What does Ephesians 4:26 mean when it says in your anger do not sin?
Ephesians 4:26 starts by saying, "Be angry and do not sin" (see also Psalm 4:4). Does this mean that anger always leads to sin? As Christians is it wrong to be angry? Certainly not! The primary issue this verse addresses is how we choose to handle our anger. This can be a confusing phrase, but when we look at the surrounding verses for context, the meaning becomes a bit clearer.
The second half of Ephesians 4 focuses on the new life in Christ for believers and what righteous living should look like. Right after talking about renewing our minds and walking in our new God-given selves, in righteousness and holiness, Paul goes on to say: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:25–32).
Anger is a natural human emotion. It may be one of the more difficult emotions we experience, but there is nothing inherently wrong in it. Just as we feel happy when someone surprises us with a thoughtful gift, we feel angry when we are mistreated by another person. It's okay to have the emotion of anger, but we need to handle it in honoring and constructive ways. Dwelling on angry emotions without healthily addressing them leads to sins such as bitterness, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, and hatred, to name a few. This is why Paul instructs us to not let the sun go down on our anger—the longer we hold onto it, the more likely we are to give the devil a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:27).
Though God is slow to anger, the Bible frequently describes God as having anger. His anger is always righteous, just as He is (Psalm 7:11; 103:8; John 2:13–17). Romans 1:18 says: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." God's anger is sparked by disobedience and unrighteousness. If we allow unrighteous anger to linger within our own hearts, it will suppress the truth, giving the Devil a foothold.
As believers, we should seek to mature to the point of addressing our anger promptly with graciousness and not allowing it to linger unnecessarily: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19–20). Through the renewal of the Holy Spirit, we have the power to "be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ" (Ephesians 4:32, CEV) instead of responding in bitterness or unforgiveness. The fruit of the Spirit helps us to respond graciously when we are angry (Galatians 5:22–23).
Hebrews 12:14–15 exhorts us: "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled." When we feel anger, we have two general options: we can respond in mercy (to ourselves and others) by graciously and quickly addressing the source of the anger. Or, we can respond (or not respond) out of frustration and instead allow a root of bitterness to enter our lives. When we are angry, it is a good time to take a step back and remember God's graciousness to us. It is not wrong to feel anger, but it is wrong to cling to it tightly.
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