Is it a sin to get angry? Is all anger sinful?
Good questions to contemplate as we read Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:26: Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
What is anger? The Greek word used here is orgizō and is only used eight times in the New Testament. It means “to provoke or enrage, i.e. (passively) become exasperated. The tense in this verse is passive, meaning the subject receives the action of the verb. Something outside of you has provoked you. The phrase “don’t poke the bear” comes to mind!
Anger is an emotion; it is a feeling of displeasure that is aroused by what we perceive to be wrong. Anger is not a sin, but it can lead to sin when we become angry – that is, we act on our anger in ways that are against the commands of God.
To sin is to “miss the mark.” I find this definition helpful in understanding Paul’s cryptic command to “be angry, and yet do not sin.” In other words, Paul recognizes that things happen in life that stir up our anger, but we can’t “miss the mark” in our response.
What is the “mark?” What are we aiming for?
The context tells us. Ephesians 4, in particular, is all about working diligently to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Paul describes how the body of Christ works. Each individual is gifted by the Spirit, and we all work together to grow into maturity, to “measure up” to the standard which Christ set for us (4:13). Every word, every action, every thought of the believer is to have as its aim the proclamation of the redemptive work of Christ and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit which binds us together as a body.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that the verses surrounding Paul’s command to “be angry, and yet do not sin” are focused on our words, which find root in our minds. We are to “be renewed in the spirit of our mind” (4:23). Practically, this leads to a commitment to speak truthfully to one another in love (4:15,25), to avoid ALL unwholesome words and speak ONLY those words that build up others and give them grace (4:29).
Let’s face reality. We will all be “provoked” at some point. People are going to say things we don’t agree with, and that we know are wrong. Events are going to happen that arouse our righteous indignation. Our emotions are going to be stirred up to push back against what has “poked the bear” in us. But we have a choice on how we respond, and as Christ-followers we have the power of the Holy Spirit to choose wisely.
To give in to the provocation and become angry might feel good at the moment. We might have just the right “zinger” to put someone else in their place. But that anger has consequences. It “gives the devil an opportunity,” an in-road to cause more pain and destruction in both our lives and the lives of the people who made us angry (4:27). It grieves the Holy Spirit; it makes Him sorrowful (4:30). It leads to bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice (4:31).
The next time you feel the emotion of anger welling up inside you, take a moment to think about where to aim it. Don’t miss the mark. Ask yourself, “Will my response be pleasing to Jesus?” Before you speak, consider if the words you so want to say will give grace to those who hear, or will they only make your flesh feel good for the moment? Unchecked anger leads only to sin.
We live in a world that is literally a boiling pot of anger that splashes over on us with the least provocation. We have the power to respond with kindness, forgiveness, and truth spoken in love. Let’s exercise it.
Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.