Be angry, and sin not.—Ephesians 4:26
Anger is defined in the dictionary as a strong emotion expressing displeasure or dislike. It can be both constructive or destructive.
Despicable anger is fired by self-love, self-conceit, or self-will. The question we must ask ourselves is, "What makes me angry?" When we are angry we blame everyone or everything but ourselves.
Often we say, "If she had not said thus and so I would not get angry" or "if he would just pay more attention to me and less attention to something or someone else, then I would not have to get angry."
There is no doubt that the external things around us do affect us, but they are not the source of our anger. The source of our anger is the inherent sin that is in the world today. It is our own selfishness, our own desires to boost our own ego, our position in life.
Often we say, "Life is so unfair." "Why did I not get the promotion? I did just as good a job as the person who got it and I work even harder." Or we may feel, "Why am I always sick." Sometimes we get sick and tired of being sick and tired. This attitude stirs within us feelings of anger and resentment.
Sometimes it is very hard to rejoice with those who are rejoicing. If someone has had something good happen in their life and we have just had a very bitter disappointment, we find it difficult to express a feeling of rejoicing, to really share in the excitement of a brother or sister. When I was young and growing up I used to feel that life was so hard. As I get older I am discovering that there is a reason for life being hard, that it is supposed to be so. We are living under a curse and this makes it difficult. If it were easy, anyone could do it. It is only as we yield ourselves to God’s will that the burden is lightened and things seem to be easier to bear.
Oftentimes anger comes from internal sources. When we fail to receive what we want when we want it, there is a flash of anger that takes over. Perhaps it is because we do not get the recognition or acceptance that we think we should. At other times it stems from a low self-esteem.
Anger Begins in Childhood
We learn very early in life, when we are small babes in the cradle, that if we cry and raise a big enough fuss we will get fed, our wants are going to be met. That lesson is hard to forget. At times we still want to cry out, to say "I am not invisible, I am a real person." We want to make a fuss so that our needs will be met. The anger we feel when our needs are not met leads to bitter disappointment.
Sometimes when things that matter so much to us, whether they be temporal needs or spiritual perceptions, are not provided in a timely manner we become discouraged. We are fearful that these disappointments will go on for a period of time, or that they will never be achievable. This fear comes from trying to trust in self or others instead of trusting in God. It comes from not waiting on God and his time schedule. The safety and security that we long for at times can only be supplied by God.
This fear, along with our desire to fulfill our own needs, will lead to rebellion. We get angry toward anyone who stands in our way or who does not go along with our personal agenda. We begin to look only for those who can help us fill this personal agenda we have made for ourselves. Before long we make demands that cannot be fulfilled.
Even though we despise it, we have a tendency to hang on to our anger because the anger hurts less than the fear we feel. Eruptions of anger serve to dull the pain that is deep within us. In a false sense of the word, it gives us a feeling of security that we are controlling our own situations.
Three Ways to Mishandle Anger
The first is quick or shallow confession. We do this by taking the blame and then trying to sweep the issue under the carpet, not truly repenting of the anger or taking the time to examine the situation and why we became angry in the first place, and correcting the feelings within ourselves. We say, in effect, "That is just the way I am. I cannot help myself."
A second way to mishandle anger is by repression, by pretending we are not angry at all, saying all is fine and forgiven when really it is not. Stifling anger in this way tends to lead to depression. Depression can be defined as "anger turned inwards." We have the anger stuffed down inside where it lays and ferments, corrupting the very area where it lays. After a while we stop feeling the anger; but this bears a great price. Along with losing the feeling of the anger comes losing the feeling of joy. You end up stifling all emotions, you do not feel pain or joy.
The third way of mishandling anger is through explosive expressions. After anger has been held down for so long, fermenting, a seemingly harmless statement may trigger an explosive expression. These expressions are never constructive anger but always destructive.
The Uses of Anger
We use anger in several different ways. It becomes a means of self-protection. Saul did this when he was told his kingdom would be taken away from him and given to David. Rather than repent of his ways, rather than finding a way to improve himself, Saul laid out a plan to kill David. He tried to protect his kingship. He tried to protect his self-image and the image that others had of him.
Jonah is another person who became very angry as a means of protecting and blistering his own ego. When God told Jonah he would spare Nineveh and not destroy it, Jonah became angry, forgetting that the very purpose of his being sent to Nineveh was to obtain repentance. His reaction was, "the people will not believe me." Those who give in to anger often miss the true purpose of the experiences God sends their way.
We will often try to handle anger by throwing the blame on someone else. When Saul’s plan to destroy David failed, he turned to Jonathan and said, "Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman" (1 Samuel 20:30). Saul was angry because his plan to kill David and save his kingdom had failed. He placed the blame on his son. He did not even take the responsibility for Jonathan being his own son but said it was Jonathan’s mother’s fault—"It is not my fault you are this way, it is your mother’s fault." We, too, often try to lay the blame any place other than where it belongs.
We often use anger to create space. We might call it the porcupine effect. When attacked, the porcupine will curl up into a ball and show the barbs it has for protection. It knows that if its enemies can get to the soft underbelly it is defenseless. Often in anger we will use sharp sarcasm or sharp short answers to create distance, so that others will not get too close and see our weaknesses. This is based on the insecurity and fear that if people get to know us they will not like us.
How Do We Handle Anger
One of the things we need to do is to learn to be slow to anger. We need to take the time to be sure that we have a good reason to be angry. Patience is one of the things needed to overcome anger. It is not a drowsy indifference we seek. It will not do to just throw a blanket on our situation and merely say, "everything is all right, I am not going to get angry." Love, Scripturally speaking, is not an easy-going indifference. We need to listen and ask questions to be sure we understood what was said, to get the facts straight. Then, unless a principle is involved, we need to give the other party the benefit of the doubt.
A second thing we can do is change our thinking. We cannot change our feelings, but we can change our thinking. This new pattern of thought, rather than getting angry, looks within self to see what is producing the anger. This new pattern of thinking will help us to control our anger.
The power of the things in this world are only temporary. Christ could go to the cross and be crucified because he realized that that was only a temporary condition. The rebukes, the put-downs, the disappointments we have are only temporary.
Be Angry and Sin Not
"Be ye angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, neither give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26, 27). We need to learn to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath" (James 1:19). There is a reason God gave us two ears and just one mouth. Too often we are not good listeners and too quick to speak, too ready to get angry.
Yet in Ephesians we are told that we are supposed to be angry. Anger, in itself, is neither right nor wrong, neither constructive nor destructive, until there is a motive that goes along with it. If anger is wrong, God has sinned; and that is not possible. We are told on many occasions that God was angry. Jesus showed anger with the Pharisees. It is all right to be angry. It is the motivation we use. If it is harmful to ourselves or others, the anger is not right. The spirit which flushes with resentment at an oath is better by far than the spirit which listens with indifference, or which laughs with pleasure. We are far better off if our anger is motivated by love.
Once our anger is motivated by love it also needs to be constrained by love. Love can motivate anger, but if it does not also constrain it, the anger can still get out of control.
The second thing that our text in Ephesians tells us is to "sin not." We sin by letting our anger get out of control. Paul continues by telling us "let not the sun go down upon your wrath." In other words we are not to harbor our anger. We must repent, be quick to examine it, and not harbor it.
Finally, Paul concludes, "neither give place to the devil." If the devil can get us to the place where we are harboring our anger, with emotions welling up inside us which rot our inner being, then he has us in a position where we cut back on our prayer life and become insensitive.
We are not even to teach our children never to be angry but we are to teach them how to "be angry and sin not."
(reprinted from the Herald Magazine, January 1995. Original Link here)