“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
We live in a world that is steeped in every kind of perversion today, and it seems that man’s wickedness knows no bounds as he invents new ways to offend the holiness and righteousness of God. It is a challenge for those who want to live for the Lord and keep themselves separate, for, as the apostle Paul says, “sin abounds” (Romans 5:20). We only have to open a magazine, watch television or turn on the radio to realise this, and how the devil has flooded the Internet with his filth! Yet Solomon rightly states, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). No matter how advanced man might become and regardless of what new means he might use to commit sin, he is in fact continuing the same rebellion against God that brought judgement upon Adam and Eve.
It is not easy being a Christian in this generation, but let us remind ourselves that believers have always had to live in a fallen world that hates them and the God they serve. Nevertheless, it is important that we do not forget that our Heavenly Father has always been there to protect, defend and comfort His own. Because of the inherent difficulties with living in this world, we often find ourselves lashing out and trying to avenge ourselves when evil and wicked people offend us. Paul says in Romans 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Here is a text we ought to meditate upon as soon as other people’s bad attitude, rudeness or sinfulness rears its ugly head.
It is natural for human nature to seek revenge for offences. If someone hurts us, then we try to repay him or her in kind. But does it ever end there? Unfortunately the situation quickly spins out of control until hate and bitterness dominates the thinking of all concerned, and besides this, others get caught up in the drama as each person tries to win allies with their version of the story. But for believers the exact opposite ought to be true. Seeking to get our own back should not be the first reaction of a true follower of Christ. Yes, what others do and say might offend and hurt our feelings, but we do not need to start the slippery slope into sin. “Be ye angry, and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger is an extremely powerful emotion given to us by God, so of itself it is not sin. We should be angry at what we see flaunted before our eyes each day, because we know that the Lord is also “angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). How we react to offences when our anger is kindled is what matters.
Having righteous anger rather than the sinful kind is not easy to accomplish, so how can we be angry and free from sin at the same time? This question highlights the fact that there are only two kinds of anger: righteous and unrighteous. Righteous anger rises when shame and reproach is brought on the cause of Christ either by the ungodly or believers who act or speak foolishly. It is in evidence whenever someone speaks in favour of abortion, homosexuality or false religion. God hates these abominations and so should we. Someone might say, “That is not very Christian, is it?” when we talk about being angry at sin, but they are usually ignorant of the fact that even the Lord Himself was angry with sinners. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). Jesus reacted with righteous anger and took a stand against ungodliness, no doubt He would be escorted out of many churches today that love their bingo, bring and buy sales, dances and entertainment shows.
Unrighteous anger has nothing spiritual about it, for it is simply the carnal nature reacting to the offence. This type of anger wants to emotionally and physically hurt the offender. It originates in pride. How should we deal with unrighteous anger? The Lord Jesus answers this question, but are we willing to apply it to the situations we face? “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). This is one of the most difficult commands in the entire Bible, yet if we obey it we will find reconciliation with the person instead of the constant cycle of revenge. Though He overthrew the moneychanger’s tables, Jesus never took revenge on anything anyone did to Him throughout His earthly life. “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Praying for those who offend us might not change their hearts or bring them to Christ, but it will bring us closer to God. Then we will have peace in our souls. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The final clause of our opening text reminds us that God has reserved vengeance for Himself and will choose when and where He will pour out judgement upon sinners. We must never allow righteous anger to become personal rage. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). We know that we have the wrong kind of anger when we harbour grudges and are unwilling to forgive. “A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame” (Proverbs 12:16). It is interesting that after says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath”, the apostle Paul adds, “Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). Therefore our anger is either of God or enflamed by the devil.