August 1, 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.
If your past experience of anger is a negative one, if anger has always been expressed in hurtful ways, then you may wonder about the statement in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry but do not sin.” Is it actually possible to feel and express anger without sinning? Or is anger always somewhat wrong? The fact that Scripture reveals God’s anger shows that being angry isn’t necessarily wrong. But, given how easy it is for us to let our anger be expressed in ways that hurt others, it’s a challenge to actually live “Be angry but do not sin.” A challenge, yes. But God is here to help us.
As we saw in the last devotion, the first sentence in Ephesians 4:26 reads, “Be angry but do not sin.” The main point is simple and direct: When you are angry, don’t sin. The wording seems to imply that it is actually possible to be angry without doing something wrong. Is that true? Or is anger always wrong, at least to some extent?
I used to think anger was never okay because, quite frankly, my own experience of anger was so mixed up with sin that I couldn’t separate the two. In my family of origin, my father rarely got angry. He was almost always a pleasant, patient man. But, once or twice a year, he did get angry. These incidents were some of the scariest experiences of my young life. My dad never beat me or my siblings or said terrible things to us. But he did act and speak in ways that weren’t consistent with “Be angry but do not sin.”
Though I hate to admit it, I grew up to be quite a bit like my dad. Even as a boy, I was also patient and cheerful most of the time. But when I got angry then I’d do and say things that were clearly wrong. This pattern of behavior continued into adulthood. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife!
Given my experience of anger received and anger expressed, I used to be inclined to believe that all anger was sinful. That’s the only reality I knew. Plus, there were some verses in the Bible that appeared to support this conclusion. Ephesians 4:31, for example, says, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” Doesn’t this imply that all anger is wrong and should be cast away? (I’ll answer this question in a few days when we get to Ephesians 4:31.)
But one who thinks all anger is wrong comes upon the perplexing case of Jesus. The Gospels show us that our Lord became angry at times (Mark 3:5; Mark 10:14; Mark 11:15-17). Furthermore, many times throughout Scripture, God is revealed to be angry over sin and injustice (for example, Psalm 90:7-11, John 3:36). So, if Jesus, the Son of God, can be angry, and if God the Father can be angry, then anger cannot be always and intrinsically wrong. Since human beings were created in God’s image, perhaps our feelings of anger are not always wrong either.
When I was in college, one of my InterVarsity leaders helped me see anger from a new perspective. Steve talked about how he felt when he witnessed injustice, when he heard of children being abused, when he saw people intentionally dishonor the Lord. He helped me understand that feelings of anger could be an appropriate, even a righteous, response to evil, and therefore not sinful in and of themselves. Slowly I became convinced that not all anger was bad, even though I would admit that anger still unnerves me.
I now believe that anger isn’t always sinful. But I am keenly aware of how often my own anger is mixed up with my sin, both in its origin and in its expression. Thus, as I heed the command of Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry but do not sin,” I find myself asking: How can I keep from sinning when I’m angry? How can I control my temper? How can I prevent myself from saying or doing things in anger that hurt the ones I love? In tomorrow’s devotion, I’ll work on these questions. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
Have you ever witnessed anger that you would describe as righteous?
Have you ever felt this kind of anger?
How can we know when our anger is motivated by sin and when it is motivated by godliness?
What helps you to express your anger in ways that are not meant to wound others?
When you feel angry, pay close attention to what’s going on inside of you. What is motivating your anger? Does your anger stem from hurt? Or compassion? Or a strong sense of justice? Or . . . ?
Gracious God, you have made us in your image. Thus, we are created to feel angry when injustice hurts people and when unrighteousness dishonors you. There are times when anger is appropriate.
Yet, Lord, I am aware of how readily my anger is mixed with sin and selfishness. I tend to get angriest when I don’t get my way or when someone says or does something that hurts me. Help me, Lord, not to use the possibility of righteous anger as a justification for sin. Protect me from self-deception. By your Spirit, help me to see myself truly so that I might offer myself to you fully. 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 High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Jesus Clears the Temple
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.