“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27
People get angry over all sorts of issues these days. A professional tennis star recently smacked a ball in anger and hit a line judge in the throat, causing him to be disqualified from the U.S. Open. Every week, some community neighbor on the Next Door app vents his or her spleen over grievances that, to my thinking, make a mountain out of a molehill. And please don’t get me started on the angry skirmishes that proliferate on Facebook, particularly during election season.
So what is the best way to handle anger? Specifically, how are we as followers of Jesus to best deal with anger? The first thing to observe about anger is that it is not necessarily a sin. Ephesians 4:26 does warn us that when we are angry we should not sin. Like a warning light on the dashboard of our car, anger warns us that something is not right and needs to be dealt with soon. Hence Paul’s exhortation to not “let the sun go down on your anger.” The consequences of not dealing with our anger in a timely way is that this delay creates an opportunity for our adversary, the devil, to sow seeds of bitterness, resentment, and ill will.
The second thing to observe about anger is that it can easily lead us to sin. Ephesians 4:31, a mere five verses later, lists anger as an attribute that we need to learn to put away because it grieves the Holy Spirit of God. So is Paul confused about how to handle anger? I don’t think so. However, Paul knows that everything we can accomplish with anger we can accomplish better without it. The truth is, when you approach others seething with anger, you are going to get anger right back, effectively escalating an already unhealthy situation. In the moment, our anger always feels like “righteous anger.” Unfortunately, we can misread situations or live out of our insecurities, all of which can lead us to unrighteous anger. Political revolutions routinely fail because angry people often beget even more anger through increased violence and injustice.
The fundamental source of anger is the thwarting of my will. An SUV cuts me off in traffic, causing me to brake suddenly. A co-worker disagrees with a decision I’ve made, frustrating my plans. Anger almost always finds its roots in me not getting my way. (This is not to deny the existence of real injustice in the world. However, we would do well to question the perception that our anger is always righteous.)
Dallas Willard reflects, “While anger itself is not a sin, you’re still better off without it. We need to lay aside anger as a policy for living life.” I believe that this is what Paul is saying about anger in Ephesians 4. Don’t let anger lead you to sin. Don’t let anger fester. And lay anger aside, choosing instead to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31).