Summary: Can a Christian be angry? Is anger a sin? God through Paul answers these questions, and tells us to use our anger for good, to deal with it quickly, and to learn to let some things go.
Putting the Brakes on Your Anger
Anger is something every one of us deals with, and we all deal with it in different ways. Some are screamers. Some keep a stoic face and only yell on the inside. Some get in your face. Some give you the silent treatment. But everyone gets angry. I heard about one couple’s discussion. The husband said, “Honey, I’m so sorry that I let out my anger at you so often. How do you manage to stay so calm with my foul moods?” And she replied, “I always go and clean the toilet when that happens.” He said, “And that helps?” And she said, “Yes, because I’m using your toothbrush.”
Someone once said, “When you let anger get the best of you, it brings out the worst in you.” Everybody gets angry! So what are we to do? Is it possible to be a Christian and still get angry? How can we honor Jesus in our anger? Paul gives us some ideas from this fourth chapter of Ephesians. First,
1. Use your anger for good
Maybe this point sounds strange to you. Some folks believe that anger by nature is sinful, so how could you ever use your anger for good? Yet, verse 26 tells us that anger is not a sin. It says, “In your anger, do not sin...” So, by that statement alone, you can be in a state of anger and not be sinning.
After all, Jesus got angry. The biblical writers had the same hang-ups about anger that we do today. Only one of the gospel writers was courageous enough to say that Jesus got angry. Anybody remember the occasion? Most people think of the time he knocked over the tables of the money changers in the Temple and drove out the animals. He was ticked that people were being cheated and swindled in the very act of worship. Jesus certainly could have been angry there; the scripture describes him as full of “zeal.” But the writers never called it anger. The only time scripture records that Jesus got angry was when he was staring down the prideful Pharisees who preferred keeping their manmade rules about the Sabbath over seeing a man healed of his withered hand. Bold Mark calls it like it is: Jesus was angry! (Mark 3:5) So if Jesus got angry, you know it’s not a sin to be angry. Because scripture says Jesus never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15).
Common sense says it’s ok to be angry. Some things ought to make you angry. You should be angry when someone is discriminated against. You should be angry that our Christian brothers and sisters are being imprisoned and tortured and murdered around the globe. You should be angry whenever someone gets raped or murdered. You should be angry when a Veteran commits suicide. Some things ought to make you angry. If you never get angry, check your pulse!
Yet, in your anger, do not sin. Use your anger for good, not for evil. Therapist Mark Epstein says, “Anger is a sign that something needs to change.” Use your anger for constructive purposes, not destructive ones. Someone once said, “Explain your anger, don't express it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments.” James urges us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Choose to build constructively with your anger, not to tear down. Look for a solution. Make the world a better place. Speak the truth in love, not in hate. Take a stand when you ought to, but do it with careful humility, not careless pride. Use your anger for good. And...
2. Deal with your anger quickly (vv. 26b-27)
The last part of verse 26 and verse 27 read, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” If you nurse that anger past sunset, you’re likely to move into verse 31 kinds of things like bitterness and rage. And guess what? Your body is not designed for that! God did not create you and me to carry bitterness and resentment and rage. Ever heard of psychosomatic illness? Your rage will show up in other ways, like ulcers and migraines and insomnia. Or we displace our unresolved anger on innocent others like a spouse or friend. They’re easy targets, right? And our anger will grow. It will grow larger, because we’ve given the devil a foothold. Our body houses the Holy Spirit, but when we let anger last longer than a night, we’re opening up opportunities for the devil to work in us.
Unresolved anger is undoubtedly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22). Jesus spoke of strong language that betrayed an unforgiving heart. And he disturbingly portrayed unresolved anger as mental murder.