November 15, 2019

John Stott on Ephesians 4:26–27 and Christian Anger

‘Be angry, but sin not’ is an echo of Psalm 4:4. It seems clear that this form of words is a Hebrew idiom which permits and then restricts anger, rather than actually commanding it. The equivalent English idiom would be ‘in your anger do not sin’ (NIV). Nevertheless, the verse recognizes that there is such a thing as Christian anger, and too few Christians either feel or express it. Indeed, when we fail to do so, we deny God, damage ourselves and encourage the spread of evil.

Scripture plainly teaches that there are two kinds of anger, righteous and unrighteous. In verse 31 ‘anger’ is one of a number of unpleasant things which we are to ‘put away’ from us. Evidently unrighteous anger is meant. But in 5:6 we are told of the anger of God which will fall on the disobedient, and we know that God’s anger is righteous. So was the anger of Jesus [Mark 3:5]. There must therefore be a good and true anger which God’s people can learn from him and from their Lord Jesus. I go further and say that there is a great need in the contemporary world for more Christian anger. We human beings compromise with sin in a way in which God never does. In the face of blatant evil, we should be indignant, not tolerant; angry, not apathetic. If God hates sin, His people should hate sin, too. If evil arouses His anger, it should arouse ours, too. ‘Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake thy law [Ps. 119:53].’ What other reaction can wickedness be expected to provoke in those who love God?

It is partiicularly noteworthy that the apostle introduces this reference to anger in a letter devoted to God’s new society of love, and in a paragraph concerned with harmonious relationships. He does so because true peace is not identical with appeasement. ‘In such a world as this,’ comments E. K. Simpson, ‘the truest peace-maker may have to assume the role of a peace-breaker as a sacred obligation’ [Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. NICNT (Eerdmans, 1957), 108].
John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), 185–186.

Substitute the word “hate” for “anger” in the above quote and the same can be said about it.