A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:26-27. b). Don’t lose your temper, but rather ensure
that your anger is righteous.
*Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, (27) and give no opportunity to the devil.
‘Be angry, but sin not’ is an echo of Psalm 4:4. It seems clear that this form of words is a Hebrew idiom which permits and then restricts anger, rather than actually commanding it. The equivalent English idiom would be ‘in your anger do not sin’ (NIV). Nevertheless, the verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.
Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In verse 31 ‘anger’ is one of a number of unpleasant things which we are to ‘put away’ from us. Evidently unrighteous anger is meant. But in 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus (Mk.3:5). There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus.
I go further and say that there is great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil we should be indignant not tolerant, angry not apathetic. If God hates sin, his people should hate it too. If evil arouses his anger, it should arouse ours also. ‘Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake thy law.’ (Ps.119:53). What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?
It is particularly noteworthy that the apostle introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. ‘In such a world as this,’ comments E.K.Simpson, ‘the truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of peace-breaker as a sacred obligation.
At the same time we need to remember our fallenness, and our constant proneness to intemperance and vanity. Consequently, we always have to be on our guard and act as censors of our own anger. If we are wise, we shall be ‘slow to anger’, remembering that ‘the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (Jas.1:19-20), So Paul immediately qualifies his permissive ‘*be angry* by three negatives, First, *do not sin*. We have to be sure that our anger is free from injured pride, spite, malice, animosity and the spirit of revenge. Secondly, *do not let the sun go down on your anger*. This instruction illustrates well the folly of excessive literalism in interpreting the Bible. We are not to understand Paul ‘so literally that we may take leave to be angry till sunset’, for ‘then might our wrath lengthen with the days, and men in Greenland, where days last above a quarter of the year, have plentiful scope of revenge’. No, the apostle’s intention is to warn us against nursing anger. It is seldom safe to allow the embers to smoulder. Certainly if we become aware of some sinful or selfish element in it (and if our *orge*, anger degenerates into *parorgismos*, resentment, the word used at the end of verse 26), then it is time for us to cease from it, and either apologize or be reconciled to the person concerned. In the Old Testament a moneylender who took a poor person’s cloak as a pledge was required to restore it ‘when the sun goes down’, so that he might sleep in it, and an employer who had any servants who were poor and needy was required to pay them their wages daily ‘before the sun goes down’ (Dt.24:13-15). There are many similar situations in which it wise to live a day at a time. ‘Never go to bed angry’ is a good rule, and is seldom more applicable than to a married couple.
Paul’s third qualification is *give no opportunity to the devil* (verse 27), for he knows how fine is the line between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how hard human beings find it to handle their anger responsibly. So he loves to lurk round angry people, hoping to be able to exploit the situation to his own advantage by provoking them into hatred or violence or a breach of fellowship.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:28. c). Don’t steal, but rather work and give.