Selfishness can cause you to become angry. It also can keep you from becoming angry.
Sometimes we become angry because we are overly concerned with ourselves, but there are other times when we do not become angry because we are overly concerned with ourselves.
This is part of what I think is behind the statement Paul makes in Ephesians 4:26 and 27.
He writes, “Be angry and do not sin.”
There are times when we need to become angry. God is glorious. Sin is awful. Injustice is real. And we are supposed to feel something about all of this. Anger can actually help us take action at times when we normally wouldn’t. However, having said that, it’s important to highlight the next part of this sentence, and to highlight it in bold print.
Because if the command to be angry is a rebuke to those who are so self-centered that sin no longer grieves them, the command not to sin is a rebuke to those who are not careful with the emotions and energy that anger over sin produces.
It’s important to appreciate that even though in this verse Paul does seem to indicate there is a time to be angry, there just are not many other times when human anger is spoken about positively in the Scriptures. It is true that Paul says be angry here, but there are not a lot of other times when the Bible talks about anger like that. This is probably the only passage in the entire New Testament actually where God commands us to be angry; but there are a whole lot of other passages in the Scriptures which warn us not to be angry and many others passages which call on us to be slow to become angry.
And I think that’s because while there are times when we should be angry, we have to be very careful about that, because it is so easy to become sinfully angry and to sin when you become angry.
In fact even here in Ephesians 4, while Paul gives us this command here in verse 26, it is just a couple of verses later in verse 31 where he says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you with all malice” which is not Paul contradicting himself, but instead Paul just recognizing some of the typical wrong ways we deal with our anger, like getting bitter, and inside hating the person, and fighting with others, and slandering, and thinking about evil things we can do to get back at them, and he’s has to talk about all these wrong ways of dealing with anger, because it is so common for us to sin when we are angry.
We need a warning.
Whenever we feel ourselves getting heated up and emotionally charged about something that we see happening, we need a warning. Yeah it might be right for you to be angry, but when you do get angry, watch out, please do not let that anger be an excuse to start sinning, and you really have to be careful, seriously, seriously careful because there is hardly time when it is easier to sin than when you become angry.
It is kind of like dynamite.
Dynamite is an explosive and yeah, it is possible to use dynamite for a good purpose, but you know what, it is also very possible to blow yourself and to blow others up using dynamite and anger is a whole lot like that.
Because what happens when you start getting angry, you usually start getting some extra energy, you know the feeling, and when you get that extra energy you don’t want to sit there, you want to do something with it, and usually want you to do with it, you want to fix the problem and usually you want to fix the problem quickly, when you are angry you are usually not very patient, you want to act, right then, and while there are times when that is helpful, you also need to be aware that when you are really energized and when you really want to fix the problem and you want to fix it quickly, what can very easily happen is that you don’t think carefully about what you are going to do, you just do, you just jump in to the situation and with all that extra energy and passion behind you, you can end up blowing the situation up, by sinning.
It’s so much easier to do that when you become angry then it is to do the right thing instead.
Which I think you and I both know, and you might be sitting there thinking, o.k. this is great, be angry and do not sin, how do I do that?
That’s a great question because by the grace of God you can, and I think we find some real helps if we look back at what the psalmist says in the passage Paul is quoting from way back in Psalm 4.
If you look it up, you will notice it begins the same way.
“Be angry and do not sin,”
O.k., we got that.
“Ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in God.”
I like that because he gives us four helps for not sinning when we get angry. We find four very real helps in this verse for not sinning when we get angry.
First of all, when you get angry, ponder.
That word means think. When you get angry it is so easy to act without thinking and usually when we do that, we end up messing up in some pretty big ways, if you don’t want to sin when you get angry, think.
You say think about what? Think about why you are angry. What is it that I am really upset about right now? Is this really about God’s glory, about the good of people, or is this mostly about me, not getting what I want? What do I wish were different? Is this a real problem? Is this a violation of a biblical principle, something I can put my finger on in Scripture, or is it just my personal preference, or maybe my desire to be in control? Is the way I am feeling right now consistent with the fact that I believe God is in control, with what I know to be true about God’s grace and His willingness to forgive.
And make sure you ask yourself too, how would God want me to respond right now? That’s pretty simple, but think whether there is any biblical instruction that I need to especially remember as I think about dealing with this situation? Ponder that.
Which feels like a lot to remember probably when you start getting worked up, but it is worth it to try as best as you can to make sure you think carefully when you are dealing with something as potentially dangerous as anger.
Second of all, when you get angry, be quiet.
Remember the Psalmist said ponder on your beds and be silent.
A whole lot of time we get in trouble when we get angry because we are not silent. Now obviously he’s not telling us that we can never talk, but he is saying we should take some time to be quiet and that’s especially important when we get angry, how often do we sin when we get angry because we start talking and saying things we really should never have said?
Now I know that some of you think that you can’t control your speech when you get angry, and you might be saying, you don’t know me I can’t be quiet. But you really can. I would guess most of you if you are sitting there screaming at your wife and your pastor knocks on your door and walks in to your room, all of the sudden you both are going to be smiling and acting like nothing is happening. Why? You want to please your pastor.
But what’s more important than your pastor is God and if you want to learn to be silent when you get angry, to control your tongue, you need to go back and remember and remind yourself of how much more important it is when you are getting angry to honor Him than it is to simply get what you want. When God’s glory becomes more important than your pleasure, you can learn to be silent when you start getting angry.
Third of all, when you get angry, worship.
That’s what is behind the statement, offer right sacrifices. What often happens when we get angry is that we become extremely self-focused, all we can think about is the problem, the person who has caused the problem, and ourselves and we lose sight of what’s most important and that is the worship of God, and so as you find yourself becoming angry, is that anger, does it go along with prayer and honoring God or is that anger taking you away from those kinds of things and causing you to only think about yourself, because if it is doing that, watch out, you are probably headed in the wrong direction.
And fourth of all, when you get angry, trust God.
This may be the most important. So much sinful anger is produced by a lack of faith. When you find yourself getting angry, you really have to go back and remind yourself to trust God, to believe that He is for you, to preach the gospel to yourself, to believe that He is in control of the situation that you find yourself in, that He is working all things out for your good because if you don’t believe that, what’s going to happen is that your anger causes you to freak out and try to take the situation into your own hands, and so you know you might be angry for the right reason, that person may really be sinning, but man if you don’t trust God that He can even work in that situation, you are going to try to fix it on your own and when you try to fix it on your own apart from God, you are going to end up sinning and hurting others and hurting yourself.
Pretty much guaranteed.
Which is why we need this warning, we have to be especially careful when we get angry even when we are getting angry about the right things that we don’t allow our anger to cause us to stop thinking, to stop controlling our speech, to stop worshiping and stop trusting God, in other words to start sinning.