“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.