Sermon Notes

Ephesians 4:26-27 February 20, 2000
How Can I Change? Anger without Sin

It is strange that at a time when tolerance is the catch word of the day, rage is the emotion of choice. In the last few years road rage makes the news as angry motorists have exchanged the hand gesture for the hand gun. Social commentators are referring to today's era as "the age of rage." The Michael Douglas film a few years back, Falling Down portrays the everyday man who has had enough with society gone mad by responding to the injustices of life with unmitigated rage. Throughout the movie you find yourself cheering his righting the wrongs of injustice, but soon realize that his anger is the problem, not the solution for society.

This problem of rage can be seen in the example of Eugene Schneider of Carteret, New Jersey, as anger took control after a divorce court ordered him to divide his property equally with his wife. He got mad, took a chainsaw and cut the couple's $150,000 home in half. There is a fellow who needs his temper tamed.

One may become angry at painful circumstances resulting in a desire for revenge.

Pamela Wiser was mad at the ex-boyfriend who infected her with the AIDS virus. So she decided to get even by passing on HIV to every man she could find. She spent a year picking up men at bars in rural Tennessee. At first she bragged of flings with up to 50 men. "I was just getting revenge for what he did to me," the 29-year-old divorcee and mother of two said. (World, Aug 22, 1998)

Anger can often affect those outside the scope of our frustration.

Take for instance what happened in the spring of 1894, when the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.

Richard Walters, a psychiatrist in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says, "People will be murdered today because of someone's anger. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings. Many people die in anger-related auto accidents. While others carry out the angriest act of all: suicide. Countless relationships die little by little as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust. Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us." This psychiatrist closes with these words: "Anger related destruction of the human life and spirit is the incredible national disaster. It's a personal tragedy in the lives of millions." (Jim Nicodem, The Straight Scoop on Anger, Preaching Today, Tape 172)

Anger has been defined as "that strong feeling of displeasure and hostility resulting from injury, mistreatment, or opposition" yet so many of us deny its stronghold in our lives, using sophisticated language to deflect having to wrestle with our rage. We may call it frustration or depression; we may say we are tense or just under a lot of pressure. Perhaps for you the idea of being angry is foreign, but you do feel "hurt" or "disappointed." We may excuse our anger by saying that we blow up but we get over it quickly. But like a hand-grenade, the explosion may be quick, but the degree of destruction is tremendous.

What is the place of anger in the Christian life? Is it wrong to be angry? What should be our response to our anger? Why should we concern ourselves with this very common response?

26. "In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

27. and do not give the devil a foothold.

The place of anger – In your anger...

Are you surprised by this? In fact, there is a command here to be angry. The NIV makes it a concession, but its form is an imperative: "Be angry and do not sin." There is an assumption here that there is a place for anger. Too often in running from sin we embrace another sin. A pietistic response to anger is to imagine that any ire is inherently sinful. But Paul assumes that there will be times when anger is a proper response.

The great preacher and ancient Church father, John Chrysostom, warned that: "He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. Unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices; it fosters negligence and incites not only the wicked but also the good to do wrong." Centuries later another pastor, Henry Beecher said, "A man who does not know how to be angry, does not know how to be good. A man who does not feel indignation over evil is either a fungus or a wicked man." There are times when we see evil when anger should be the assumed response. Having just prescribed truth in the place of falsehood, Paul is clear that when the truth is spoken in situations where falsehood reigns, anger may well be evidenced.

In order to understand what Paul is commanding here, we need to see why he says what he says. Paul is quoting here from Psalm 4:4. That context will give us a glimpse into what he is saying about anger.

David is struggling with how to respond to wicked people. He begins with a cry to God to not only hear, but to answer. Why? There are people who treated what David loves as worthless. They’ve turned what is David’s glory into shame. At first this may sound like David is upset that they’ve attacked him personally. But the next phrase clarifies the first. They have loved delusions and sought false gods. The "glory" is another way of speaking of God. David is torqued because there are people who value what is worthless and despise the One who created them.

Then comes the first answer when confronted by this kind of behavior. Verse 3 – David appeals to God’s sovereignty in the matter. God set apart the godly for Himself. God’s honor is not dependent upon David. Even though there are those who trample of God’s glory, God’s glory is not destroyed by their sin. So David reminds himself in verses 4-5 of the correct response.

There is reason to be angry. God is not given His due respect. But David’s anger will not turn sour. He’s not going to lose any sleep over the issue. Anger is understandable, but to allow it to settle down and control his life is not worth it. What will David do? Offer sacrifices and trust in the Lord.

Why sacrifices? David knows he’s no better than the mockers. There is enough sin in his own life for him not to have to go looking for it in others. He knows that God has all in control. That there are evil people is not beyond the scope of God’s power. David’s anger is not wrong. He’s done his part, as we see in verse 2. They’ve been warned; he’s spoken truthfully. Now let it rest; don’t mull over their sins or plot their demise. He can rest comfortably, in verse 8, because God protects him.

With that background to Ephesians 4:26, we can see that there may be legitimate reasons for our anger.

When God does not receive the glory He deserves, anger over the offense against God is understandable, when God’s will is violated, when His laws are ignored or ridiculed. Anger may be aroused when the innocent are harmed or gross injustice is flaunted.

While I often find myself rather callused to the news, the death this past Tuesday of Nichelle Jones on the south side of Milwaukee raised my anger more than most situations. Nichelle was the 8 year old who arose in the middle of the night to satisfy her sweet tooth. Her mother’s boyfriend beat the child so that a few hours later she bled to death. If that doesn’t arouse anger, then you’ve got a much more serious problem.

The problem of anger - Do not sin....

But as our anger is aroused, then we are faced with a problem. It is true that, as Aristotle once noted, "Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, at the right time, and in the right way, that is not easy." What we often do is to fall into the subtle temptation to regard our anger as righteous indignation and other people's anger as sheer bad temper. If you are looking for justification for your anger, Ephesians 4 and Psalm 4 are about it. But if you read God’s Word you’ll see a lot is said about the problem of anger.

Jesus equates anger murder in Matthew 5. Anger makes the top ten list of sins in Proverbs.

12:16 A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

22:24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered,

29:22 An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

30:33 For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife."

How then can I distinguish between anger that is acceptable to God and that which is sinful?

When we saw the anger in Psalm 4, it was due to God’s glory being trampled. But the kind of anger which is sinful comes about when I don’t get what I want, when I am motivated by some idolatrous desire, when my will is violated. When my anger focuses on the wrongs which have been done to me, when my focus is my pain, my rights, my reputation, my needs... then I’ve stepped over the line.

Think to a time when you got angry. What was behind that anger?

No doubt you were frustrated at not attaining something you thought was rightfully yours. It may be hard to see anger as a problem, because you may have been legitimate in your frustration. Your rights may well have been violated, your reputation may well have been harmed. But the problem of anger is that now you want someone to pay for your inconvenience. You want them to hurt.... oh, not bleed necessarily, but squirm a bit.

When you don’t get the raise you know you’ve deserved, when the kids don’t do what you tell them to do... what happens? You feel helpless, frustrated and, yes, angry. Your goals have not been met and now others need to know they have not toed the line properly.

While we all struggle with anger in different forms, I’ll tell you which among us wrestle with it the most – perfectionists! How do I know this? My wife is married to one! You and I live in a sinful, fallen world and not everything goes the way it should. As a recovering perfectionist, I have a standard which does not seem to be all unreasonable – everything thing should be done correctly. That’s all. When that is not done it is clear that others have failed and need to know their failure so we don’t have this problem again.

I shared with those in Sonship the water pitcher struggle in the Vogel household. In an effort to provide healthy water for our family, I purchased a water filter a year ago for Janet. I had only one small request – that it have water in it. Not too big a request, I think. But I soon noticed that not all caught on to the concept as the pitcher, after a cool drink was poured, was returned to the shelf empty. So I assumed a little education would assist the problem. I put a piece of tape on the top which read: "Fill after each use!" When in doubt revert to law. But guess what happened? The law didn’t change any hearts. Then guess what went through my mind? What the law could not change, my wrath could! Was my expectation unreasonable? No. Was my disappointment understandable? Yes. Was my anger correct? No. It was not God’s law being violated; it was my comfort which was at stake. Others needed to know there was a problem.

We often think of anger as an explosion, but there are forms of anger:

Ventilation of anger -

This is the most common picture we have of anger. We may just want to let off a little steam, but we often get ourselves into more hot water. If you are a "ventor" you know the routine:

Respiration deepens; the heart beats more rapidly; the arterial pressure rises; the blood is shifted from the stomach and intestines to the heart, central nervous system, and the muscles; sugar is freed from the reserves in the liver; the spleen contracts and discharges its contents of concentrated corpuscles, and adrenaline is secreted. Mt. St. Helen’s has nothing on you!

You may excuse your rage by saying: "At least I don’t hold it in! It’s over in a matter of moments."

Recently a study done by Iowa State University discovered something which the Bible has taught all along. Venting anger, yelling and screaming when you are frustrated, hitting your spouse with a foam rubber club when you are upset, or going out and playing paintball with someone you are mad at, are not emotionally healthy things to do, even though some psychologists have been encouraging people to do this for years. The study found that people who vent their anger tend to become more aggressive in their behavior. As Proverbss 29:11 reminds us: "The fool gives full vent to his anger; but a wise man keeps himself under control."

Internalization of anger -

For the quiet sorts among us, you may sit there with smug expressions of righteousness because you don’t vent. But do you internalize the anger? There may not be an explosion, but there is a slow burn over time. While anger turned outward leads to aggression, anger turned inward leads to depression. As one sage once commented: "Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm." Rather than pouring forth wrath toward a person or object which has kept us from our objectives, we turn that rage inside and consume ourselves.

"Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontation still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back; in many ways it is a feast for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you." (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC p2)

The prescription for anger – Do not let the sun go down...

How should we handle anger? If we should neither vent nor clam up, what should we do?

Paul gives great advice: anger, no matter what its source or form, is to be short lived. Even godly anger will go sour if it sits too long. It is to be set aside at the end of the day. We don't have the luxury of dealing with it later. What Paul says here is often understood to mean don’t go to bed angry. But for some of us that may mean no sleep for days! But this reminds us that anger, for all its possible legitimacy, is a dangerous emotion and should not be nurtured into a grudge. Anger is the moral equivalent of biological adrenaline. It is good and healthy to experience periodic secretions of adrenaline in reaction to dangerous situations. But a steady flow would damage the heart. So with anger. It has damaged many hearts because it was not put away, but nurtured again and again into a life-destroying grudge.

As we saw earlier, Paul is taking this command from Psalm 4

While it may well be good to make your peace before you climb in the sack, that kind of reconciliation may not always be possible. Let’s face it; confrontation and discussion may not resolve the problem which produces our anger. Rather what David advises in Psalm 4 and what Paul will tell us in verses 31-32 is that whatever is going through our minds must be given over to God very quickly. Even if my anger is due to another person’s sin, that "justified" anger can not fester. I may not mull it over in my mind. I can not engage in a fantasy life where I get to tell that person off and set right all society’s wrongs. I am not God. I need to be silent and sleep.

You may be a person who finds those moments of solitude before you drift off times when anger and anxiety take hold. Yet, no matter if our anger is due to God’s name being defamed or our own name being trampled in the mud, we can not hold a grudge. We must repent of the self-righteousness that always justifies our anger, our hurt, our pain.

The peril of anger – Do not give the devil a foothold.

Paul concludes by warning of a possible side effect of anger which we may not fully realize. What happens when we become angry, but do not quickly move on? What happens when we harbor anger, hen we revel in our rage, when we relive and re-ignite our ire and pour gas on our fury, we open the door to many more problems in our life? To do so, Paul says, is to give the devil a foothold. The word for foothold here is "place." The term can mean "possibility" or "opportunity." When anger is allowed to fester, we provide a spot wherein Satan can do far more damage than we could ever imagine. We give him a key to our minds. How?

When we give Satan a key to our minds, he may establish an internal foothold called accusation

Have you ever struggled with anger, whether it be the venting of explosive rage or the internalizing of depression and soon found yourself feeling even worse because of your anger? Paul here describes the evil one with the term "devil", diabolos. The word can signify a backbiter, a slanderer. It can be used of one who accuses. Revelation 12:9-10 describes this accusatory nature of Satan.

When we allow anger to reside, when anger either bursts forth or is stuffed back to fester, he is quick to hold our failures before our face. How do you feel after an explosive rage? Most likely you want to hide or worse, you explode even more. Where physical and emotional abuse occur, it is often seen that the abuser spirals into an even greater rage as he or she confronts that rage. For the person who internalizes, the accusation of failure, or uselessness likewise causes a downward spiral. Satan’s foothold is secure as he plays the tape of your anger over and over.

When we give Satan a key to our minds, he may establish an external foothold called alienation.

If anger remains, alienation only increases. The 19th century poet William Blake wrote with great insight: "I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow." Anger divides. As you lie in bed and your mind rehashes all the justifiable reasons for your anger, you only create more and more division. Paul’s concern in Ephesians 4 is for the unity of the church. Your anger can quickly destroy that bond of peace.

The fire of anger in the Church could be typified by the brawl that took place inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the celebration of the Orthodox Easter. As 15,000 Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christians crowded into the church old animosities, which festered over the years, boiled over. One person was sent to the hospital with a knife wound, others carried out of the church with bloodied faces. (Religion Today, April 21, 1998) But anger need not be a punch in the nose; it may be an icy stare or a cold shoulder.

How can we conquer anger?

The answer comes in verses 31-32. Anger is put away at the foot of the Cross. Where our sinful nature was put off, where the righteousness of Christ was put on, that is where our minds must be renewed. Rather than anger, forgiveness must control our thinking. We forgive in light of the forgiveness secured for us by Christ. God’s anger wrath was propitiated by the sacrifice of Christ so that you and I could be accepted as His sons and daughters despite our sin. As God’s wrath was poured out on His sinless Son, how can we ever continue to allow our anger to continue? When anger erupts due to self-centered thinking, when we’re hurt by others because we fear people rather than God, repentance is the key; faith in Christ’s atonement is the answer.

Sermon Notes