In understanding today’s command, it’s good to differentiate emotions from actions. We all feel emotion. At various times, we feel sadness, grief, frustration, excitement, happiness, and anger. Such feelings come naturally and are not sinful in and of themselves. It is how we act on those emotions that can be sinful. Emotion is internal and not directed against people. Action is external and can be directed positively or negatively toward others.
Today’s passage is, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” (Eph 4:25-32) If we fail to deal with anger constructively and we engage in sinful expressions of anger, we give the devil some leverage against us.
This passage comes several verses after we’re told not to walk like unbelievers in the futility of an unbelievers mind (Eph 4:17-19). Instead we are to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).
Instead of allowing the emotion of anger to turn into sinful actions, we are encouraged to “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:30-32)
We all allow our anger to get the best of us at times. When we are wronged or feel unfairly disadvantaged, we naturally want to retaliate or “fix the problem” in the fastest way. But when our response involves “rage, anger, harsh words, and slander”, we have crossed a line. We have sinned in our anger and given the devil a foothold. Sometimes, long after we should have moved on, we harbor a desire to revisit the wound and hang on to the anger. This only leads to “bitterness”. We must yield to the Holy Spirit and trust in His power to overcome such sin.
Being a Christ follower doesn’t make us perfect, healthy or rich. Our hope is where we will spend eternity, and how we live our lives here in this sinful earth is due to the reminders we must seek to hear, such as “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). But for us to receive those remembrances from the Holy Spirit, we must keep ourselves in God’s Word and in prayer so that we don’t give the devil a foothold.