Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set while you are still angry,
Ephesians 4:26 (ISV)
I like the ISV Bible, but here’s that same verse from the KJV.
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Ephesians 4:26 (KJV)
The KJV has a certain grandeur to it which other translations can lack at times. For every day reading however, I prefer a more contemporary version than the KJV with its “thee” and “thou” wording.
In this case, I find that the KJV is one of the closest to the Greek language. Many modern translations render this verse slightly differently, and even stray into interpetting it for us the reader.
Whenever I have heard this verse taught in the past, it goes something like this:
If you get into an argument with someone, try to settle the matter before you go to bed…
This is not bad advice at all, but I’m becoming less convinced that this is really what Paul was saying here.
Some translations actually bring forth the idea that we should deal with our “heated debates” before bedtime, and again, while that may be good advice, i’m not so sure that’s what the Scripture is really all about.
Take the Amplified Bible for instance, which is one I find very helpful at times. It says this:
Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down.
Ephesians 4:26 (Amp)
The first part of the verse is very similar to the KJV – advising us not to sin while angry. It specifies the kind of things we ought to be angry about, such as injustice. The latter part of the verse advises us not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.
In some respects, this is a contradiction. The first part appears to be encouraging us to “be angry” and then tells us not to “be angry” when the sun goes down. So what’s happening here?
I think this verse is going beyond advising us not to be angry during night hours.
Let’s work through this verse logically, and study the text itself rather than our usual interpretation.
Anger is not a sin
The first thing to note is that anger is not a sin. This verse clearly indicates that we can be in a state of anger, but without falling into sin.
Jesus Himself – who was without sin – got angry. He got very angry. In fact, He was so angry that He turned over tables and even had a “weapon”.
In the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as moneychangers sitting at their tables. After making a whip out of cords, he drove all of them out of the Temple, including the sheep and the cattle. He scattered the coins of the moneychangers and knocked over their tables.
Then he told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
John 2:14-17 (ISV)
So we see clearly that Jesus was angry, and yet did not sin even once. This tells us that anger alone is not a sin.
The problem comes when our anger is directed at the wrong things, or gets out of control.
As the Amplified Bible expanded this verse, it showed that the target of our anger ought to be things such as injustice or sin. That’s why we were given anger in the first place – to take action when we recognise that someone or something is unjust.
When a child is killed by a drunk driver, or an elderly person is robbed at gunpoint, it is perfectly acceptable to be angry about such things.
The issue is when we direct that anger against the slow checkout attendant or the person who didn’t see us and cut us off in traffic. Frustrating as those things may be, they are not real reasons to get angry.
The way to test is to examine our selfishness. Chances are that if we are angry because of a selfish reason (such as having to wait) then that is not a righteous anger. Righteous anger is directed at ungodliness, sin or the devil. Other unrighteous anger is usually a result of our own selfishness.
Anger is a secondary emotion. No one ever gets angry without reason, there is always something that comes first. It may be offense, humiliation or fear that triggers it.
Perhaps you have children and get angry at them at times. Ask yourself why. It may be because of fear – they did something daft and were in danger of hurting themselves. It may be that they interrupted something you were doing, and “self” didn’t like it. If my anger is kindled against my children, it is often because “I” just want to sit down, or “i’ve” had a tough day. It is rarely anything to do with them.
While the verse is often interpreted as “don’t sin when you get cross,” it goes even further than that. Rather than just don’t sin, it’s a command to be angry.
Actually this is a quote from Psalm 4:4 –
Be angry, yet do not sin. Think about this[b] when upon your beds, and be silent.
Psalm 4:4 (ISV, emphasis added)
Psalm 4 is a passionate plea to prayer. David starts off crying out to God, then to man, then to God about man and finally to man about God.
Paul grabs hold of this passion and says, “Be angry, and sin not.” One of the problems in the church today is that it is afraid to stand up and call sin by its name. We compromise our position, accepting the world’s way and either ignoring or dismissing the Bible, and people outside don’t always know what the church stands for.
It’s not enough just to love the good things, we must also hate the bad.
I once heard someone say that love and hate are two separate ends of the same stick. To truly love something, you must also hate the things that come against them. I don’t know if i wholeheartedly agree with this or not, but i certainly do understand that loving good is not the same as hating evil.
When we try to love good without hating evil, we end up accepting everything and standing for nothing. We end up with watered down doctrines and a church that looks like the world instead of the Word.
So Paul’s command to be angry is not by accident. This post has already gone longer than I planned, and I haven’t yet addressed the issue of going to bed while you are still angry! Let’s pick that up next time.
For now though, perhaps you are someone with a temper and you know that you need to bring it in line. Perhaps though, you are on the opposite end, and actually need to stir yourself up and start getting angry at sin and injustice. Perhaps – slightly confusingly – you are both, and need to redirect that temper towards the right things.
Do you need to be more or less angry this week? (At appropriate things of course) Do you need to have a serious think about the things that make you angry, and the things that don’t?