The second half of the book of Ephesians is devoted to refining the believer’s conduct in the world (Ephesians 4:1-6:24). Amongst Paul’s practical advise to his former congregation is the charge to not go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26).
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NASB)The admonition to be angry yet not to sin is a quotation from Psalm 4:5. In the context of Ephesians, Paul is speaking to those who are in a loving community (Ephesians 4:2, 25). When living in community, anger with one another is virtually inevitable. Andrew D. Lester (1939-2010) writes, “Pauline theology recognizes and assumes that Christians, like all human beings, are bound to experience anger (Lester, The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling, 144).”
As such, Paul sets a limitation to anger. At some point, anger must be relinquished. As one of American statesman Colin Powell (b. 1937) ’s “13 Rules of Leadership” reads - “Get mad, then get over it.”
The reason for this restriction is clearly stated. One must control anger or else it will control the person angered. If anger is held for too long, it will give the devil a “foothold” (Ephesians 4:27 NIV).
What constructive ways do you deal with your anger - how do you let it go? What is the maddest you have ever been? Have you ever gone to bed angry? Do you feel anger is a sin?
Paul’s advice is not to avoid anger but rather to control it. Anger, if exercised properly, is not a sin. In fact, most read Paul’s assertion to “be angry” (Ephesians 4:26 NASB) as a command rather than a condition. There are some situations in which it would be sinful not to be angry.
Harold W. Hoehner (1935-2009) explains:
“It is necessary to acknowledge that anger is not intrinsically sinful...God expresses anger. What causes God to be angry? When wrong has been done against a person or against God himself. However, when God is angry, he is always in control of his anger. Unlike God, however, people have a tendency to allow anger to control them. Hence, the second command, “do not sin” is necessary. (Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 621)In what situation is anger the appropriate response? Have you ever experienced “righteous indignation”?
“Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE-65 C)