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The Anger Issue
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he makes one of the most controversial and one of the most discussed statements from his writings, if not in the Bible itself.
“Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NKJV)
And while we’ll discuss the fullness of these two verses, the whole of today’s message will be looking at when Paul says, “Be angry, and do not sin.”
There is a common misconception amongst many Christians that being angry is a sin. And so, instead of determining the cause and dealing with their anger issue, they hide it behind smiling faces and a demeanor that says, “All is well,” allowing the anger to fester until it does become a sin, until it does hurt their relationship with others and with God.
Earlier in Chapter 4, Paul pointed out our need to patient, kind, compassionate, and forgiving of each other.
In Ephesians 4:1-2, he says, “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-2 NKJV)
And then to make sure we get the point, he said that we need to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV)
Therefore, the road that leads away from anger is paved with kindness, goodness, gentleness, compassion, patience, and most importantly, forgiveness.
And while most if not all of us know this, the truth is that when something doesn’t go our way, or when someone gets our goat, or when our plans go south while we’re headed north, we get mad. And in the process our patience takes a hike, and the long suffering we’re supposed to display leaves by the back door, and our anger rises to the point where it’s about ready to, or already has, overflowed the dam that was keeping it back.
And here’s the point and what we’ll be taking time to discuss, and that is, our anger issues aren’t with others, but rather it is with the sin that has resulted from it, or worse, it is directed towards God, as we raise our voices and shake our fists at heaven, at what we perceive is the injustice being done, and the Lord not doing anything about it.
Now, the Bible is full of examples of God’s people getting angry at Him.
When I think of anger issues, especially aimed at God over a perceived injustice, the story of Jonah comes to mind. Now, Jonah was trying to escape God’s call to go to Nineveh and tell them of God’s upcoming judgment. But this is not what he gets angry over. It’s when God provided some shade from the hot sun through a plant, and then has a worm eat it. Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious over this slight, knowing that God would spare Nineveh, but he couldn’t save a plant that was keeping him shaded.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” (Jonah 4:1 NKJV)
And then there’s Job who said to God, “Do not declare me guilty! Let me know why you prosecute me.” (Job 10:2 CSB)
Job was saying, “Hey God, I haven’t done anything wrong, so why am I going though all these things.” Job was mad at the injustice.
And then probably the classic case of anger against the Lord is Cain, and the Lord addressed it saying, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 6:6-7 NKJV)
And so, when our temperature begins to rise, and we start to get angry over a slight or a wrong, what are we to do? I mean, is it possible to be angry and not sin, that is be angry and maintain a semblance of godliness?
So, let’s look at these three areas where we find ourselves angry, and what then are we to do.
Anger Issues Towards Others
We see this anger issue in the sibling relationship of Esau and Jacob. After Jacob took Esau’s birthright and blessing, it says that Esau hated Jacob, and he was so angry he said that after the days of mourning were over for his father, that he would kill Jacob. Now, that’s being angry.
But he was also angry at his father and mother for not doing anything about it, and when he realized that they sent Jacob away to her brother Laban’s house to get married, because they didn’t want him to marry any of the local girls from the Canaanite tribes, Esau goes out and marries two of them.
I think that we’ve all been there in our anger, where we’re “spitting mad,” and we’re out for blood, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth sort of anger. But in both cases, Esau didn’t manage his anger issue, and like Cain allowed it to rule and have dominion over him.
We’ve been in these situations before, and yes, we will be in another situation like it in the future. What are we to do when we feel our heart begin to race, our palms begin to sweat, our temperature rise, and we get angry?
How are we to handle our anger in a godly way towards others?
Slow Our Roll
“He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29 NKJV)
When we’re angry we’re opening a door into our minds and into our hearts for Satan to come on in. That is what he does. Whenever he sees a weakness, he exploits it and ruins our relationships with others, not to mention our Christian witness.
But what we see in our signature verse about being angry and not sinning, is that first it isn’t a sin to be angry, and second, it’s easy to let our anger get the best of us, thus, causing us to sin.
And so, when we feel like we’re getting over heated and angry, a warning bell should sound in our minds that we need to slow down, to slow our roll, so that we don’t move into the area of sin.
I think at this juncture it’s important to understand why we’re angry in the first place, and just who it is we’re angry with. Far too often our anger stems from our own insecurities, and instead of looking within, we look at others, and we end up blaming the wrong person.
I think this is where David’s prayer fits. He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24 NKJV)
Whenever we’re mad, we’re like a bull in a China closet. We go straight at someone and before we know it, we’re saying something we regret, and like toothpaste, once it’s out, we can’t put it back.
This is why the Lord says through the Apostle James, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 NKJV)
And while we need to slow our roll, what we need to speed up is our forgiveness.
This is what Paul goes on to say in our signature verse.
“Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26b NKJV)
The worst thing we can do when it comes to being angry at someone is to go home and let it fester. The best thing is to immediately start the forgiveness process, but also to get together with them to set straight any possible misconceptions, miscommunications, and work out any differences before it escalates and gets worse, which is what Jesus makes sure we also do in Matthew 18.
But forgiveness is the essential ingredient. Because if we do not forgive, our own forgiveness is at stake as Jesus said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV)
I have heard it said this way, “We’ve been too forgiven to be unforgiving.”
In the end, anger never solves a problem; instead, it escalates the problem and actually causes more problems.
There’s an illustration of what holding onto anger can do, and the end is tragic.
A snake entered a carpentry shop, and as it crawled to the corner it slithered over a saw and hurt itself. It immediately bit at the saw but hurt its mouth as a result. Thinking the saw was attacking, the snake decided to roll itself around the saw to suffocate it. Unfortunately, the snake was killed in the attempt, as the saw’s blade dug in deeper and deeper the more the snake tried to coil itself around it.
Sometimes we react in anger and retaliate when someone hurts us, but like the snake, in our anger we only end up hurting ourselves, because anger and unforgiveness hurts us far more than those who have harmed us.
Someone described holding on to anger as picking up a red-hot coal intending to throw it at the person who hurt us, only to end up hurting ourselves.
If we want to be healed and move forward, forgiveness is the only way.
In the end, anger towards others doesn’t work and is harmful. Therefore, let’s begin by slowing our roll, and fast-track forgiveness.
Anger Issues Towards God
Whether we want to admit it, we do get angry with God. This was brought out earlier when we looked at the stories of Cain, Job, and Jonah. And we really aren’t any different.
We get angry with God when life doesn’t go our direction. When things happen that we don’t like, or circumstances happen that we couldn’t do anything about. And we blame God. Like when a relationship fails, and a breakup or divorce ensues. Or when a friend or family member passes away. And we’re now trying to figure out why while picking up the pieces of our lives that have been shattered.
And we get angry with God, accusing Him of doing us harm, instead of fixing the problem.
And while God is not the author of evil, that’s Satan, God can use what we’re going through to help teach us, and in the process help others cope and understand what they are going through, and then to turn to God who has the answers.
But the question becomes, are we ready to listen, and are we ready to hear what God is saying.
The Lord said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” And then asked, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (When it withered), and Jonah said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” To which the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored … should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left.” (Jonah 4:4-11 NKJV)
Basically, God was telling Jonah that his anger issue was keeping him focused on the wrong thing and not that which is the most important.
The Apostle Paul tells us why we need to listen even through these hard and difficult times saying, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NKJV)
But, when we find ourselves getting angry with God, what we need to do is put the blame where it belongs.
“People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:3 NLT)
Far too often we get angry with God for things that sin caused. It isn’t His fault that death, disease, and destruction plague our lives, it’s our fault. It is the fault of the sin that lies within.
Every one of us can remember when our parents told us not to do something and we didn’t listen and did it our own way. And then, when things didn’t go the way we wanted, and we find ourselves in trouble, we blamed the situation or others, when the blame falls on us.
But when things don’t go our way, and we end up getting mad at God, what we need to understand is that while God can intervene but doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that He won’t turn it to His good, that is Kingdom of God good. We see this in what Paul said.
“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
But there is something we also need to understand, and that is while He could have intervened and stopped the death of His Son, Jesus, upon the cross, He didn’t. And the result is an eternity in heaven for all those who believe.
It’s because God didn’t intervene and stop the death of Jesus upon the cross that death, disease, and destruction no longer have the final say in our lives. And we can say along with the Apostle Paul, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 NKJV).
So, when we get angry at God (and we will) let’s make sure we put the blame where it belongs. And this leads me to our last point, and where our anger should lie.
Anger Issues Towards Sin
This is really where our anger needs to be directed where we can be angry and sin not. You see, our anger should never be at God, nor at others, but rather the real culprit is who’s behind it all. And that is Satan. Notice the end of our verse.
“Nor give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:27 NKJV)
And remember, Satan was the one who started this whole sin thing when he rebelled against God, and then he lied and manipulated Adam and Eve, and from this, sin enter the picture, where we are now all born with the sin nature.
Knowing then that it is sin and Satan that is behind other people actions, the Apostle John said, “He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8a NKJV)
Therefore, it isn’t against God, or another person that we should be angry, rather it is against the sin and Satan that caused us to be angry. This is what Paul meant by our ability to be angry and not sin.
There are examples of this within the Bible.
First, when Paul was in Athens it says that his spirit was provoke within.
“While Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. (Acts 17:16 NKJV)
Athens was full of temples and altars, and the Athenians far exceeded any other people group in the worship of false gods and their zeal for religion. Petronius, a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero, humorously said, “It was easier to find a god than a man there.”
A person could get their religious fill in Athens, as there was a temple on just about every street corner, and an altar in the courtyard of just about every home.
What was taking place is that all these idols and religions were separating humanity from their Creator. The people were so zealous for their gods and religions that they were totally clueless about the one true living God.
And so, Paul’s spirit was provoked, that is, the spirit within Paul was upset, irritated, agitated, and aroused to anger.
Paul’s spirit was stirred up. His soul was troubled, his heart was grieved, his bones ached, and a fire began to well up inside of him that not even Pepcid or Rolaids would relieve.
Today, our spirit needs to be provoked when we see our world being given over to immorality and false worship. Are we upset, irritated, agitated and aroused with holy anger when we see our world reject the God of the Bible for the false gods of materialism, science, environmentalism, pride, power, and prestige?
Now, the other example was Jesus when we went into the temple and overturned the sin that was in plain sight and approved by the Jewish leaders. To say He was provoked is an understatement. (Matthew 21:12-17; John 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48)
He became upset by the market setting that was taking place at the Temple, with the selling of sacrifices and the exchange of money. And so, He overturned tables and cleared the temple with a whip.
In this story, we can learn a lot about righteous anger, and how to respond to situations where righteous anger is needed.
Jesus says that the temple had become a “Den of thieves.” This indicates that these money changers were not just selling, but they were cheating their customers. The problem not only was cheating going against the 10 commandments, but the fact they were conducting this business in the temple, a place that Jesus said was to be a place of prayer
Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:13 NKJV)
What upset Jesus was the money changers and the sellers of sacrifices were cheating people at the temple. Cheating people is wrong but at the location of the temple made it even worse, because the Temple was to be set apart for the presence of God.
We do not have a temple to go to meet with God and reconcile our sins. Instead, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. Since the Holy Spirit is in us, we are the temple of God.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV)
We as Christians are called God’s temple. Therefore, we need to be angry over the sin that lies within that keeps us away from God.
We all get mad and angry over so much. But instead, we just take the time to slow our roll and fast-track forgiveness for what others have done, then our anger issue will dissipate.
Further, we need to realize that God isn’t at fault, and the real culprit behind our anger, and what is causing our anger is sin and Satan. Therefore, and we need to open our hearts and hear what the Lord is speaking to us through these times.
It is then that we can follow the biblical directive and be angry and not sin in the process.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study