July 29, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Have you ever said or done something when you were angry that, later on, you deeply regretted? I expect you have. Most people do this sort of thing. Thus, we need to hear the exhortation found in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry but do not sin.” Now, that’s clear enough, but it isn’t necessarily easy to do. We need plenty of divine wisdom to discover how we can feel and even express anger, but without doing or saying what is wrong and hurtful.
Have you ever done or said something in anger that you ended up regretting? I’ll guess the answer is yes. Just about any human being who has grown beyond infancy knows what it’s like to get mad and then do or say something unwise or unkind.
As I think back to occasions when I sinned because I was angry, I mostly remember things I said that I wished later on I had not said. For example, I recall a time 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 or asking for more information, I said—almost shouting—“Over my dead body!” Thanks be to God, this elder showed more restraint than I had shown. In fact, he remains a dear friend to this day, which says more about his Christian character than mine.
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 hurt them physically. But I have hurt them emotionally with my words, words I can’t retract even though I apologized for saying them.
If you can relate to what I’m sharing here, then you need the counsel of Ephesians 4:25 just as much as I do. This verse begins with a simple exhortation: “Be angry but do not sin.” It’s likely that Paul is quoting from the Old Testament, from Psalm 4:4 to be exact. The ancient Greek translation of this verse uses the same language as the Greek in our text. A literal translation reads: “Be angry and do not sin” (Psalm 4:5, LXX). Many contemporary translations and commentators argue that the Greek imperative is used more as a concession than a command. It means something like “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 we understand the first part of the quotation, the main point is clear. 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 mostly the sin that follows from anger is verbal. We say things in our hurt that are meant to hurt others. Sometimes the pain caused by angry words is deeper and more lasting than the pain of a physical blow.
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 wrong, at least in some way? I’ll respond to this question in Monday’s devotion. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
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? If so, how did you feel afterward?
What helps you abide by the injunction “Do not sin” when you are angry?
The human tendency to self-justification can make it hard for us to acknowledge times when our anger leads us to sin. If this fits for you, ask the Lord to reveal to you the truth of your own sin in times of anger. Be open to what the Spirit wants to teach you, not to shame you, but to heal you and help you grow.
Gracious God, I do not need further convincing. I know how my anger has led to sin. This grieves me, even though I know you have forgiven me. Lord, I ask for your help to do what this verse says. When I am angry, may I refrain from sinning. May your Spirit do whatever is necessary to quiet my tongue or subdue my outbursts. I want to honor you, dear Lord, at all times, even when I feel angry. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Wise Worker Guards the Tongue (Proverbs)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.