Growing up, I was never angry. Anger was sinful, so I could never be angry.
One day I discovered this in Ephesians 4:26: In your anger, do not sin. God knew I would feel angry, and he asked me to manage my response.
I can’t tell you how liberating that was. For the first time, I could ask myself the question God asked Cain, “Why are you angry?” (Genesis 4:6). Owning the emotion was the first step to processing it. My anger often came from frustration, sometimes from injustice, occasionally I’d transferred it from another issue. Identifying and owning these emotions (affect labelling) was a stepping-stone to a healthy response.
I should have known that feeling anger wasn’t sinful. God feels anger when he sees his children hurting each other. Sometimes I wish God would intervene, prevent the injustice, give the perpetrators what they deserve. But God doesn’t react to evil with evil. When he’s angry, he doesn’t sin. Some of us may think the Lord is too compassionate, too gracious, too slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).
God calls his people to be like him. Psalm 4:4 advises, Tremble, and do not sin. The Greek translation (Septuagint) interpreted “tremble” as be angry, though it could be any emotion that disturbs our equilibrium (anger, fear, excitement, …). The Psalm advises us to take time out (when you are on your beds) to process the emotion (search your hearts and be silent) in order to avoid an ungodly response.
Appreciate the ancient wisdom.
Then note the new level of urgency in the New Testament. The Psalm advised people to sleep on it (on your beds), but Ephesians advises we deal with our anger before we go to bed: Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.
Picture a farmer in the New Testament world. He’s angry with a neighbour, stewing as he walks the furrows. Perhaps he’ll visit his neighbour to sort it out after work. But by the time the sun goes down, he feels exhausted and heads home to his wife and children, the evening meal and the bedtime stories. He falls asleep. Next morning as he heads back to the field, the issue with and the neighbour is still playing on his mind.
Ephesians insists that rebuilding relationship is the number one item on our To Do list. Don’t leave it till tomorrow. Don’t leave it till tonight. Stop work. Do it now.
Why? Because reconciliation isn’t optional. It’s the heart of the gospel. It’s God’s priority. What God achieved in Christ was the reconciliation of the nations into his kingdom. That makes us one new humanity in his anointed:
Ephesians 2 15 His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
Our priority is therefore to embody the reconciled life, the gospel peace that makes us one in him:
Ephesians 4 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
That’s why reconciliation is your number one priority today. The admonition to sort it out before sunset flows out of the preceding statement: We are all members of one body (4:25).
There’s a posture for reconciliation: “I was angry when … and I want to talk about it because we belong together.”
That person is not your enemy. Open the door for your estranged friend. Otherwise you open the door for our real enemy (4:27). More on that next time.