Yesterday I wrote about the similarities between sexual temptation and anger temptation and noted that both are seemingly prevalent and destructive.
I had a few friends respond to yesterday’s post and they raised some great questions concerning anger. The first had to do with definitions. The second had to do with reading Ephesians 4 where Paul seems to take a mild stance towards anger by saying, “In your anger do not sin” but then comes back a few verses later and says, “Get rid of it all together.” Today I hope to address both of these in turn.
As far as definitions go, I do not assume any passion that is directed toward or against something is “anger.” Instead I think anger is best understood as relational. It is hostile passion that is directed towards somebody or a group of somebodies.
In this case being mad that the Chiefs lost their playoff game last winter (and boy was I mad!) does not fall under the category of an anger addiction. However, seven months later if I am still angry about the game and demanding Andy Reid’s resignation, using various curse words to describe the coaching staff and insisting Alex Smith be traded to a 1A High School football team, then I would need help with my anger problem.
As far as the context of Ephesians and James go, I think Paul and James would agree with that definition. Anger seems to be understood as directed against somebody and is summarily dismissed for those reasons.
With that said, Ephesians 4 is fascinating. Yesterday I planned to write about James 4, where I will end today, but a friend brought up Ephesians and I found it to be more formative.
The chapter begins with the wonderful exhortations to no longer be infants but to grow up into Christ who is the head. This involves no longer being Gentiles whose thinking is futile but instead putting on a new self which consists of righteousness and holiness.
Then Paul digs into the particulars of righteousness. First, Paul says to put off falsehood. Next Paul says to not sin in your anger and not to let the sun go down on your anger. Then Paul moves on quite abruptly with no further qualifiers. This is quite unfortunate because we have no idea from Paul what letting the sun go down on your anger means or what sinning in anger would look like. We have to make educated guesses, like the NIV did by translating it, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
If that was all the New Testament said about anger we would be left with our own assumptions and say things like, “Anger is just fine if you resolve it quickly.” Or, “I can be angry all I want just as long as I don’t “sin” in it.” And many have said those things to justify their acts of rage though few have taken any effort to define what “sinning in anger” even means.
But those two verses are not all we have. In fact, Paul comes back in verse 31 and suddenly makes a sweeping statement to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The Greek for “getting rid of” might translate into modern English as, “throw away” or “flush down the toilet.”
The words cover the gamut of all forms of anger and their expression. Bitterness is the slow burn anger that festers over time. Rage is the quick burn anger that blows up in a second. Brawling is the physical blows caused by anger. Slander is the verbal blows. And malice is the manipulative scheming that one who is angry (or bitter) engages in.
With that in mind, I repeat what I said yesterday, “There is no room for anger in the Kingdom of God.”
I think when Paul said, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” he meant the minute you find out you have any bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander throw it away and never take it up again. Put another way, I don’t think Paul was talking about “going to bed mad” or daily anger but he was talking to the very present day.
In sum it might paraphrase to, “deal with your anger today before it destroys your tomorrows.” Then, tomorrow (and every day after) live the new life of 4:32 which reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Now if we turn to James’ witness in the first chapter of his epistle we find the same idea at work. James says in verses 19 and 20, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
With all this said, one of the greatest temptations for me has been anger. It has been a thought and heart battle to stay gentle and kind and compassionate towards those who disagree with me. As I have spoken to other pastors, I find many have admitted the same thing and most of us deal with it daily, despite attempting to put it away for good.
More bothersome than that are the clergy (and their spouses) who have given into anger long ago. They pastor and preach with angry hearts and do severe damage to their congregations and no one seems to notice or care. So tomorrow I will close this short series by suggesting a few interventions church boards and denominational committees can take to keep their pastors kind and compassionate and help them throw away the anger that manifests itself in all its forms.
You can read part 3 here.