Be Angry and Do Not Sin; Do Honest Work (Ephesians 4:26-28)Series: Ephesians (Your Identity in Christ)
Few things renew my awe for God and my zeal for righteous living more than remembering the emptiness God through Christ redeemed us from. We used to let Satan put his hooks in our hearts, deceive us, and every time it ruined our lives. We used to only be concerned with what our flesh wanted for ourselves, but this only made us feel miserable and without purpose. God has forgiven us of our sins, released us from Satan, and put on a path with eternal purpose and hope! Because of this, Paul is instructing us how to walk worthy of our calling. In Ephesians 4:26-28, Paul uses Satan’s past control over us and our past purposeless life to motivate us to put on more of the new self God created us to be. Paul addresses stealing in verse 29, but we will address anger first in verses 26-27.
Be Angry and Do Not Sin (4:26-27)
Though our ultimate aim is God’s glory, our aim in transformation is to put on the new self created after God’s likeness (4:24). With each sinful behavior, we must consider how we can become like God. When it comes to anger, Scripture presents God as one with complex emotions. He is not unjustly indignant like man, but he is not a robot without emotions. In Psalm 7:11, David says God is a righteous judge who feels indignation every day. In Psalm 103:8-9, David says the Lord does not keep his anger forever - he is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger. God is judging and wrathful, but he is also patient and merciful. He patiently longs for us to repent, he kindles his anger when we do not repent, but his anger does not last long when we repent. God is never enslaved by his anger - he is always in control. Since we are God’s children and we are to grow to be like him, it should not surprise us to find that God’s teaching on anger is as balanced and complex as God is.
PUT ON: Be angry and do not sin. Paul starts with putting on before putting off for this behavior. These words can be unexpected. Paul does not say, “Do not be angry or else you will sin”; rather, he says, “Be angry and do not sin.” These words come from Psalm 4:4. Psalm 4 is set at night. People have spread empty words and lies about David, so David and his men are rightfully angry. Yet, instead of letting their anger seethe and acting on their anger, David calls on God to bring relief because he knows God alone can make him dwell in safety. Psalm 4:4, “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.”
These passages show that God knows there will be times when we are angry. Isn’t it great that God does not deny this? He knows we are not robots who are impervious to every feeling. This does not mean every kind of anger is acceptable. Jesus says in Matthew 5:22 that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” There is a tension. Anger can make us liable to God’s judgment, but we can have certain anger and not sin with it.
Paul’s use of Psalm 4 helps us see how to put on anger without sinning. First, David and his men are angry in Psalm 4 because others have sinned against them. Often times we are angry because people do things we do not like or do not do things we want them to do. When we are angry, we need to maturely ask if there is even sin present. Second, David says in Psalm 4:4, “Ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.” Whether or not someone has sinned against us, anger is never an excuse for acting sinfully or getting revenge; yet, many use anger as an excuse for their actions and words. “I wouldn't have done this, but you make me so angry!” Someone’s sin and our anger is not an excuse for yelling, being mean, or making threats. The world says, “It is unhealthy to bottle up your anger.” God says, “It is sin if you unleash anger.”
James 1:19–20 shows us why. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Our anger is rarely righteous. God is angry against sin, but he is slow to anger. When he acts on his anger, it is just, not ruthless, because it is for our good. When God acts on his anger, it is for the glory of his name. The anger of man is usually kindled in an instant, it results in harsh, mean, and loud reactions, and it is usually motivated by selfishness. If we are acting on fiery anger that is kindled in an instant without thought for God’s glory or how this will help the target of our anger, this is not like God’s anger. When hot emotion controls our actions and words, this is sin. Next time we are angry, let us put on anger that does not sin. Let’s breath, close our mouths, quietly step away, lay down, and silently ponder in our hearts how to handle the situation righteously.
PUT OFF: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Quietly pondering in our own hearts is not an opportunity to soak on our anger; rather, this gives us the time we need to not act in our anger and sin. Just because we avoid a blow up in the moment does not mean we have avoided all sin and done all God has commanded. We know this because - how many of us are angry about something someone did years, months, or weeks ago? Paul commands us to not be angry about something from yesterday! We must put off the habit of letting the sun go down on our anger. After we have silently considered how to righteously handle our anger for God’s glory and for the good of others, it is time to settle the matter. If we sinned, we need to give a real apology. If someone else sinned, we need to humbly, gently show them and help them. If they did not actually sin against us, we need to do whatever it takes to righteously put the anger away, pursue reconciliation, and avoid the situation in the future. Anger and its sinful effects rarely go away passively. It takes work to put it away, but there is no excuse for being angry about something from yesterday or ten years ago. This is sin.
BE RENEWED: Give no opportunity to the devil. This is the mind-renewing motivation for transformation. When we let anger have its way and we let anger remain, we are giving the devil a foothold. We know this from experience too. Just imagine what our marriages, families, and churches would look like if we actually did not act in our anger and never let the sun go down without settling a matter? This is so dangerous because, not only does unresolved anger lead us to other sins, it also becomes habitual. If we let the sun go down on our anger once, we will let it go down a hundred times. This results in marriages, families, and churches being filled with sin. Satan wants us to believe the battle is over when we do not blow up in the moment, but the majority of division and damage comes from how we handle the minutes and hours after the moment. Let us not underestimate what the devil can do with one opportunity. Let us stop giving the devil an opportunity.
Do Honest Work (4:28)
PUT OFF: Let the thief no longer steal. Satan wants us to think we are not in danger of stealing. We usually only think of stealing as breaking into a home or pocketing something in a store. Think about all the other ways we could steal. If we lie on our taxes, we are stealing. If we drink soda at a restaurant when we did not pay for it or take things from our company, we are stealing. I could not believe how a show recently depicted a family laughing about how much their daughter could steal food from the restaurant she worked at without the boss knowing. If we give our employer’s things or services to a friend for free, we are stealing. The world says, “Finders keepers,” but, if we find something that can be returned, Deuteronomy 22:1-3 commands us to give it back. Just because a store clerk gives us too much change, it does not make it right to keep it. One of the biggest forms of stealing today is done digitally. We could spend hours talking about all the ways we can take or watch music, movies, computer programs, games, or ideas digitally. Just because we can watch a movie, listen to music, download a file, or use someone else’s service, does not make it right. Just because I can burn your CD on my computer doesn’t make it right. Brothers and sisters, let us put off all stealing. If we have something or are using something was not openly given to us or rightly paid for, give it back. Do we want to save $1 or $100 and lose our soul?
PUT ON: Let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands. Instead of thinking about everything we can get for ourselves and thinking about how we can cheat the system to get more, let’s do honest work with our own hands. Our work should be honest. I have forgotten this in the past when I have been overzealous about capitalism. Just because we can overcharge for something does not make it right. Just because we can take advantage of someone’s situation and quote them $1000 for a car fix when a more reasonable price is $300-$400 doesn’t make it right. We wouldn’t want someone do to that to us. Christians do honest work for honest compensation. Furthermore, Christians do not lazily leach from others, they work. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
BE RENEWED: So that he may have something to share with anyone in need. This is a fantastic motivation to keep in mind. When we are thinking about how to cheat the system and get everything in life for free, we are thinking about ourselves. You would think we would happily give away what is not rightfully ours, but the opposite results. Our mindset has been on accumulating more and that does not stop when someone suddenly has needs. Let us stop stealing and start working so we can honestly pay for the things we need, but even more, let us work so we have something to share with others in need. Let’s think about work from God’s perspective. Work is how we eat, but work is not given to us so we can selfishly accumulate more. The church in Jerusalem is a great example. Acts 4:32-35. “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
This can give us great purpose in our work. Before Christ, we made decisions based on whatever our flesh wanted. The mentality of the world is, “If you can afford it, buy it.” This selfishness only makes us miserable, and this is not why God blesses us. But for us, it can now be “fun” to work and find ways to not spend it all so we can help people in need. Isn’t it great when orphans, widows, the hungry, and the sick can give God glory because we helped give them water, food, clothes, a home, or parents? Let us multiply this generosity!
Satan once had control over our lives. Let us no longer give him opportunities by not handling our anger correctly. We used to live selfish lives of futility that did nothing but stuff our own gullets. Let us do honest work so we can have something to share with anyone in need.