Be Ye Angry and Sin Not (2)

Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California. *The quotations in this paper are taken from an article by the Puritan preacher John Trapp, which was reprinted in the Sword and Trowel magazine, volume 4, 1993, published by the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England.

Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. 

Ephesians 4:26

It is no sin to be angry, but when we are angry it is hard not to sin. Anger is a tender virtue, and through our ineptitude it is easily corrupted and made dangerous. He who would be angry without sin must not be angry at anything except sin. *

So much of our anger against our fellow man is evil. According to the Bible, most often when we are angry we are acting like a fool. "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Eccl. 7:9).

The book of Proverbs often deals with the subject of anger. What great wisdom it contains in this regard and what powerful advice it gives on how properly to deal with anger. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1). "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:2). "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Prov. 19:11). "A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again" (Prov. 19:19). 

In the New Testament the Word of God exhorts us, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:31, 32). 

Sometimes our anger is evil even when we imagine that we are acting in holy zeal. When Dinah had been defiled by the Shechemites, the sons of Jacob imagined that they were justified in their treachery to kill all the Shechemites and spoil their city. But, years later, their father Jacob said by the inspiration of the Lord concerning Simeon and Levi who were leaders in the treachery against the Shechemites: "Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel" (Gen. 49:5-7). When David was filled with anger against Nabal and was on his way to destroy him and his whole house, God sent Abigail to intervene and keep David from avenging himself and causing an offense of heart which would be a source of grief to him later when he would become king. 

"Anger must have a good rise and a good end, observed Bucer; a good cause and a good outcome."* Holy anger must arise out of a pure heart. It must not come out of the motive of hatred for our brother, which in fact it often does. He that hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. Our Lord Jesus said, over against the many evil forms of anger which men justify in themselves: "But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matt. 5:22). 

Much of man's anger is motivated by envy and lust. Of this James warns in James 4: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members: Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not" (James4:1-2). Such anger is devilish. Therefore James exhorts us a little later in the chapter to resist the devil and he will flee from us. All such anger is overcome through a spirit of thankfulness to God for what He in His great mercy has given to us, and by humbly asking the Lord to supply our every need. 

Anger can be and must be under the control of our will by the operation of the grace and Spirit of God in our hearts. All uncontrolled anger leads to great sin. We may not seek to justify our anger by saying that we just have a hot-tempered nature and there is nothing we can do about it. To say that is really to blame God for how He has made us. We must be slow to anger. God Himself is our supreme example in this. Scripture speaks of this blessed virtue of God as an aspect of His great mercy towards us. "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy." The Lord, the righteous and holy God, is slow to anger in regards to our great sin and wickedness. If ever there was a just cause for anger on the part of God, surely it would be because of our great sin and wickedness against Him. How great is His mercy towards us in that He is slow to anger. Surely we would long ago have been destroyed if it were not for this mercy toward us. Ought we then not also to reflect this great virtue of God by being slow to anger against our fellow men, even when they sin great sins against us. 

According to the Word of God it is a great virtue and strength in man to control his anger. He that is slow to anger is "better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:32). Slow anger allows the child of God to consider his words and actions carefully, rather than to explode in unholy rage. When we consider the weaknesses of our fellow saints, and we do not immediately react against them in anger, we often by the grace of God will simply overlook their sins and weaknesses. "Love covers a multitude of sins." 

Anger that stirs up strife is evil. There are those who love to stir up strife. These cause great havoc in the church and do great evil to their brethren. Even when our anger is justified we may not have as our object the destruction of our neighbor or the creating of havoc in the church. 

Anger is the chief motive for taking unlawful revenge. God says concerning such desire for vengeance, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." Once again we must look to the Lord Jesus as our example, "who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously" (Pet. 2:23). If there ever was one who would be Justified in His anger because of the evil deeds which men committed against Him it was Jesus. No one has ever done anything so evil to us as wicked men did to Jesus. Yet He prayed for His enemies when they were nailing Him to the cross. We must be imitators of Jesus in meekness, ready to suffer wrong for the Lord's sake without becoming angry. The Bible commands us to do good even to our enemies. Leave judgment and vengeance to the Lord. There are times when anger is justified. 

There are times when truth and right demand a response of anger. Not to be angry at such times is weakness and will give occasion for sin on the part of wicked men. There are times when the great wickedness of men must be resisted with holy anger of God. But even then we must always be sure that our anger is indeed holy. 

There are times when we should be angry even with our brethren. We should be angry with them when they sin and deny the truth of God. We should be angry with them when they hurt one of our fellow saints. We should be angry with them when they cause strife and confusion in the church. God's people sometimes need to be admonished in anger. This is not an evil. Such anger takes a great deal of humility on our part. Let us not be angry with the sins of our brethren when we are not just as angry about our own sins. In this anger our chief concern must be love for God and the honor of His name.

God is angry with our sin. He showed His terrible, holy wrath against our sin at the cross of the Lord Jesus. But in His wrath God remembered mercy. He did not destroy us in His just wrath but saved us in the greatness of His tender mercy and lovingkindness.

When we have a just cause to be angry with our fellow saints, our anger must always be tempered with mercy. The purpose of our anger must be to bring to repentance and save our fellow saints. It takes a lot of grace to be angry in such a way that the love of God shines through, and genuine concern for our brethren is evident. 

We must realize that most of our anger with our fellow saints is evil. God commands us to put away anger, wrath, and malice. Instead we are to "be kind one to another, tender hearted." What a beautiful word that is, "tenderhearted." 

It is a sin to retain anger in one's heart toward our fellow saints. "The worst sort of anger is that which, though for a time smothered and restrained, will suddenly burst out and flame up into further fury, as we see in Cain, who killed his brother."* Such sin creates enmity, hatred, and division between brethren. We must pray to God to deliver us even from all secret harboring of anger. Marriages are destroyed, homes are broken, friendships are ruined, by such harboring of anger. We are not delivered from this evil by, on a given occasion, suddenly exploding in anger and telling someone just exactly what we think of him. When we speak in such anger to our fellow saints we are always going to do and say things that are evil, often things even far more evil than what our fellow saints have done to us. 

Modern psychology says that venting of anger is good therapy. It is not. Not even from a psychological point of view does one ever get rid of anger by venting it. Such venting only gives a person an attitude of pride and self-justification, a holier than thou attitude. It will not lead to a feeling of "self-worth" or "self-esteem" as is so often imagined. Venting anger without confessing it only increases the evil of anger and deepens the feeling of anger. 

The way of the Bible is restraint. Control your anger! The way of God's Word is reconciliation. "Let not the sun go down on your anger." What a tremendous piece of advice this is! Be reconciled to your brother as soon as possible. Do not stew in your anger in self-righteous indignation and wait until the brother who has offended you comes to you to confess his sin. Go to your brother and make every effort to be reconciled. When we confess our faults one to another and forgive one another we hide a multitude of sin and save our brother's soul from death. This is God's way to resolve anger against our fellow man. This is pleasing to the Lord and will have the fruit of peace and unity among brethren and love in the church of Jesus Christ. 

May the Lord deliver us from all forms of sinful anger. He alone is able by the power of His grace and Holy Spirit. Such deliverance can alone bring peace with God and peace in our own hearts and lives as well.