Be Angry and Do Not Sin
March 31, 2019
Jesus loves us so much. And now, as we wait for his return, we love him. This is the Christian life. A life that goes from guilt to grace. And then from grace to gratitude.
The second half of the book of Ephesians is all about this gratitude. It is all about our gratitude to Christ. And one very big way that our gratitude is sincerely expressed is found in how we do not sin when we are angry, in how we do not let the sun go down on our anger, and in how we do not give any opportunity to the devil with our anger. This is our love for Jesus.
Before we dive into the text, I want you to notice three important things.
First, I want you to notice that this text is actually not about anger… in and of itself. Rather, this text is about what we are supposed to do when we are angry. Or to be more precise, it is about what we are NOT supposed to do when we are angry (Do not sin, do not let the sun go down, and do not give opportunity to the devil). The topic of anger, in and of itself, is very profound and complex. I wish I could speak to you about it today, but I am dutifully bound by the text to focus on what the text focuses on. So please do not expect a full treatment about the issue of anger. Instead, expect a full treatment about the issue of what not to do when you are angry.
The second important thing that I want you to notice is that this text is not a green light to be angry. It is not a command to just be angry. It sure does look like it. After all, the ESV translation says, “Be angry….” And in the original Greek language, the verb there is indeed a command. But if content is king, then context is queen. Think about it. We cannot read the first two words here in the ESV by themselves. We must read the first six words here altogether. When we do that, we get the true sense and meaning of the command: “When you are angry, do not sin.”
But also think about this. When we zoom out and consider the entire Bible that is the whole counsel of God, when we consider the queen of context in all of her beauty and majesty, then we will see that God actually overwhelmingly commands us not to be angry (Matthew 5:21-22; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31, 6:4; Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:19-20). Anger is widely declared in Scripture as something to put off, not put on. This is very important to notice. It is very popular these days to hear in sermons and in churches the idea that Christians can be angry and should be angry for the right reasons. The logic goes like this. God gets angry. His his anger is a holy and righteous and sometimes loving anger. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not necessarily sin. Therefore, we too can also be angry when it is right to be angry. So let’s get angry! With this logic in place, churches may actually encourage their members to be angry. But this is not in line with Scripture. Indeed, there is such a thing as righteous and holy anger. God can have that anger. And sometimes we can too. But experiencing righteous and holy anger is completely different from being commanded to have righteous and holy anger. A good parallel to the issue of anger is the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:3-9). God never commands us to divorce, as if we could freely do it when we want to. No, instead, God commands us what not to do when we, because of the hardness of our hearts, go through divorce. Likewise, God never commands us to be angry, even if the anger is a righteous or holy anger. No, instead, God commands us what not to do when we go through anger. The bottom line is that we cannot use this text, Ephesians 4:26-27, to justify anger. Please do not use this sermon as a green light to get angry.
The third important thing that I want you to notice is that this text is about anger toward people in the church. It is not about anger over injustice in the world or poverty or child abuse or politics or your busted bracket for March Madness. It is about anger in our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let us now dive into the content and commands of today’s text.
First, our Lord Jesus Christ commands us not to sin when we are angry. This is so important. In the moment of anger, people usually lose the ability to control themselves and think clearly and see the consequences of their actions. It is so easy to sin against God and sin against others when we are angry. And there are many ways that we can sin when we are angry. We can harbor bitterness and resentment and hatred toward others in our hearts. We can bear false witness about them with gossip and slander and accusations and division. We can physically hurt one another. We can destroy the unity of the church. And above all, we can dishonor the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are all sins that we can so easily do when we are angry. But these sins cannot be. The Lord forbids it. This is the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, when you are angry, I urge you to remember this command. I know that it is difficult to think clearly and remember the big picture when you are angry. But start now. Practice it over and over again. Put on obedience to the Lord. And if you fail to remember this command, keep going. I think it is very helpful to plant this command into your heart and mind and train yourself so that you will always have a self-aware game plan whenever you get angry about anything. Hopefully you will have a kind of muscle-memory reflex, so to speak. “Okay, I’m angry! But I must not sin!” May that be the first thing that comes to your heart and mind when you get angry.
Second, our Lord Jesus Christ commands us not to let the sun go down on our anger. Psychologists say that there are two general things that people do with their anger - two responses to anger. There is the fight response. And there is the flight response. Well, you could say that the first command, be angry and do not sin, addresses the fight response. And you could say that the second command, do not let the sun go down on your anger, addresses the flight response. When people get angry, they often let their anger burn for a long time. They hold onto it. They do not let it go. And there is no good resolution. This is not what our Lord wants us to do when we are angry.
Instead, we are to put anger away… quickly. Time and speed is of the essence here. We are to put anger away quickly and speedily. And here’s the really amazing thing about this command: Jesus gives us a deadline. His time limit for anger is precise and clear. If you are angry, you are to put your anger away by the time the sun goes down.
This is profound. The setting of the sun marks the end of the day. And when a day comes to an end, people move forward and redemptive history moves forward. In Leviticus 22:7, an unclean priest can become clean again and eat of the holy food in the temple… when the sun went down. In Exodus 22:26, if you took your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you were required to return it to him… before the sun goes down. And in Amos 8:9 and Micah 3:6, the setting of the sun symbolized God’s endgame. So when you are angry, you must remember the meaning of the setting of the sun. Redemptive history is moving forward. Each and every day that passes by in your life moves you closer and closer to either your own death or to the return of Christ. And if you let the sun go down on your anger, you move forward in serious disobedience.
It is also worth nothing that the concept of the setting of the sun in Jesus’ command here gives anger a quantitative quality to it. The fact that there is a deadline for anger, the fact that there is a precise and clear time limit to anger means that you can actually quantify any disobedience of this command. You can actually count it. It’s very eye-opening. Let’s say that you have been angry at someone for a long time and unable to resolve it in your heart and mind and put it away. Let’s say that it’s an epic grudge. And let’s say that it’s been three years. Then according to today’s Scripture text, you have disobeyed God over one thousand times! That’s insane! Don’t get me wrong. Sin cannot be reduced to mathematics. But the force of this command, to not let the sun go down on your anger, is such that we are compelled to act quickly.
Brothers and sisters, do not let the sun go down on your anger. Instead, let the sun go down on your repentance for sin. Instead, let the sun go down on your faith in Christ Jesus and on your hope laid up for you in heaven and on your love that you have for all the saints (Colossians 1:4-5). Put anger away… quickly.
Third and finally, our Lord Jesus Christ commands us not to give opportunity to the devil. The devil is real. He is the enemy. And whenever you are angry, you entertain the possibly of giving him an opportunity to attack you, tempt you and bring you down. This makes anger a very serious matter. Demonic activity is usually coupled with things like twisting heads and other scary stuff in horror movies. But you need to know that demonic activity can be coupled with anger. The devil can have his opportunity when we are angry. He is your adversary. And he prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
Brothers and sisters, this is a wake-up call. In Genesis 4, sin crouched at the door of Cain when he was angry. But Cain did not put away his anger. Cain gave the devil an opportunity, and Cain killed his brother Abel. Listen to God’s word in 1 John 3:7-12. “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”
How then can we not sin when we are angry? How then can we not let the sun go down on our anger? How then can we not give opportunity to the devil? I would like to give you three suggestions here: remember God’s grace, remember God’s place, and remember God’s mace.
Dear saint, when you are angry, please remember that God has been gracious toward you. You may be right to be angry at a person. But remember that you have done many wrongs against many people in your life too. Remember that you have sinned greatly against God himself. And remember that God has greatly forgiven you. Remember God’s grace.
Dear saint, when you are angry, please remember that you are not God. You may think that you deserve to be the star witness and the chief prosecutor and the supreme judge and the grand jury and the final executioner - all in one. But be humble. You are woefully inadequate to be all of that. You don’t know everything that happens in life. You are not qualified to render judgment. Vengeance does not belong to you. You are not God. Therefore, in the spirit of Jonah, I ask you this: Do you do well to be angry? Remember God’s place.
Dear saint, when you are angry, please remember that Jesus came and did what he did in order to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And remember that you have been set free from sin. You don’t have to be an angry person anymore. Because you died with Christ. You are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit is sanctifying you. You can and you will put off anger in your life. The works of the devil have been destroyed. Remember God’s mace.
In Psalm 4, King David lies down and goes to sleep amidst the danger of his enemies. But instead of getting angry against his enemies, David trusts in the Lord. And he writes these words in verse 4: “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.” Brothers and sisters, as the sun goes down, may you ponder in your own hearts on your beds the salvation of our God. And when you are angry, may you be silent before the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus loves you so very much. And now, as you wait for his return, you love him. This is your Christian life. A life that goes from guilt to grace. And then from grace to gratitude. And then from gratitude to glory. This is your love for Jesus.
The second half of the book of Ephesians is all about this gratitude. It is all about our gratitude to Christ. And one very big way that our gratitude is sincerely expressed is found in how we do not sin when we are angry, in how we do not let the sun go down on our anger, and in how we do not give any opportunity to the devil with our anger. This is our love for Jesus. Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Give no opportunity to the devil.
Come, Lord Jesus! Come soon!
Summary of Sermon
The Christian life is a life that goes from guilt to grace, and then from grace to gratitude. One way that we are to express gratitude to Christ Jesus is obedience to him in times of anger.
When we are angry, we are not to sin, we are not to let the sun go down, and we are not to give opportunity to the devil.
These verses are about what we are not to do when we are angry. They are not meant to be used as justification for anger. And they pertain specifically to anger against brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, our Lord commands us not to sin when we are angry. We are not to sin against God or against one another. Let us train ourselves to remember this command whenever we are angry.
Second, our Lord commands us not to let the sun go down on our anger. There is a time limit or deadline for anger. We are to put anger away quickly. It is profound that this command has both a redemptive-historical and a quantitative quality to it.
Third, our Lord commands us not to give opportunity to the devil. This is a serious wake-up call to the spiritual warfare that can come with anger.
As we obey this command, let us remember the grace of God. We have sinned greatly against God, but God has greatly forgiven us. May this gospel truth compel us to obediently put off our anger.
As we obey this command, let us remember that we are not God. God is the star witness, chief prosecutor, supreme judge, grand jury and final executioner. May we know our place.
As we obey this command, let us remember that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil. We have been set free from sin. We can and we will obediently put off anger in the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, let us ponder these things in our own hearts and be silent (Psalm 4) as we go from grace to gratitude… and glory.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
People get angry. How do you deal with and respond to anger in your life? What things first come to your mind and heart when you get angry?
Our Lord Jesus commands us not to sin when we are angry against other brothers and sisters in Him. Why is it easy to sin when we are angry? What sins can we commit against God and against others when we are angry?
It is interesting that this command comes with a time limit or a deadline: do not let the sun go down on your anger. This command has both a redemptive-historical and a quantitative texture to it. How might this change the way that you view and obey this command?
When we are angry, the devil can become a factor. In what ways might this be a wake-up call for you as you strive to obediently put off anger in your life?
In what ways might the grace of God, the place of God, and the “mace” of God help you to obey the Lord Jesus Christ when you are angry with other brothers and sisters in Him?