“Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27 (CEB)
When I was growing up, I was taught that anger was wrong; therefore, I wasn’t supposed to even feel angry. As I grew up, I realized it was impossible to NOT feel anger at times, and for years after I was on my own and trying to “make my way” in the world, I struggled with how to deal with my anger. I suspect that many others have had the same issue.
For some reason, we often read these verses in Ephesians incorrectly, as if we are supposed to be above human emotion and not have any anger. Yet that isn’t what this passage says. The first phrase is “Be angry without sinning.” Okay, so how do we do that? It’s a matter of how we express our anger.
If we “stuff it,” we will carry it around and become rather unpleasant people. I have a parishioner who finds nothing but the worst in any situation. If you ask, “How are you doing?” the response is a shrug of the shoulders and a muttered response of some kind that indicates life is horrible for this person.
If we express our anger loudly, others stay away from us and want nothing to do with us. We are labeled as short-tempered, obnoxious, or unstable. And not sinning could include a whole list of behaviors that go with anger. Most of the time in relationships, anger only turns itself inward on us, hurting us more than anyone else because it can destroy relationships.
But maybe the writer of Ephesians wasn’t talking just about us as individuals! Remember, the letters were written to congregations, so the intention seems to be more how to get along as a church community, as well as how we interact with others in the world.
Justifiable anger can be productive. Jesus was justifiably angry when he saw the poor of his day being exploited, excluded, and excommunicated from the temple and society in general. His message, over and over again, was to care for the poor, reach out to the marginalized, accept and help others. He was justifiably angry when he overturned the money changer’s tables in the courtyard of the temple because they had made a mockery of a holy place.
When we are angry as individuals, often we are using the word “I” most of the time. When we are justifiably angry at injustices, we often use the word “they” or “we.” When it’s all about ourselves, we are also open to sinning against someone else and God. We forget who we are and Whose we are as we push our own ideas and fail to honor and listen to others. When it’s about others, we have compassion and find courage to be the voice for those who have no voice.
Of course, we are going to feel anger. We are, after all, human beings who have very human feelings. Yet, we also have been given freedom of choice. We can choose to let go of the anger, to forgive, to reconcile, to move on and let go of whatever it is that has made us angry toward another person. It’s far more healthy to get it out of our system in positive ways so we don’t destroy our own ways of living for Christ.
Channeling our anger to make a difference turns it into a passion for justice, for acceptance for all. May we seek to be constructive in our response to anger rather than destructive. Some good questions to ask ourselves might be, “How will I use this anger? Will what I say and do help or hurt? Does the way I work through my anger or express it show Christ in my life?”