Some Christians have the strong belief (or at least the opinion) that believers should never be angry. Often in ministry sessions people relate something that was said or done to them, find themselves exhibiting anger about it, and quickly recant that emotional display with the words, “I’m sorry. I know as a Christian I am not supposed to be angry.”
Really? Then why in Ephesians 4:26-27 does Paul make the following statement? “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” And this is not some new revelation; Paul is quoting and paraphrasing King David’s words in Psalm 4:4: “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”
Apparently Christians are going to get angry but it is not sin – yet.
It seems part of what makes our sometimes legitimate anger sinful is when we embrace it, without intentional reflection, beyond “the sun going down.” While it may well be that Paul is directing us to resolve our anger literally before we go to bed, it is also quite possible that this may refer to the sun going down on seasons of our lives. For example, when the “sun goes down” on my childhood as I enter adolescence, I tend to close the book on that chapter of my life and focus on adolescent things (like girls, grades and zits), “forgetting” much of what went on in my childhood (or so I think). The same occurs when I transition from adolescence to young adulthood, then to adulthood, then to marriage, then to middle age, then to my age (old).
So where does the unresolved anger from each of those seasons of life go? Nowhere. It just stays inside and simmers. And if we ignore it when it periodically surfaces (because Christians are not supposed to be angry), it will skew our life (as sin always does).
For example, I did ministry with a lady many years ago who had endured horrific sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her father. Interestingly, over multiple sessions, she never indicated or manifested any anger towards her father. We subsequently discovered the twofold reason for that: one was simply that the sun had gone down on that season of her life and it was hard to find the anger; secondly, to be angry about what had been done would have required accepting that it had really happened and she simply did not want to believe she had been the victim of such abuse.
I distinctly remember the session when Jesus had peeled back enough of the insulating lies for this woman to actually connect with the anger associated with these childhood events…and it was explosive. However, the adult Christian part of her quickly apologized for being angry; I suggested we ask Jesus if He wanted her to know anything about her outburst. Here is what He said to her: “You have a right to be angry. What was done to you was horribly sinful, evil and wrong. But do you want to hold on to it any longer?” In a moment the Lord revealed two incredibly important things to her: 1) she had a legitimate right to be angry, for what was done to her had been evil and unjust; and 2) even though she had a right to it, she also had a choice about holding on to it. She acknowledged both and forgave her father.
Jesus is a pretty good authority on such issues. As God, He was angry about our sin and had a right to be, for what mankind (us) had done to Him was horribly evil and unjust. And yet He chose not to hold on to that anger but, for the sake of love, to forgive us, even to the point of dying for us.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, just as in Christ forgave you.” “In your anger do not sin.”