“Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph 4:26). This language is the same as the Septuagint’s translation of Psalm 4:4. The Hebrew word for angry in the Psalm means to tremble or be agitated. The Greek verb orgay, denotes the strong emotion of rage or anger associated with the Hebrew word. But are we as Christians to really “be angry?” Commentators through the ages have sought to change the meaning of Eph 4:26 in order to accommodate the idea that anger is always sinful; thus it has been changed by some to say: “Are you angry? Then do not sin;” or “If you must be angry;” or with the permissive imperative “Be angry (since you cannot prevent otherwise).” But no matter how commentators might try to squirm out of it, one cannot escape the fact that the positive command of Eph 4:26 is that you be angry. But in what way are we to be angry?
John Stott has perceptively written:
… there is a 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 his 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 a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation.’
So then, if we are commanded to be angry, how is this consistent with other texts such as Col 3:8, which states: But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice… Are we to think that Eph 4:26 permits outbursts of anger and ranting fits of rage associated with our carnal proneness to intemperance and vanity? God forbid! The new man, rather must be, as God Himself is, ‘slow to anger,’ remembering that ‘the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God’ (Ja 1:20).
Paul goes on to exhort us to be on our guard and act as censors of our anger, by qualifying the positive command with three negatives. First, do not sin (v. 26). We have to make sure that our anger is free from any injured pride, spite, personal animosity or any spirit of revenge. Secondly, do not let the sun go down on your wrath (v. 27). This instruction warns us against nursing anger. Just as a cigarette butt can start a destructive fire that devastates an entire community, it is never safe to allow the embers of anger to smolder, for they will always degenerate into destructive bitterness. So the day of anger should also be the day or reconciliation. If left to smolder, anger will most surely sink into sinful and even murderous hatred, which will be manifested in the tongue, which James calls a flame thrower; and so a mere burning ember has the potential to become a uncontrolled fire. Paul’s third qualification is that we give no opportunity to the devil (v. 27). Know that Satan lurks around angry people. He’s got you marked out – and he knows how to create just the right environment with just the right people to push your anger button; He hopes to exploit the situation to his own advantage by provoking you to hatred, violent speech, and even a breach of fellowship. Be wary of his schemes and do not give him such opportunity – in your anger, do not sin.
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