Best of Daily Reflections: What Does Ephesians Say About Anger?
“In your anger do not sin." Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
The What, How, and Why of Anger: Part 1
As I have meditated upon Ephesians 4:26-27 in preparation for writing this reflection, I have thought back to occasions when I blatantly disregarded its wisdom. Honestly, I hate to think how many times in my life anger has led to sinful behavior on my part.
Mostly, this sin has taken the form of words that never should have left my mouth. I remember, for example, when one of my elders at Irvine Presbyterian Church made a suggestion in a meeting that sparked my anger. Instead of listening carefully or remaining quiet, I almost shouted, "Over my dead body!" Thanks be to God, this elder showed more restraint than I had shown.
The sad truth is that the very worst things I have said or done in anger have been directed at those I love most in the world. My wife and children have been the victims of my anger-induced sin. By God's grace, I haven't struck them physically. But I have said things that I deeply regretted.
Perhaps you can relate to what I'm saying here. In fact, I expect you can. Most of us have allowed our anger to motivate us to do or say things we would never have done or said at other times. Sometimes, these actions and words have done considerable damage, both to others and ultimately to ourselves.
So, we need the counsel of Ephesians 4:26. What does this verse say about anger? It's simple: "In your anger do not sin." The quotation marks in our text show that Paul is quoting from Psalm 4:4 here. The ancient Greek translation of this verse from the Psalms uses the same language as the Greek in our text. Most literally, it means "Be angry and do not sin" (Psalm 4:4, LXX). Many contemporary translations and commentators argue that the Greek imperative is used not so much as a command but as a concession: "If you are angry, though you really shouldn't be, then don't sin" rather than "Be angry but don't sin." Yet, no matter how you read the first part of the quotation, the main point is clear and consistent. When you are angry, do not sin.
What kinds of sin follow from anger? Sometimes physical violence, even murder. Sometimes anger leads to premeditated revenge. But, more often than not, the sin that follows from anger is verbal. We say things to people that hurt, and sometimes the pain caused by angry words is deeper and more lasting than the pain of a physical assault.
The phrasing of verse 26, no matter how you translate it, seems to suggest that it's possible to be angry without sinning. This may seem obvious to you, but I expect some readers might wonder about it. Isn't anger always sinful, at least in some way? I'll respond to this question tomorrow. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you remember times in your life when someone's anger led to sinful behavior directed at you? Can you remember times when your anger led you to sin? How did you feel afterwards? What helps you abide by the injunction "Do not sin" when you are angry?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I do not need further convincing. I know how my anger has led to sin. This grieves me, even though I also know you have forgiven me. Lord, I ask for your help to do what this verse says. When I am angry, may I keep from sinning. May your Spirit do whatever is necessary to quiet my tongue or subdue my fists. I want to honor you, dear Lord, at all times, even when I feel angry. Amen.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast.
Show Me the Way
Seeking advice for the road ahead is a practice as old as people. How we do it may look different from one generation to the next, but all of us want what wisdom has to offer. Our series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, addresses this topic from various angles. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.