in a desire to fight back at the supposed cause of this feeling.”
A second example is found in Genesis 4:1-8. In this passage, Cain was jealous for Abel because Abel’s offering was accepted by God but Cain’s wasn’t. Cain’s “displeasure” toward God and his brother caused him to murder his brother but in reality he really wanted to kill God but since he couldn’t he killed Abel. 1 John 3:12 says that “Cain was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Both of these passages illustrate the selfish anger that Webster’s dictionary refers to as “anger.” Before we address the other side to this definition, let’s ask the second question regarding anger, “How does anger manifest itself?” First is by rage. The Greek word for “rage” is chaloa and it “signifies bitter anger.” It means “to be enraged.” Rage then is a furious, uncontrolled anger. It is a “violent outburst of anger where self-control is lost” (Webster). You could say that our two passages illustrated “rage.”
The second way anger manifests itself is by fury. “Fury” is violent anger. It “implies a frenzied rage that borders on madness” (Webster). You could also say that David and Cain also possessed this type of “anger.”
A third manifestation of anger is “wrath.” “Wrath” is intense anger. This is the Greek word thumos which expresses more the inward feeling that quickly blazes up and quickly subsides. It is an outburst of wrath. It may issue in revenge, though it does not necessarily include it. “Wrath” is an action carried out in great anger, especially for punishment or vengeance. David definitely revealed this kind of “anger.” Cain’s was more of “rage and fury” which then resulted in “murder.”
The kind of anger that Ephesians 4:26-27 refers to is “righteous indignation.” Aristotle said, "Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not easy." This is anger resulting from injustice or ingratitude. It implies righteous anger aroused by what seems unjust, mean or insulting” (Webster). All four types of anger are illustrated in the Scriptures and can be visible when anger is aroused. “It is difficult for us to practice a truly holy anger or righteous indignation because our emotions are tainted by sin, and we do not have the same knowledge that God has in all matters” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary). “When it is an emotion of malice, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, or hatred because of personal wrongs, it is forbidden” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
So what are you angry right now? If so, you probably would not be reading this. Were you angry earlier? Was it any of the four kinds of anger listed above? The only way that we can control any form of anger is to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal.5:16).