In my previous blog, I argued that in Eph 4:30, grieving the Holy Spirit deals with the way a body of believers acts. If a local church is one in which members serve and build up each other, the Spirit is pleased. If the members do not act and speak in that way, the Spirit is grieved.
Ephesians 4:26 is found in the same section of Scripture. It is also a well-known verse. But it is also one in which I think the meaning is lost among many Christians. Paul says that Christians are to be angry but not sin. They are not to let the sun go down on their anger.
Just as in the case of grieving the Holy Spirit, we also tend to see this instruction in a very individualistic way. If I get mad about something, that is not a good thing. It is probably a sinful thing. If I fall into that sin, I must recognize it as sin and let it go. I must not stay mad past bedtime. I need to confess that sin or let my anger go. If I don’t, I give the devil an opportunity (v 27) to cause a sinful attitude towards whomever I am mad at to fester and grow.
In seminary classes I was told that this is a great verse to use in marital counseling. I am sure many readers of this blog have heard it used that way. If you are mad at your spouse because he/she did something insensitive or stupid, don’t stay mad at him or her. Or maybe your spouse did something that was simply irritating. Maybe he left the toilet seat up for the 100th time. Whatever he/she has done, forgive him/her. Talk to your spouse about it. Make sure you don’t go to bed mad at each other. If you don’t, it will only get worse. The devil will use that to cause problems in your marriage. An extra benefit is that you will sleep better if you don’t go to bed angry. It may save you from insomnia.
All of that is pretty good advice! But it seems to me that this interpretation finds no support in the context. Ephesians 4:25-32 is talking about how a healthy church operates. It deals with corporate actions. In v 25, Paul says that members of the Body of Christ (not a husband and wife) are to speak the truth to each other. Believers are to realize they are members of one another.
When Paul immediately says, “be angry,” doesn’t it make sense that he means we should be angry if we don’t act that way towards other believers? If I see that I am in a church where we mistreat one another, it should make me mad.
This changes the meaning of this verse in a significant way. The anger here is not a sinful thing that I need to confess. The anger here is a righteous anger. It is one that springs from the realization that the church is not operating as a unity. The point Paul is making is that when a local assembly is not acting like it should, immediate action needs to be taken. If not, Satan will use the dissension in that church to try and destroy it.
Famously, the Lord Himself exhibited righteous anger. He was angry at the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees. He was angry when He saw the religious leaders of His day turn the temple in Jerusalem into a place of selling merchandise. He even made a whip and ran people out of the temple.
If we see our church as a place where we are only concerned about ourselves, we should have a similar reaction. Our desire should be that as members of the same body, we build each other up with our words and actions. If we are not doing that, it is okay to be mad about the situation. In fact, Paul commands us to do exactly that.
It is good advice not to go to bed mad at your wife or husband. Paul would certainly agree with that. But that is not his point in Eph 4:26. His point is that when we see believers (including ourselves) forgetting that they are part of the Body of Christ, that should make us angry and we should do what we can to rectify that situation as soon as possible.