I do not come lightly to our text this morning. The theme on which we will focus today is anger, both good and evil anger. But the significance of this passage should be one that leads us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Because what we will come to understand from these two verses is that we all have allowed Satan to have a place in our lives. We have given him “opportunity.” And we do so often, and with light hearts, and we do so shamelessly expecting to be forgiven, though rarely do we repent. Rarely do we do what this verse tells us to do, to get rid of our sinful anger quickly, both for our sake and for the sake of those with whom we might justly be angry.
Let me ask you a question: If I were to prove to you this morning that you were actually serving Satan instead of God, would you repent? Of course, you say. In light of our quick answer, we need to consider the seriousness of this passage, that we may in fact be living as pawns, even soldiers of Satan, because of the lightness with which we take this command to be angry, yet not to sin.
The context of this passage reminds us of what Paul is doing here. You will remember that Paul has told us not to walk any longer like the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds. We are to “put off our old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,” and we are to “be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” These acts of “putting off” and “putting on” are what it means to no longer live like the world, and last time in vs. 25, we saw the first example of how we are to do this life exchange - putting off falsehood, to speak the truth. Today we see Paul’s second example of what to put off and put on.
As with vs. 25, Paul here quotes an OT passage - this time Ps. 4:4. Taking his impetus from David’s struggles with shameful men. We will approach our text by looking at its natural divisions: one positive command, and three negative qualifying statements.
Now, before we get headlong into all of the ways that we can be righteously angry, which I’m sure some of us are already doing, attempting to justify our sinful tendency to anger, let us take a sober look at what the Scriptures have to say about anger.
Consider that even in this book, even this chapter, Paul says that we are to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (vs. 31). Or James’ words: “Know this, my beloved brothers: 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” (Jam. 1:19-20). Or Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22). Or David: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off...” (Ps. 37:7-9).
Scripture speaks much against anger because of its tendency to be born from and lead to sin. We should consider this next time we are tempted to fly off the handle. The next time we are cut off in rush hour traffic, or our children pour out entire bottle of ranch dressing on the table, or when your teenager brings home a less than happy report card, or your spouses lack of frugalness with the credit card, or your fellow church members lack of remembrance of your birthday - we must remember what the Scriptures say about anger.
But from the Scriptures we also see that not all anger is sin. Paul here gives a command in the imperative tense: “Be angry.” We see God’s wrath displayed in the Scriptures. He takes down kings, armies, nations. “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:4-6). We see Jesus in the synagogue, “And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart...” (Mk. 3:5). And, “In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables” (Jn. 2:14-15). As we’ve been studying in Galatians, Paul was very angry with the false-teachers who worked their way into the church there, even wishing they would emasculate themselves.
Anger is not by default a bad emotion. Anger is an emotion, and as with any emotion, it can be bad, but it can also be good. As with all emotions, anger’s purpose is to move us to action. For God, anger is His response to sin, which leads to His wrath, and is often directly tied to His holiness and love for His glory, showing forth His righteous character. But what is anger for us? For us, anger is our emotional response to what we perceive to be sin. It may be sin against God, or sin against ourselves, or sin against others, but it is a response against sin. That is, sin that we don’t like.
If anger is my response to what I perceive to be sin, then I need to answer a few questions: Am I angry because sin has happened, or am I angry that my pride has been hurt? Does my anger look like God’s anger, or do I look like a selfish little boy who has had a toy taken away? Am I angry about that which God is angry, or do I focus on the trivial things around me? Do I deal with my anger the way that God does, or do I harbor it, letting it seethe and boil? Does my anger serve to expose my growing Christlikeness, or is my anger the prime argument that could be used against any testimony of holiness in my life?
We know how to be angry. The natural man can do that. What we need is to know how to be angry AND NOT SIN. Natural man cannot do that. We need God the Spirit for that. We need to feed from God’s Word for that. We need to trust that vengeance is the Lord’s, He will repay. Let us see then how Paul instructs us as those who have “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Left alone, anger always leads to sin. The point of this text is not to make us feel guilty about all of our anger, but to help us channel right anger in the right way. And few of us do that.
We have all been wronged, haven’t we. Even this morning, getting ready for church, how many of us had something said to us that was anger inducing? How did you respond? How many of us just this last week were sinned against by our family, co-workers, even fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? How did you respond?
To be angry and not sin means that our anger must be done while “walking by the Spirit...not gratifying the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). You’ll remember a few weeks ago in SS that we looked at the deeds of the flesh, and right in the middle of them were “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy...” If our anger produces these deeds, then the Kingdom of God is far from us (5:21). But, if in our anger, the fruit of the Spirit is present (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), then “against such things there is no law” (5:23), and therefore in our anger we are not sinning. Are you lovingly angry? Are you gently angry? Do you have self-controlled anger?
The command to “be angry and do not sin” should call us all to examine our emotion of anger. When we do, the first thing we need to do is see the proximity of our sinful pride in relation with our anger. James asks, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel...God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:1-2, 6). Our pride can fool us into thinking that we are righteously angry, when in fact we are allowing our sinful pride to mask itself and produces in us all kinds of evil (enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger...).
We can see the sin of pride all over us, because often when we are angry, we aren’t seeking to love God or others. We are seeking to self-justify ourselves. We want to be pitied by others and by God. We think by doing so, we have an excuse to hold a grudge against a person. But that is not being angry without sinning.
What is a way that we can be sure that our anger doesn’t turn to sin? Look at Paul’s next qualification.
If pride is what is really causing you to be angry, you need to repent immediately. You need to look to the Law and be killed by the presence of your sin. You need to see that your only life and goodness is Christ. You need to cease your selfish anger and be reconciled to the person with whom you are angry.
But what if the source of anger isn’t your selfish pride, but that you really have been sinned against. Should you overlook it?
Possibly. It may be that you were wronged, but the other person was not intentionally sinning against you. We are told in Prov. 19:11 that, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” James says, “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (4:7-8). It is good to “overlook” if you are simply offended in order to show love. It is the Spirit working in you to do that. Please do that more!
But what if it was sin on their part? Jesus tells us to handle it this way: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).
Now, what is the goal in walking through this process? Is it for the person to admit you were right and he was wrong? No. Is it for you to gain power over him? No. The goal in not allowing the sun to go down on your anger by confronting the sinner is to bring them back into right relationship with you and with God.
Again, the goal of confronting the one who sins against you is for their good and for your’s. In the process, you may realize that you were the cause of the sin, and find that you need to repent. Or, the person may realize that they have sinned and they need to repent. Either way, you are putting off the old self and the old deeds of the flesh with its enmity and dissensions, and you are putting on the new self. It is good for us to be reconciled with one another, and for us all to be reconciled to God.
But even if the person will not repent from their sin that has caused your anger, you are not excused to hold that anger against them. Even if the final step above is reached, and they are put out of the church, you have no right to hold anger against them. Remember, anger is an emotion and has a purpose: anger’s purpose is to push you to do something; either repent yourself, or seek for the other person’s repentance, but anger is never to just set there, rotting, smoldering, murdering.
In fact, you are to forgive and rid yourself of anger even if the other person has yet to be reconciled to you. Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11:25). We may not be made right with the offending person yet, but in our hearts, before our God who is our judge, we must forgive. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God was taking the actions of ridding His holy anger against us, even before we admitted our sin against Him, let alone repented of it. We, too, should not let the sun go down on our anger without dealing with it before God, and if possible, before the offender.
But, you may be saying to yourself, why go through the process of reconciliation, then? Why not simply forgive the person in your heart before God, rid yourself of the anger, and then move on without having to go to the person, bring witnesses, bring them before the church, even putting them out of the church? Consider this, you would not be angry without sinning if you allowed them to go on in their sin. Just as you would not be just in ignoring your sin, you, having evidence of their sin, would not be just to ignore it.
This may sound a bit intrusive to you. “Are you really saying that someone needs to help me deal with my sin?” Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. But more than me, that is what Jesus says in Matt. 18. That is what Paul argues in Phil. 2, where he says for us to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If you really care for the people around you, if love is the gift of the Spirit that really unites all believers with their Lord, then how could you ignore the sin in others?
Ignoring sin always gives opportunity to the devil. If we ignore the anger that we have towards another person and do nothing about it, then Satan has what some translators call a “foothold,” and others an “opportunity.” Literally, “don’t give the Devil a place.” He should not be among us. But when we sin by pridefully holding in anger, or when we allow others to sin around us without allowing the Law and Gospel to do their work on them by our confronting their sin, we just as sinfully allow a foothold in other’s lives and in the church, causing “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.” These are the deeds of the flesh, and “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” (Gal. 5:17).
Satan is opposed to God. He wants nothing more than to ruin God’s name in the world, and to insure that God is not glorified among the world. When we are sinfully angry, that is, we are wrongly angry at someone, or that we do not seek reconciliation with the other person and hold on to our anger, Satan has a good platform from which he can preach his message against God. And he does this by using the church.
How many of us have been a part of churches, even left churches, because of the anger and bitterness that was prevalent there? How many times have you heard from non-believers that the reason they don’t believe is because of the hatefulness that is found in our churches? When we are harboring anger in our hearts and do nothing about it, we sin, and when we sin and nothing is done about it, we are a tool of Satan to rip down the renown and glory of God.
So, how does this look? Can I make sense for you what this is to look like? Let’s see an example, shall we?
Let’s say that you came in to church one Sunday, and instead of being greeted at the door by, “Hello ____!,” you weren’t greeted at all. In fact, you went through the whole morning with barely a hello from anyone. You go home, and begin to consider what happened, or in this case, what didn’t happen that you thought should. You begin thinking of the faces that you saw that hardly acknowledged your presence. “They did that on purpose! They’re so stuck up! I’m angry. Neigh, I’m furious!,” you say.
Now, if you’re going to approach this situation, 1) first you need to go to the Scriptures and to the Lord. You need to examine yourself. Is it that these people really have sinned against you that has caused your anger? Or, is it that you a think that they should have treated you better than they did. Is your pride really the culprit here? Upon looking at the deceitfulness of pride, and the self-centered complaints that you had, you come to the conclusion that your anger is unjust, and that you need to repent before God and trust that Jesus is worthy of all your devotion, and so you cannot make room to worship yourself. The anger is now being put to death, “having crucified the flesh, with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
But, in another example, let’s say that you begin to hear rumors here and there that someone has been on the phone gossiping about you, saying all kinds of untrue things about you. The more you hear, the more your anger rises. 1) You go to the Scriptures and to the Lord, and you begin to be convicted that, while you have many faults, these particular charges are not true. More than that, your reputation is being ruined in the church and the community. Everyone knows you’re a believer, so Christ, too, is being run down along with you. 2) You consider Prov. 19:11 - “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” But you see that not only is this an offense on you, it is a sin against you and against the Lord. So, what do you do? Do you get angry? Maybe. But what do you do with that anger? Well, you could hold it in and suppress it down. But wait, is that what Jesus told us to do? No. 3) So, you must forgive them, because you have been forgiven (Mk. 11:25). 4) Then, you must go to the person. But upon being gently and lovingly confronted with the sin that caused your anger, the person bows up and refuses to listen. They will not admit that they’re doing anything wrong. It becomes clear that they will not listen to you privately. So what do you do? Do you drop it? What about their sin? They’re holding onto it. They are not showing sensitivity to the Spirit. They are not reconciled with you, nor with God. 5) So, you move on to taking 2-3 witnesses. Their sin was out there. People heard and saw it. You take those people, and gently and lovingly confront their sin and have witnesses there with you, to keep the truth before them. But, they still refuse to repent. Now, if your anger was the only thing driving you at this point, you would be sinfully indulging in pride to keep pressing on. But you’ve forgiven them, and you continue to forgive them, even when they are foolishly ignoring their sin. They are not reconciled to you, nor with God. 6) So, you move on to taking the matter before the church. The church has time to confront them with their sin, but upon the gentle, loving calls to repent and trust in the gospel, the person still refuses to acknowledge their sin. So, the church, in obedience to the commands of Christ, puts them out of the church.
This is not an act of anger. It is not an act of revenge. This is an act of love for this person, who in their sin, refuses to see, are even blind to see, that they are separated by sin from you, the witnesses, the church, and now have every reason to believe from God. They will not respond to the call to repent and believe the gospel.
But notice that anger was not present during most of the process. Anger was the catalyst that got you to examine your heart and the context of the offense. Anger moved directly to repentance, and repentance to love, and love to action for this person’s sin. If anger would have been the driving motivation the whole process, then you a) would have let the sun go down, giving an opportunity for the devil, and b) would have further stepped into sin yourself, allowing your pride to convince you that it was you who were the wronged one. Understand, that while we are sinned against, it is God who ultimately receives loss of glory from the others’ sin.
So, are you angry? Do you have reason to be? If not, you need to forgo your pride and repent and trust Jesus. If you do have reason to be angry, what are you doing about it? Are you letting it set in your heart, or are you using it to push you to forgive and seek the offending person’s good?
Do remember, it isn’t just about you and the person at which you’re angry. Satan and his minions are watching, waiting, hoping for you to live in your anger long enough, that they might have a place to launch an attack on God and His Church. You’ve already said you would repent if you found out you were a soldier in Satan’s army. So, are you ready? Will you make war on unjust anger in your life, and war on sin when it is in the lives of those around you? That is the kind of anger worthy of having.
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