Mind the Gap (Ephesians 4:26–27)

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Doug Van Meter - 27 Nov 2016

Mind the Gap (Ephesians 4:26–27)

Ephesians Exposition

Anger is a legitimate, God-given emotional response to perceived wrong. Anger and wrath are referenced in the Bible over six hundred times—and most of these are with reference to God. The Bible, it can appropriately be said, is an angry book. Anger is part and parcel of our existence. Paul seems to be acknowledging this in Ephesians 4:26–27. But his message is simple: Put off sinful anger (v. 26a), put on self-control (v. 26b), and put in sound thinking (v. 27).

From Series: "Ephesians Exposition"

This series comprises the sermons preached at BBC during an exposition of the book of Ephesians.

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Anger can be a legitimate, God-given emotional response to perceived wrong. We know that anger can be a legitimate response because God is angry—every day—with the wicked (Psalm 7:11). His wrath is manifested every day (for those who have eyes to see) in every part of the world (Romans 1:18ff). Anger and wrath are referenced in the Bible over six hundred times. Most of these are with reference to God. The Bible, it can appropriately be said, is a righteously angry book.

Anger is a part and parcel of our existence. Paul seems to be acknowledging this when he writes, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Let me paraphrase: “It’s okay at times to be exasperated, but don’t exaggerate it. Don’t let your exasperation become extreme. Rather, cool it.”

Paul’s message is simple: Put off sinful anger (v. 26a), put on self-control (v. 26b), and put in sound thinking (v. 27). We will touch on all three of these factors again in this study.

The subject of anger, like each of these practical matters in vv. 25–32, is huge, and so I don’t want to rush through this study. But neither do I want to run the matter in the ground—lest you become angry with me! Yet there are so many things related to this matter of anger.

We must deal with the heart issues of anger; how to repent of sinful anger; how to repair the ruins of anger; and how to redeem rightful anger.

We must touch on the many consequences if we do not repent of sinful anger: A loveless, lonely existence; raising angry children, etc. There are many more issues that could be addressed, but as we return to this passage I want us to focus on one major thought,  which we will address in several ways. When it comes to anger, we must mind the gap.

In London train stations, as well as in other cities throughout the world, I have seen signs that say, “Mind the gap.” This is often painted on the platform where the doors of the train open. It is a warning to be careful, when boarding or disembarking, of the gap between the platform and the train. If you are not careful, you might fall into the gap. This would be a real train smash—or perhaps a train splash. One must pay attention to avoid serious injury. The same can be said about anger: We must mind the gaps. Our text suggests at least two gaps: the time gap between righteous anger and unrighteous anger (v. 26); and the divisive gap created for the devil if we don’t mind the first gap (v. 27).

Paul knows that if Christians do not mind these gaps then serious injury and great damage can result. So, as we approach this text again, may God the Holy Spirit so open our understanding that, when it comes to anger, we will not fall into sinful gaps. Let’s flesh this out.

We Must Mind Our Opportunity—to Control the Gap

First, Paul tells us to mind our opportunity to control the gap: ““Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (v. 36).

As we saw previously, we must put off sinful anger. We must restrain righteous anger so that it does not become sinful anger. Further, we must resist all forms of sinful anger. And in each case, we have only so much time to do so. We need to make the most of the opportunities to restrain our anger and to redeem our anger.

The Opportunity to Restrain Our Anger

As I have said, anger is a legitimate expression of us being made in the image of God. As has been well said, the one who does not know how to be angry neither knows how to be good. Because God is holy, God is angry. Because God is our Father, we love the Lord and therefore we hate evil (Psalm 97:10). The expected antithesis of loving truth is hating evil. This implies anger. But this is where we must mind the gap. Such righteous anger can so easily slip into the gap and become sinful anger. This occurs when we allow our anger to move from a matter of principle to becoming a matter that is personal. Hughes observes, “If anger is held or nursed, it becomes highly personal. Our hatred for the perpetrator swells.”1 That is, when I make life all about me.

If we will restrain our anger, we must take ourselves in hand; we must exercise self-control. If we fail to do so, then righteous anger will slip into the gap of prolonged anger, which will become perverse, sinful anger.

But immediately I must add that the self-control for which the text calls is not a stoic self-control; it is not a self-control of sheer will-power. No, it is a God-centred self-control; it is a theologically, gospel driven, grace empowered, Christ-conscious self-control.

To put it plainly, if we will properly mind the gap between initial righteous anger and imminent sinful anger, we must take our thoughts captive in submission to our God and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. And of course, like all matters of following Jesus, this is a choice. It is a matter of assuming personal responsibility empowered by God’s sovereignty (Philippians 2:12–13).

As with every sin, sinful anger is a choice. That is good news—we can choose to change! Let’s note a few choices we must make.

First, we must choose to control the length of our anger.

John Trapp observed a long time ago that it is not a sin to be angry; but it is hard not to sin when we are angry. Paul knew this because God knows this, and so the apostle wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin.”

But how can we avoid sinful anger? How can we fulfil the first part of this verse? By obeying the second part: “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Keep it short.

When we are angered, we are to KISS it—to Keep It Short, Sinner. Only God can be righteously angry with the wicked every day, for all the day. But since we are prone to sin, we must stop our anger toward sinners—by the end of the day.

Don’t let it linger. Don’t set your mind upon the thing that caused the anger. God created cows and other cud-chewing beasts to ruminate. It works well for them but it destroys us. It is true that “anger is an acid that destroys its container.”2

When you allow your anger to result in a hard countenance, be warned that it may eventually destroy you. When you allow your mind to focus only and angrily on the wrongs that others have done to you, it may eventually destroy you. Anger has a tendency to bitterly poison everything it touches. One of our elders recently completed a lengthy period of chemotherapy, and he recently told me that, even though the chemo is now over, he still has not regained his taste for certain foods. In similar fashion, many angry people can no longer “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

We must be careful of a personality that alienates and of a joyless life that results from anger.

Second, choose to confront the cause of the anger.

This will help us to fulfil the first step. The sooner we confront the cause of the anger the sooner, in most cases, the anger will be brought under control; the sooner we will avoid a spark becoming an inferno.

Don’t let your anger fester. If someone has offended you—and you have the opportunity—go to them and deal with it. Speak to them. Communicate why you feel exasperated. You may learn that your anger is groundless. If it is justified, then confronting the cause will go a long way towards your anger being pacified.

Note that, in many cases, this will not be a possibility. An evil action that we read about in the news, a rude motorist, or a report of some sinful behaviour where we are not directly involved will not provide an opportunity for us to be confrontational. However, we can confront it with the cross of Christ and with the character of God. And we can leave it there.

But sometimes we will need to confront ourselves. You see, often our anger is not so righteous after all. At the least least, it is not like God’s in that it is graceless.

Great expectations often lead to grievous exasperation. This is often at the heart of our sinful anger.

For example, we have high expectations of our spouse only to find out that they are sinful as we are. Or we have high expectations of our children only to become exasperated because they do not conform to our standard of perfection.

We can also be like this when it comes to ministry. We have a right to expect excellence as far as effort, and we have a right to expect effort in preparation, but sometimes the sermon will fall short of what we desire, or the music will miss a note or two, or the video projector will miss a verse! Be careful. Don’t let your professed desire for God’s glory in excellence become a sinful and hard and gracious approach to body life. Let’s do our best, be open to constructive criticism, and be gracious to our fellow sinners.

Third, choose to consult the one who is the most angered.

In Ephesians 4, Paul is quoting Psalm 4, which reads a little differently: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (v. 4). The principle is the same: It’s bedtime—deal with your anger now before you fall asleep. And the way to deal with it is to “meditate.”

This point provides the ultimate key to keeping our anger short. If we will deal with our anger immediately and righteously then we must do so theologically. God must be in our thoughts. Where God rules, anger cannot. This seems to be a major lesson of Psalm 4. This lesson is also strongly implied here.

David speaks about the danger of sinning in the midst of being wronged (vv. 1–3). So, he advises in v. 4 the same thing that Paul does in Ephesians—do not sin. The first part of Psalm 4:4 may be translated either as “tremble,” “stand in awe” or “be angry.” Translators are divided on this. It would certainly make sense if David was advising, “In the midst of being personally wronged, stand in awe of God and then you will not sinfully seek personal revenge.” He then advises how to do this: “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” David is saying, “Pause and think.” Specifically, think about God. Turn the matter over to Him. And when you do, you will let go of your anger, you will be enabled to “both lie down in peace, and sleep” with the conviction that the Lord alone is able to make you “dwell in safety” (v. 8). This is the result of putting “your trust in the Lord” (v. 5).

In sum, we must resist anger both immediately and theologically. Our self-control must be God-centred and God-driven.

This verse touches on the heart of anger management.

I don’t know how secular anger management courses motivate self-control. Perhaps they paint such a ghastly picture of the results of wrathful rage or resentful retreat that one is motivated to control one’s anger. Perhaps they guilt the person by reminding them of the harm they have caused. Perhaps they advise that they lift weights or run around the block. I don’t know. What I do know is that none of those approaches addresses the real issue; they ignore the heart of the problem, which of course is the heart.

It is out of the heart that anger arises in the throat and in the emotions (Matthew 12:34). The Christian understands this and therefore desires to exercise self-control to avoid sinful anger, motivated by love for God, motivated by faith in God, motivated by trust in the one who is in control, motivated by loving confidence in the one who alone can truly be our defence. It is this that motivates us to be calm in the midst of an otherwise emotional, relational storm.

I recently visited the pastor of another church in hospital. He has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. The disease has lodged in a place in his body that is inoperable. He is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to slow down the spread of the disease, but doctors have told him that there is nothing they can ultimately do for him. I was blessed to see this man resting in the sovereignty of God. He knows that God can heal him if He chooses to do so, but even if not, he knows that his storm is in God’s hands.

Note what Paul says in Romans 12:17–21 about such a theological approach to anger.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The teaching of these verses is that we must not allow offences against ourselves, or against others, to devolve into personal vengeance. Rather, we must be driven in our response by the theological conviction that God is indeed whom He reveals Himself to be: the sovereign Ruler.

It must be noted that Paul moves from acknowledging God as the rightful ruler (12:17–21), directly into the matter of God’s appointed means of earthly vengeance: human government (13:1–7). Though we can only touch on this now, the point is that, when it comes to being wronged in society, even here our anger must be held in check. Government is called to mete out the punishment. Of course, many will complain that this is a problem since our government seems to be doing nothing of the sort. Nevertheless, the Christian maintains self-control; we do not become sinfully because self-centredly angry because we know that the matter is ultimately in God’s hands. He will mete out justice—eventually. The wheels of God’s justice grind slowly; but they do grind.

Finally, choose to cultivate a longer fuse. This is the natural application of everything already said. We need to cool it when we are angered. The Bible does not expect for us to neuter our emotions. Rather, Christians are to be passionate about truth. But as James teaches us, “So then, my beloved [and sometimes exasperated!] brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:19–20).

What does this mean? Simply put, our anger does not fix things; so, cool it.

It is essential that we come to terms with the limitations of anger. Anger, of course, can be cunningly used to manipulate. Children may pout until they get their way. Husbands may sulk until their wives give in. Fathers may scream until their children (at least externally) comply. Employers may rage until their employees do their job. But we all know that these attitudes are not ultimately constructive.

The reason for sinful anger, as we saw last week, is due to a desire for control. The sooner we realise that we are not in control, the sooner we will cool it. Only God can fix what is broken. So, cry out to God—not at others—and you will be enabled to chill out.

The Opportunity to Redeem Our Anger

Anger, as we have seen, can be righteous. Our text teaches this. But as we have also seen, it can so easily morph into sinful anger. So, how can we redeem it?

The best way to answer this question is to see how Jesus handled anger. And we have perhaps three cases where we see this clearly.

First, we see Jesus handling anger in Mark 3:1–5:

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.

Here we see Jesus’ anger (this is the only time that the word “anger” is specifically used with reference to Jesus) was mixed with compassion. Though He was angry with the religious leaders, He was compassionate toward the man who was in need. He did not allow His anger at the stubborn to negate His compassion for the needy. His anger was under control, and therefore He was constructive in the midst of the anger. He healed the man who needed to be healed.

The second example is found in more than one place, and in fact occurred at least twice. It is the record of Jesus cleansing the temple. Let’s consider John’s account from early in Jesus’ ministry.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

(John 2:13–22)

The word “anger” is not used here, but no doubt indignation was involved. The witnesses observed His “zeal” for the Lord’s house. Again, you will note that Jesus’ anger was constructive: It resulted in the cleansing of the temple. It was a work of sanctification. He did not fly into a blind rage and ultimately cause more damage than healing. No, His indignation resulted in the glory of God and the good of God’s people.

The third example is found in Mark 10:13–16:

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus was “greatly displeased” (indignant) when His disciples tried to shoo away the children that were clamouring for His attention. His anger was constructively confrontational: He corrected their faulty thinking. His anger was controlled as evidenced by His gentle and caring ministry to these children (v. 16). His anger had a short fuse.

In each of these cases, anger was redemptive. This is how truly righteous anger is exercised. We live in a broken world, and so it is impossible for us not to become angry at times. Again, if we are never angry then we have a problem. But our anger is to be different than that of those who are not followers of Christ. Our anger is to be channelled in such a way that opportunities for anger are reduced.

For example, you may be rightly angered at abortion. The constructive thing to do is to lovingly and helpfully oppose it, to do what you can to end it. You may be angry at lawless driving. Help by driving lawfully yourself, by teaching your children to drive lawfully, and by perhaps helping your spouse to drive lawfully! Are you angry at corruption? Then live with integrity. Are you angry at those who are disrespectful? Then be respectful toward others. Are you angry at those who do not faithfully fulfil their responsibilities? Then be faithful in fulfilling yours, and mentor others to be faithful so as to reduce the number of the unfaithful.

Closely related to this is the matter of helping one another with anger. Let me briefly address this.

As the community of faith, we are called together to be conformed to Christ together. That means that we are called to help one another with our various sin issues. If you have an anger problem, then make yourself accountable to another. Regularly get together with another Christian for counsel, for constructive help. Angry people cannot go it alone—and yet sadly this is what so many try to do. Seek help—and then accept the help that is given.

We Must Mind Our Opposition—and Close the Gap

Paul adds a warning: “nor give place to the devil” (v. 27). If we do not get a handle on our anger and thereby get a handle on us. The consequences will not be pretty. Paul makes this plain in v. 27.

“Give place” means to give space to; it means to create an opportunity; to create a gap. Paul was warning the church that if they did not properly (immediately, theologically) deal with their anger, they would be creating a gap for devilish mischief. And the results could be devastating. Paul is saying: Be alert to potential diabolical devastation arising from unresolved or unrestrained anger. Don’t give the devil an invitation into the community of faith; he will gladly accept.

The word translated “place” here is significantly used elsewhere in a similar context of relationships and the danger of anger. In Romans 12:18–20 we read,

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

This helps to illustrate the principle that there are only two places where our anger will lead: submission to God, or the stratagems of the devil.

If we turn our anger over to God, we can rest in whatever He chooses to do in the situation. We have let go of the anger; it is no longer in our hands. It is God’s to sort out. But if we choose to hang on to our anger, we are actually depositing it in the hands of the evil one, who will gladly take it. He will gladly use this gift to cause even more pain, more anger and more havoc.

As Spurgeon so powerfully put it, “Anger is temporary insanity…. I have no more right as a Christian to allow a bad temper to dwell in me than I have to allow the devil himself to dwell there.”

Let me practically illustrate how unrestrained anger gives a gap for devilish mischief.

Take the matter of road rage—an ever-present reality on South African roads. Road rage may begin with righteous indignation, but it eventually morphs into uncontrolled hostility, which results in disrupting the calmness in your vehicle and/or distraction and dangerous driving. It certainly sets a poor example for your children, and opens the door to a possible accident and even violence.

Several years ago, an elderly man in our church was driving home after the evening service. A younger man, who took umbrage to his driving, climbed out of the car and, in an act of rage, physically assaulted him. That church member never recovered from those injuries. We have experienced first-hand what it means to suffer the consequences of road rage.

What about anger in a marriage? When initial righteous exasperation is not dealt with properly, it can morph into hurtful, even hateful, words, which take a long time to heal. The devil has an easy path to the divorce court when couples give him a gap!

Parents sometimes wonder why their children are so angry. Could it be that your own unrestrained, unresolved or unredeemed anger has encouraged their own exasperation? Have you trained them to go in this way? Could it be that you gave a gap to the devil, who then used it like a petri dish in the laboratory of your home to cultivate an angry child?

Importantly, let us remember that all of the above affects the community of faith. Paul is writing here to a church! In the context of the church, initial exasperation—perhaps righteous, perhaps not—is not biblically resolved. You fail to properly put it off by failing to put on self-control. You refuse—yes, you choose—to not put on sound, scriptural, Saviour-saturated thinking, and so the anger grows. It consumes you.

The result is either rage or retreat. You isolate yourself from others, cutting others off while cutting yourself off. You then begin to speak evil of others. You spread the news and others are brought into the conflict. People begin to take sides. And the community of faith becomes a community of friction. All the while, the devil sits back, licking his lips as he enjoys his field day.

Acts 6 provides an illustration of resolution. Contention between the Hebrews and the Hellenists in the church was creating division, but the apostles did not give the evil one a gap. They took the leadership to create a solution, and harmony, rather than division, was the result (vv. 1–7).

If the church cannot reconcile, if the church will not repent, then it becomes like the Pharisees of old: merely whitewashed tombs. It advertises life but within is filled with the stench of death. Do you now see why we need to mind the gap?

The Crouching Lion

The next time that you (and I) are exasperated, I trust that you (and I) will pause and consider that there is someone with evil intent who is crouching at the doors of your (and my) relationships—family, friendships, church—just looking for a gap of which he can take advantage (Genesis 4:1–7ff). If we consider this, if we choose to think soundly about this, then we will quickly slam the door in his face.

If we gave half as much attention to guarding our relationships as we do to guarding our possessions, they would be well protected.

The Devil is Alive

It would serve us well to contemplate that we live in the midst of a spiritual war zone. Paul will remind us again of this in chapter 6. The devil is real. He is alive. He may not be well, but he is alive on planet earth. And he wants to destroy the testimony and the effectiveness of the church. Disunity is his major stratagem—his wile of choice.

Consider, as an example, the riot at Ephesus after Paul first preached the gospel there:

When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: “Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.” Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theatre with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theatre. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defence to the people. But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other enquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

(Acts 19:21–41)

Notice the progression here: The “wrath” of v. 28 created “confusion” in v. 29, which ultimately led to disorder (v. 40). This is always the case. And how much more devastating when the church behaves in this way. Perhaps Paul was concerned that the Ephesians might become sinfully angered by such opposition. He thus warned them to resist, to restrain, to redeem their anger.

I don’t want to intimate that we should become obsessed with the devil. That is never healthy. We are to focus on the light, not on the darkness. However, we are also to be aware of the enemy. He seeks to divide and conquer. We are aware that the church is one in Christ (John 17). There is an organic unity that is ours because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. But this unity is to be guarded (Ephesians 4:1ff). We are to guard against the gaps that would threaten a godly unity.

Please, for God’s sake, for His church’s sake, for the gospel’s sake—put off sinful anger and put on self-control and put in sound thinking. Do not give the devil a gap. He only brings destruction.

Satan’s Goal and God’s Goal

Why is this so important? It is so important because there is a whole lot more at stake than your comfort. There is a whole lot more at stake than your conflict. There is a whole lot more at stake than your little kingdom. What is central is God’s goal. His goal is His glory in the joy of all the nations. His goal is the completion of the Great Commission. His goal, as Tony Payne puts it so well in The Thing Is, is to, “transfer people into the Kingdom of God’s Son and to then transform them into His image.”3 Anything that distracts us from this goal is of the devil. Unresolved, unrestrained, unredeemed anger is one such distraction. So be done with it. Slam the door on it. Deal with it and move on.

We need to keep before us that the devil, who takes advantage of our anger, is only able to do so if we provide him the opportunity. How we handle anger is our choice. The comedian, and small children, gets a lot of laughs when he says, “The devil made me do it.” But it really is no laughing matter. The devil does not make you do anything. He can only use what you give to him. So stop providing him with the ammunition of anger; stop giving him access to your life, your family, your sphere in the workplace, your church. Stop being angry!

Resisting the Devil

But how? Is this not our problem? We have a gap between theory and practice. We need practical help if we will do right. We need practical orthopraxy to match our passion for orthodoxy.

We must not only renounce, we must also replace. This is no doubt partly behind Paul’s instruction here. The devil loves a vacuum (see Luke 11:24–26). This gap—between renouncement and replacement—is to be filled with renewed thinking. We might call this renovation. We must pause to think. And this admittedly is very difficult when it comes to the often spontaneous eruption of anger. So, how do we overcome?

We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1–2). We need to retrain our minds and our emotions. How do we do this?

We do so by filling our minds with Scripture (James 1:19–20; James 3:13–18; 1 Corinthians 13; etc.).

We do so by preparing ourselves before heading into potential anger-tempting scenarios (business meetings, highways, sports events, etc.). This implies that we have a good understanding of our flashpoints, of our emotional triggers. It requires that we take ourselves in hand and bring our bodies into subjection. Romans 13:14 addresses this principle: prepare beforehand!

We do so by seeking help—by seeking another (others) to hold you accountable. Included in this is the matter of confessing your sins to one another so that you might be healed (James 5:16). When it comes to sinful anger, confession of such aggression is very important.

Again, we do so by tempering our high expectations of everyone around us—and therefore, by giving them some slack. Great expectations, without gracious concessions, will result in grievous exasperation. Mind the gap by minding God’s grace—first to you—and then extend this to others.

We do so by living life Coram Deo. This means that we commit ourselves to learning to live every moment of our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we learn to live with the consciousness of Christ’s presence—and that we are His own and that we are His ambassadors—then I suspect that we will be far more conscious about how we treat others.

Years ago, I was pulling into the parking lot at a shopping centre. I saw an elderly woman who made a mistake in her driving. A younger man stopped his car, climbed out, and began berating this woman in untempered rage. When I realised that it was a man who was once a member of the church I was at that time pastoring, I rolled down my window and called his name. Immediately, his countenance changed. He walked over to my car and, in a very friendly manner, asked, “How are you, Pastor Doug?” I replied that I was well, and then asked how he was.

It was quite something to see the turnaround in temperament. As soon as he realised that I was there—a pastor—his countenance changed. You see, with the right motivation, we can overcome sin. I cannot think of a greater motivation than the awareness of the presence of our holy and gracious God. “Be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day” (Proverbs 23:17). “By the fear of the LORD one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6). “The fear of the LORD leads to life” (Proverbs 19:23).

We Must Mind the Solution—Christ, Who Stood in the Gap

As we close, let me address one other matter concerning anger. When we speak of redemption, and particularly of the redemption of anger, we are talking about applying a remedy to that which is broken. And when you consider the cross, it becomes apparent that it was there that anger is seen in all its fullness—both in a holy and in an unholy way.

Jesus was crucified by people because of their anger against God (Psalm 2, etc.). Their hateful anger stapled Jesus to the cross. But it was not only their anger that was on display; God’s anger was also on display—vividly.

God’s wrath was poured out on His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. God exercised His righteous anger on His sinless Son for sinful people—those whom He purposed to make His sons. Thankfully, God’s anger trumped our anger. God’s wrath conquered our wrath.

Think of it this way: God was angry at His Son so that He could not and would not be angry us and yet still be righteous (Romans 3:21–26). That is redeeming love; that is the most beautiful demonstration of redemptive anger. The cross of Christ is the ultimate expression of the redemption of anger. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

You may be wondering whether God is still angry. Well, He is angry with the wicked, every day (Psalm 7:11). But He is not angry with those for whom Jesus experienced God’s righteous and condemning anger. And we know this because God is no longer angry towards His Son. That anger lasted for three very long and very dark and very lonely and very excruciating hours. But once God’s justice was satisfied, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Literally, the sun did not go down on God’s wrath.

Jesus was taken down from the cross, placed in a borrowed tomb, and three days later He rose! The resurrection was the Father’s statement that His anger, His wrath against His people, is no more. In fact, it is because of this that we are indeed His people. This is gloriously good news.

Christian, if you are guilty of sinful anger, then repent. Forgiveness is yours. And more than this; you can be renewed. You don’t have to be an angry person. Since you are in Christ, who He is, is what you too can be. You can be angry and not sin.

Non-Christian, you are in a precarious position. God is angry at you. But this can change. If you will repent and trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour then you can be forgiven and enjoy being at peace with God. You will then be empowered to have the peace of God, which will be manifested in being at peace with others.

There is no need for there to be a gap between you and God. Jesus Christ has bridged that gap. Repent, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

You too can experience this gospel privilege of being angry and not sinning. Turn to Christ today. Don’t let the sun go down without making sure that you are delivered from God’s wrath to come.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 148.
  2. Bryan Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 224.
  3. Tony Payne, The Thing Is (Youngstown: Matthias Media, 2013), Kindle edition.