Be Angry and Do Not Sin (2 of 2)

Eph 4 24-26

(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we looked at grammar, today we examine the context and theology of the text.

The paragraph starts with “therefore” in 4:25, which links the verses following to the principle preceding. Paul taught the Ephesians the principle of putting off the old self (4:22) and putting on the new self (4:24). The verses following named 7 areas in which this principle is to be applied:
1. old – falsehood (9th commandment) vs. new – truth (4:25);
2. old – anger (6th commandment Mt 6:22) vs. new – letting go (4:26);
3. old – steal (8th commandment) vs. new – work, share (4:28);
4. old – unwholesome word vs. new – edification (4:29);
5. old – bitterness, wrath, anger (6th), clamor, slander (9th commandment) vs. new – kind, tender-hearted, forgiving (4:31-32);
6. old – immorality, impurity (7th), greed (10th commandment) vs. new – what’s proper (5:3);
7. old – filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting vs. new – giving of thanks (5:4).
Note that the structure of the seven pairs is always putting off something bad first, then putting on something good. Secondly, except for 4 and 7 concerning talk, the other 5 all deal with the 6th to the 10th commandments.

Is anger always wrong? Not necessarily, because anger or wrath is God’s response towards ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), as God’s nature is diametrically opposite to sin. Jesus drove out the money-changers and dove merchants from the temple (Mt 21:12; Mk 11:15; Jn 2:15). He looked at the Pharisees with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart (Mk 3:5). He had righteous indignation, but He did not sin (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). So anger in and of itself is not wrong, it depends on the motive.

How did God manifest His anger? Did He take action immediately so as not to let the sun go down on His wrath, or did He delay judgment? In Jesus’ examples cited, He acted right away, because that was the right time. In the Father’s case in OT history, He delayed until the fullness of time (Ga 4:4). Rom 3:25 This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed. So in God’s case judgment need not be immediate to avoid the sun setting on His wrath.

Having said that, Jas 1:19-20 says:
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
While man can and do follow God’s example by being angry with unrighteousness, in general man’s anger is sinful and do not achieve God’s purpose.

You interpreted “be angry” as an imperative, having a righteous indignation against unrighteousness. This avoids the apparent contradiction with v 31, which commands we put away all wrath and anger. Theologically you can separate anger from sin, so this is a possible interpretation, though I think not likely in view of the context.

The structure of the passage consists of a principle followed by 7 applications. Putting aside 4:26 for the moment, the framework of all the other 6 follow an “eliminate the negative, cultivate the positive” pattern, with the negative behavior being what’s prohibited in the second half of the 10 commandments. While 4:26 could go against the pattern and be a positive command to have righteous indignation, the evidence on “angry” being negative is stronger. This is especially in view of v 27, “do not give the devil an opportunity”. Had righteous indignation been the intended meaning, it would not have given the devil an opportunity. However, if negative anger was meant, it most certainly would. So based on the context I believe the traditional interpretation is the correct one. The alternative is possible but unlikely. Hope this helps.

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