Quelling Our Anger

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27).  The next step in our new nature living is handling anger.  And right off the bat, these first two words, “Be angry”, can be confusing.  Is Paul saying, “Go ahead and get angry, just not to the point of sinning?”

No, a better translation would be, “When anger comes upon you, do not sin.”  The idea is that anger will come upon you; it’s inevitable to have angry feelings.  So the point here is that anger is a temptation, not a sin in and of itself.  When you feel your anger rising, you are being tempted.  The sin or not sin is related to what you do with your anger.

If you respond to the anger you feel with calm, with a measured response, with taking a step back to evaluate, you are overcoming the temptation.  But if we blow up, verbally attack, or strike our neighbor, our anger has pushed us into sin.  Even if we fail to attack, but are seething with hatred inside, we have fallen into sin.

Now an interesting point in verse 27 is that when we fall into sin with our anger, we give the devil an opportunity.  What opportunity have we given the devil?  The opportunity to do what he does best.  Satan is the accuser and our angry sin allows him to accuse away, “Is this really what a believer looks like?” becomes his mantra in our head.  When we fall into sin with our anger, we hear Satan’s accusing voice.  And we cower in shame.  And we lose faith that the new nature really has any power.

But resurrection power is just what the new nature has.  And by virtue of this power, your anger does not have to lead to sin.  Remember, anger comes about because of a blocked goal.  When our goals are blocked, we look for the “blocker”, the culprit who is thwarting our plans, our self-respect, our hopes and dreams.  And we are tempted to lash out at this person or situation that is causing our anger.

Faced with a blocked goal, we look for someone to blame.  Before Rhonda and I had a unified understanding of our radically different giftings and personalities, we often saw each other as goal blockers.  And it caused us to demonstrate angry reactions toward each other.  When we started to celebrate our differences and embrace the best of what we both brought to the table, not only did our anger lower, but our goals themselves came more into alignment.

Remember, feelings of anger are just a temptation.  Of course, Satan would like us to give into this temptation.  Because anger is one of the processes whereby Satan’s will, rather than God’s is accomplished.  Look at this powerful passage in the book of James, “But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19-20).

The Bible again appeals to a motivation to do the right thing, and quell your anger.  Why?  First, “it does not accomplish the righteousness [the will] of God.”  And second, “It gives the devil an opportunity” to continue his effort to bury you under guilt and shame.  We defeat the enemy’s plans when we process our anger temptations properly.

And by the power of the new nature, we have the spiritual energy required to do just that.  To return a blessing for an insult; to dial down the angry response; to evaluate what goal exactly is being blocked, and what is God telling me in this.  It is all in front of us and just another snapshot of what living into the new nature looks like.

Truth-telling and the New Nature

Now that we are back in the saddle, let’s return to our series on “Ephesians and Your New Reality” in which we are examining how the new spiritual reality of our identity in Christ (Ephesians chapters 1-3) can become our physical reality; i.e. how can it become our daily experience (Ephesians chapters 4-6).  When we left the topic a few posts ago, the apostle Paul was just explaining how to leave our old self behind and put on the “new self, which in the likeness of God, has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

The rest of the book of Ephesians is focused on the specifics of living into our new selves.  Paul lays this out by reviewing what righteous behavior looks like informed by our new nature.  He starts in the very next verse with honesty.

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).  While life will send us plenty of twists, turns, in-your-face complications, as well as subtle temptations, let’s start with this straightforward admonition.

When you face a fork in the road, a decision between lying and telling the truth, choose truth.  When a lie may be useful to smooth out a challenging situation, choose truth.  When your sales numbers are down and your boss is calling you for an update, choose truth.

Is it that simple?  Just choose truth?  No and yes.  No, we have enemies within (the flesh) and without (Satan and the world system) that can make “laying falsehood aside” a difficult path.  But there is also a yes; our new nature – empowered by the Christ within – that energizes our obedience.  Remember, our goal here is not to win a theological argument.  It is to find the power – not our willpower, but God’s resurrection power displayed in our new self – to make a thousand righteous choices.

And a beautiful piece of these New Testament admonitions is that they almost always come with a motivation.  We are to tell the truth, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because of lying’s detrimental effect on ourself and others.

First, Paul uses the motive of “lay aside the bad stuff and put on the good stuff” over and over in his letters to describe how we live into our new nature.  And he does that here with the instruction to “lay falsehood aside”.  We are to tell the truth because it is in our new nature to do so.  Lying does not fit your new identity, your new self, and needs to be laid aside.

Second, telling the truth builds up the body of Christ.  “We are members of each other” (Eph 4:25).  We are not islands where our personal sin and righteousness have no effect on those around us.  Truth telling and lying have tremendous consequence for how we connect as a body of believers.

If you cannot be trusted to tell the truth, you are going down a path of cutting off your chance to connect deeply with the body.  If you cry “wolf” too many times, you will not be believed.  If you lie about your accomplishments, any success of yours will be second-guessed.  If you are found to be a liar, your chance to influence others will disappear.  In short, you have burned the bridge of opportunity to connect and love and be loved in the body.  Truth telling is critical to maintaining a healthy and united community of faith.

Jesus is changing you from the inside out.  Lying is feeling more foreign to you as you mature in Him.  It is starting to feel as uncomfortable as that high school shirt that used to be your favorite, but that you have long since outgrown.  Lying gives you an uneasy, convicted feeling that something is not right, because it is foreign to your new identity in Christ.

Clothe yourself in honesty; in telling the truth.  It is not just for your own reputation, but a boost to your community of believers as well.  And by the Christ’s power, presence, and authority, you can do it; you can honor the Lord with your honesty.