Righteous and Unrighteous Anger (Ephesians 4:26)
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, —Ephesians 4:26
There are several different Greek words used for anger in the New Testament that are expressions of two kinds of anger—righteous anger and unrighteous anger. Last week our Fighter Verses passage admonished us to “set our minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:1-3) and now in Ephesians 4:26, we find opportunity to apply this principle regarding righteous anger.
“Be angry” Righteous anger is a settled conviction of God’s holiness that burns in our hearts against all manner of evil, hating what God hates, loving what He loves. It is anger that is tempered by wisdom and reason. There is also a grieving humility that accompanies righteous anger and this is a good test for us when we get angry. In Mark’s gospel account, Jesus gives us an example:
Again [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And [the Pharisees] watched Jesus to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:1-5)
“Do not sin” Jesus’ righteous anger directed at the Pharisees was coupled with grief for the hardness of their hearts. He then glorified the Father in the healing of this man. In the same way our righteous anger can drive us to do what is pleasing in God’s sight. Yet, because of our frailties and weaknesses, the command, “Be angry” is necessarily followed by another command that warns us, “and do not sin.” What starts out as righteous anger can easily cross over into self-centered passions, agitations, exasperations, and even bitterness. Ephesians 4:31 exhorts us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice.”
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger” Do not carry the burden of righteous anger when it is time to rest. At the end of the day, if your heart is not at peace, it is essential that you turn to the Lord, setting your mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Let His authority and sovereignty give you peace. Or perhaps your righteous anger has crossed over into unrighteous anger that requires confession and repentance. It is time to come to God in Jesus’ name and receive forgiveness and restoration of a clean heart. Continuing in unrighteous anger can grow a root of bitterness, cause a grudge to be taken up—or as Ephesians 4:27 states, give opportunity to the devil. Remember the instruction we are given by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-20)
Unrighteous anger is destructive, whether that anger is directed toward you or initiated by you. In what ways can you apply Romans 12:17-20 to those who are angry with you? In dealing with unrighteous anger toward others, pray that God would grow you in your desire to embrace Ephesians 4:31-32.
What are some things that should cause righteous anger to well up in the hearts of God’s people?
What are some ways that righteous anger can be directed for good and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God?
As you memorize Ephesians 4:26 this week, ask God to grow in you righteous anger and humility in loving what He loves and hating what He hates. The Bible tells us that the world will increasingly call good evil and evil good. What are some gracious ways your righteous anger can shine light in the darkness of this world?