On Sunday mornings I am preaching through Paul's letter to the Ephesian Church. (He did write it to the Ephesian church and not to ______ church, right scholars?) Last week we dealt with this verse:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26).
It is an unusual verse. In the construction, it appears that Paul commands us to be angry. Anger is normally portrayed as a destructive and bad thing throughout the Scriptures. James tells us that "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires" (James 1:20). Paul himself warns us of anger in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and in Galatians 5:20. Even here he tells us not to "let the sun go down" on our anger.
Surprisingly to some, not all anger is wicked. Some of it is good. Anger against injustice, slander, debauchery, pride, and etc. and not only good, they are healthy. Jesus Christ Himself was provoked to anger by obstinate behavior (cf. Mark 3:5). Many times in the Bible God is described as angry (cf. Deut. 9:20; 1 Kings 11:9; Joshua 7:10). So we cannot conclude that anger is always bad. However, I believe that we can conclude that anger is always dangerous.
When God gets angry, it is not safe for those against whom He directs His wrath. When God gets angry, He brings justice and grinds out wickedness. He punishes, and He delights to punish evil. But God is a perfect judge, and God knows when justice is served. He does not err in His anger. He does not hold grudges. We reflect God in that we have the capacity to be angry, but we do not have his perfect discernment, self-control, and everlasting love to temper our rage.
Anger is a gift to us. It is a gift given to incite us to act immediately against injustice. When we feel angry we are supposed to act righteously against what we perceive as an evil, and we are to proceed in humility, fearing our own culpability and our lack of love, justice, and ability to rightly judge.
It is also dangerous because when we are angry and ignore the injustice, we turn bitter. Anger is like a fire that consumes. It seethes to correct. If it is not properly channeled to evil, it will consume us with bitterness and hate. These are abominable evils that we must fight against. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. That means deal with it, one way or the other, before the end of the day. You are not allowed to let even "good" anger remain. Do not go to bed angry.
So how is anger dealt with? How do we keep it from corrupting us and defiling us? Faith in God as judge is how we let go of our anger. The first way to deal with anger is to deal with the situation through wisdom and grace and faith. If the situation is one that we cannot change, then we must throw ourselves on the justice of the all-seeing, all-knowing judge. Here is what I mean, and this is how I deal with anger.
There are those who have been horribly sinned against. You may be one of those. Someone has wronged you or a loved one. They may have stolen from you, falsely accused you, slandered your name, harmed a loved one...the list of ways for men and women to sin against one another is endless. You may be angry, and rightly so. But the ability to bring justice and peace to the situation is beyond your control. Here is your solution: Take it to the judge.
Here is where your faith must triumph, Christian. Do you honestly believe that God will punish sin completely, swiftly, fairly, and justly? I do. It is the only thing that keeps me sane. There are one of two ways that He does this:
1. The sinner will pay for their sin in this life and in the life to come.
I have counseled people who have been grievously harmed by the wickedness of others. I have counseled those who have been molested as children. People who have been slandered for doing right. I have counseled people whose reputations have literally been ruined by false accusation. It angers me. It makes my blood boil, and my heart cries out for justice. This is not wrong. It is right.
I take my case before the judge, and I counsel them to do so as well. I believe that no matter how terrible the sin, in the day of the Lord's visitation He will punish in such a way that even the one who is molested will be satisfied and say, "Justice is done." I believe that, and so my anger melts away. The judge will do what is right. He will punish the sinner.
2. He has poured out His wrath against that sin that angers you on His Son.
This opens the door for the ability to forgive even the most horrific crimes. Just as I have faith that God will punish the unrepentant wicked to the satisfaction of all who love truth, I believe that Jesus suffered terribly on behalf of the wicked who have believed. Can Jesus have suffered enough to satisfy a victim of abuse? Will they know the suffering of Messiah on behalf of a sinner to the extent that they will say, "It is enough! Justice is satisfied!" I believe that we will. That is why Paul goes on to say this to believers:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
There is freedom in knowing God the Just and Justifier. It is a freedom from bitterness and anger and frustration and worry and pain. It is freedom to sleep well, knowing that we are watched and cared for by a just and loving judge. He never sleeps or slumbers, and He will not overlook iniquity, and He will not rest until "justice roll(s) down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). How good and sweet that is to me; I pray that those of you today who have suffered at the hands of wickedness can find peace in the bosom of the Just God of Heaven.
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