June 13 – Righteous Anger

Be angry, and do not sin.

Ephesians 4:26

You might be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as righteous anger—that is, being angry over what grieves God and hinders His causes. But we are not to be so angry that it results in sin.

Don’t be angry for your own causes. Don’t get angry when people offend you. And don’t let your anger degenerate into personal resentment, bitterness, sullenness, or moodiness. That is forbidden. The only justifiable anger defends the great, glorious, and holy nature of our God.

Anger that is selfish, passionate, undisciplined, and uncontrolled is sinful, useless, and hurtful. It must be banished from the Christian life. But the disciplined anger that seeks the righteousness of God is pure, selfless, and dynamic. We ought to be angry about the sin in the world and in the church. But we can’t let that anger degenerate into sin.[1]

4:26 A second area for practical renewal in our lives is in connection with sinful wrath and righteous anger. There are times when a believer may be righteously angry, for instance, when the character of God is impugned. In such cases anger is commanded: Be angry. Anger against evil can be righteous. But there are other times when anger is sinful. When it is an emotion of malice, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, or hatred because of personal wrongs, it is forbidden. 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.”

If a believer gives way to unrighteous wrath, he should confess and forsake it quickly. Confession should be made both to God and to the victim of his anger. There should be no nursing of grudges, no harboring of resentments, no carrying over of irritations. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. Anything that mars fellowship with God or with our brethren should immediately be made right.[2]

26, 27. The next specific admonition has to do with such matters as anger and resentment: Be angry but do not sin. These words recall Ps. 4:4 (LXX: Ps. 4:5), which the apostle is here applying for his own use. The words should not be interpreted separately, as if the sense were, a. “Be sure to be angry once in a while”; and b. “do not sin.” Much less is it true that all anger is here forbidden. Those who, by means of strange reasoning, favor this “interpretation” (?) do so with an appeal to verse 31, but see on that verse. The sense is simply, “Let not your anger be mixed with sin.” Anger as such need not be sinful. It is ascribed even to God (1 Kings 11:9; 2 Kings 17:18; Ps. 7:11; 79:5; 80:4, 5; Heb. 12:29), and to Christ (Ps. 2:12; Mark 3:5; John 2:15–17). In fact, the age in which we are living could use a little more “righteous indignation” against sin of every type. Also, the more angry every believer is with his own sins, the better it will be. However, anger, especially with reference to the neighbor, easily degenerates into hatred and resentment. To love the sinner while one hates his sin requires a goodly supply of grace. The exclamation, “I cannot stand that fellow,” is at times uttered even by one church member with reference to another. It is for that reason that the apostle immediately adds: let not the sun go down on that angry mood of yours. Having spoken about anger, the apostle now turns to that into which anger may easily degenerate, namely, the spirit of resentment, the angry mood, the sullen countenance that is indicative of hatred and of the unforgiving attitude. The day must not end thus. Before another dawns, nay rather, before the sun even sets—which to the Jew meant the end of one day and the beginning of another—genuine forgiveness must not only have filled the heart but must, if at all possible, have come to open expression so that the neighbor has benefited from its blessing. Phillips, though not really translating, does give the sense of the passage when he paraphrases it as follows: “Never go to bed angry.” Continued: … and do not give the devil a foothold. Literally, “And do not give a place to the devil.” The devil will quickly seize the opportunity of changing our indignation, whether righteous or unrighteous, into a grievance, a grudge, a nursing of wrath, an unwillingness to forgive. Paul was very conscious of the reality, the power, and the deceitfulness of the devil, as 6:10 shows. What he means, therefore, is that from the very start the devil must be resisted (James 4:7). No place whatsoever must be given to him, no room to enter or even to stand. There must be no yielding to or compromise with him. He must not be given any opportunity to take advantage of our anger for his own sinister purpose.[3]

From Unrighteous Anger to Righteous

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (4:26–27)

Parorgismos (anger) is not momentary outward, boiling–over rage or inward, seething resentment, but rather a deep–seated, determined and settled conviction. As seen in this passage, its New Testament use can represent an emotion good or bad, depending on motive and purpose.

Paul’s command is to be angry (from orgizō), with the qualification and yet do not sin. In this statement he may be legitimating righteous indignation, anger at evil, at that which is done against the Person of the Lord and against His will and purpose. It is the anger of the Lord’s people who hate evil (Ps. 69:9). It is the anger that abhors injustice, immorality, and ungodliness of every sort. It is the anger of which the great English preacher E W. Robertson wrote in one of his letters. When he once met a certain man who was trying to lure a young girl into prostitution, he became so angry that he bit his lip until it bled.

Jesus expressed righteous anger at the hard–heartedness of the Pharisees who resented His healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Although the word itself is not used in the gospel accounts of the events, it was no doubt that kind of anger that caused Jesus to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12; John 2:15). Jesus was always angered when the Father was maligned or when others were mistreated, but He was never selfishly angry at what was done against Him. That is the measure of righteous anger.

Anger that is sin, on the other hand, is anger that is self–defensive and self–serving, that is resentful of what is done against oneself. It is the anger that leads to murder and to God’s judgment (Matt. 5:21–22).

Anger that is selfish, undisciplined, and vindictive is sinful and has no place even temporarily in the Christian life. But anger that is unselfish and is based on love for God and concern for others not only is permissible but commanded. Genuine love cannot help being angered at that which injures the object of that love.

But even righteous anger can easily turn to bitterness, resentment, and self–righteousness. Consequently, Paul goes on to say, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Even the best motivated anger can sour, and we are therefore to put it aside at the end of the day. Taken to bed, it is likely to give the devil an opportunity to use it for his purposes. If anger is prolonged, one may begin to seek vengeance and thereby violate the principle taught in Romans 12:17–21,

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It may also be that verses 26b–27 refer entirely to this unrighteous anger, in which case Paul uses the imperative in the sense of saying that, because anger may come in a moment and overtake a believer, and because it has such a strong tendency to grow and fester, it should be dealt with immediately—confessed, forsaken, and given to God for cleansing before we end the day.

In any case of anger, whether legitimate or not, if it is courted, “advantage [will] be taken of us by Satan” (2 Cor. 2:11), and he will feed our anger with self–pity, pride, self–righteousness, vengeance, defense of our rights, and every other sort of selfish sin and violation of God’s holy will.[4]

26 Paul’s second command also cites an OT text: Ps 4:4 ([4:5] LXX). His words consist of three elements: the imperative “be angry,” the conjunction “and,” and the prohibition “do not sin” (the present tense might convey “do not keep sinning,” or even “stop sinning”). The imperative “be angry” either (1) is a genuine entreaty to be (righteously) angry, and not to sin, or (2) functions in a concessive or conditional way (i.e., “be angry, if you must, and …” or “if you get angry, and …”). Most versions and scholars adopt option #2. That is, there may be times when a believer will get angry, whether justifiably or not, but sin can never be condoned. (In fact, v. 31 urges that anger be completely removed.) So if you find yourself in an angry state, do not allow your anger to lead you into sin.

Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 491–92) argues against this option. He notes that “be angry” is followed with “and [kai] do not sin,” not “but do not sin.” The other uses of the conditional imperative with “and” are followed with a future indicative, either real or implied. Thus, according to Wallace, the more common command function is probably in view, in light of the community nature of the context (speaking the truth to one’s neighbor as members of one body). To fail to call others to account, i.e., to allow deceit to continue, is unconscionable. The proper Christian response is to “be angry,” as was Jesus at the abuses in the temple. Paul seems to make the place for “righteous anger” in the context of church discipline—in this case, be angry and do not sin. To fail to be angry at falsehood in the body of Christ would be a sin.

Opposing this, Best, 449, cites the lack of a context that would show what Christians are commanded to be angry about—internal church discipline is not the topic of this section. Further, he notes the incongruence of a positive command in the context of the other injunctions in the section that all begin with what is to be removed. Best believes a command to anger here would conflict with the command to be rid of all anger in v. 31. These are worthy objections, though Best does not respond to the formidable grammatical issues that Wallace raises.

The verse concludes with a prohibition not to let anger continue unchecked. The setting sun sets the (proverbial) time limit on being angry. The noun translated “anger” (NASB) is parorgismos (GK 4240), which refers to “the state of being intensely provoked” to anger (BDAG, 780). Whether anger is justified or not, it ought not to fester; what provoked the anger should be addressed promptly. Defuse anger by the end of the day (cf. Dt 24:15); this will ensure that anger does not lead to sin. Probably this concluding prohibition tips the evenly balanced scales in favor of option #2—that Paul’s imperative to anger is actually conditional or concessive. If he commanded believers to be righteously angry with sin in their midst, why would he put a time limit on such anger? Since the anger itself is not sin (it would be a righteous response to some sin or evil), why would Paul not want the readers to be angry for as long as it took to remedy the causes? Surely “one day” would not suffice in most cases. Probably, then, righteous anger or a holy rage is not Paul’s intent. Rather, he insists that Christians not harbor anger within the body, whether it is justified or creeps in unsolicited. As Chrysostom put it, “It is better not to grow angry at all. But if one ever does fall into anger, he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse” (cited in Edwards, 176). Address the causes for anger immediately; seek forgiveness and reconciliation quickly—and so preserve the health of the church.

27 To fail to engage in the necessary disciplining of deceitful Christians or, perhaps more likely here, to savor anger and allow it to continue to fester, puts the church in the very position the devil favors. He has gained an entrée to cause greater damage. Though diabolos (GK 1333) might refer to anyone who engages in slander, clearly here Paul denotes the church’s archenemy, the devil. Paul does not insinuate that the devil causes anger, only that he can exploit it for his own ends. So using the negative particle plus an aorist imperative of “give,” Paul urges the readers not to give the devil such a foothold—“Don’t do it.”[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 182). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1939). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 217–218). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 184–185). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 130–131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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