"The Right Way to Angry" on Ephesians 4:26 by Sean Baker - July 16, 2023
Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Paul continues over the next verses to contrast their old way of life, and the new life–the life in Christ–the life worthy of the calling…and he continues in vs. 25
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
In the early morning hours of January 19, 2015, an intrepid reporter for the Indianapolis Star newspaper published a report that shocked American sports fans to their core. You see, the New England Patriots football team had just defeated the Indianapolis Colts, when it was discovered, hold on to your seats, Telkwa Church, it was discovered that the footballs used by the Patriots offense were inflated to only 11.5 pounds per square inch. I know, I know. It was hard for me to hear, too. Of course, as we all know, the proper inflation of a football is between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, putting the Patriots footballs 1 full pound per square inch underinflated.
The ensuing controversy became known as ‘deflate-gate,’ because of the similarity in magnitude between this scandal and the scandal that prompted US President Richard Nixon to resign.
When the coach of the New England Patriots finally emerged to make a statement the next day, there were no fewer than seven live television trucks at the team’s facility. His announcement would interrupt broadcasts on CNN and Fox News, and would be broadcast live around the world. I can only assume that life here in Telkwa ground to a halt as you waited for an update from Boston.
For two weeks, physicists from around the United States published articles examining the impact of under-inflating footballs.
One of the largest newspapers in the country called for the team to be banned from the Super Bowl; they called for the coach to lose his job and for the owner to forfeit his team. People were really upset about that missing pound of air pressure.
But to me, the most interesting moment came a few days later when the team’s star player, Tom Brady, spoke during a news conference. Mostly, as far as I could tell, Brady lied and smiled and tried to change the subject but at one point he stumbled upon a truth that probably most Americans needed to hear: he said, you know guys, it’s not ISIS.
You remember ISIS? They were that group terrorizing thousands of people across Iraq and Syria for about three years. They were at the peak of their powers at the time. They were terrifying.
And of course, the star player was right: There were so many other tragedies far more deserving of our attention and our outrage. Deflate-gate was not ISIS. And maybe that’s a good rule of thumb when interpreting our passage today.
As some of you may know, in vs. 26, where the NIV says, “In your anger do not sin,” Paul actually says, “Be angry and do not sin.” In the Greek, be angry, and do not sin are separate commands. Which means, Paul actually tells Christians to be angry. But then, it gets kind of confusing, because only four verses later, Paul is listing things that are bad for Christians, things we need to get rid of and without a trace of irony, he includes, #3 on his list, “Get rid of anger.” Same word in Greek.
So what’s it going to be: should we be angry or get rid of anger?
And I suppose one way to answer the question is to apply what shall be henceforth known as the ‘deflate-gate’ principle: is this ISIS or not? What exactly are we getting angry about?
This is an important question to ask because I think as a friend of mine put it recently, the spirit of our age really is a kind of hatred of enemies. He put it this way, “Media has hijacked our basic human social desires. We have been pushed into self-reinforcing echo chambers.” And then this line really caught me: “The new virtues of our age are outrage, grievance, and self-righteousness.”
In other words, anger is good now. You see, you’re not just supposed to disagree with people now, you’re supposed to be outraged by them. If you don’t understand something, don’t be curious, don’t ask questions, get mad about it.
Social media, talk radio, cable news–are like corrupt alchemists: they take the raw material of this confusing, complex, globalized world and simplify your response into one satisfying emotion. Anger. One of the most powerful human emotions has really become the defining mood of our time. At least our time in front of screens.
What makes this so tragic is that anger can be such a helpful emotion. Anger will motivate you in a way almost nothing else will.
There were a lot of really smart people who spent a lot of time in early 2015 thinking about football air pressure. Anger can do that. It gets people out of their seats; it gets people engaged.
And there are a lot of issues in our world that could use a lot more people getting out of their seats. We could use some anger around here. It just seems we’re so bad at directing our anger at the right object.
Most of the things we get angry about, most of the things that get us out of our seats and engaged are not even remotely worthy of our anger. I think the three things that have made me most angry in the past few months. To be honest:
First, the internet at my house kept going in and out a while ago, and I had to spend 30 minutes (probably more like 10) on the phone with the internet company to get it fixed. That made me real angry.
Second, our garbage disposal stopped working.
Third, a loud car stereo woke me up at 2 in the morning a couple of weeks ago. So that’s it. Just being honest. Of all the things that have happened in the last month, those 3 are probably the things that made me most angry.
Keep in mind, during the past few weeks, the war in Ukraine rages on; Sudan remains stuck in Civil War with something like 3 million people displaced in the last three months, a train crashed in India, killing nearly 300, global temperatures are at their highest recorded levels, basically all of Canada is on fire…
And yet you know what really got me fired up? That garbage disposal. Don’t get me started on the garbage disposal!
I guess what I mean to say is: we ought to be careful about Paul’s command to be angry. I suspect the vast majority of things that make us angry don’t stand a chance to pass the ‘deflate-gate’ principle.
So, normally, the way I’d approach the rest of this sermon is to get us to focus on ISIS level issues. I want to go global with my anger.
I want to talk about corrupt government in Honduras. Self-dealing in Ottawa. I want to talk about violence against Christians in Nigeria, child trafficking around the world. Those are things worthy of our anger.
But before you call your MP. Before we go global…I think we probably need to look at the context of our passage today. Because this book we call Ephesians, was written to a church that in at least one way was very different from our own. That is, it had virtually no political or global influence.
So one thing that makes the Christian Reformed denomination in Canada a little unique is that you all have this office of contact with the Canadian Government. So these CRC folks in Ottawa will meet with MP’s and talk about things of concern to Christians: like resettlement and treatment of refugees or better education within indigenous communities.
Representatives from our little denomination get face time with some of the most powerful people in one of the most powerful countries in the world. Shoot, in my little town in Michigan, our member of congress in Washington is a member of a local CRC. The leader of the majority in the State government is a member of a different local CRC.
So when we get excited about issues in Honduras or Nigeria; when our Christian anger burns about injustice in Ottawa or Victoria, we can call up our MP’s or our reps and they or probably their assistant will listen to us.
This was not the case in 1st Century Ephesus. When this letter was written, the Christian movement was barely 20 years old. Most people hadn’t heard of it. And those who had heard of it mostly thought it sounded weird. Christians were different. They were suspect. They weren’t like other people. They didn’t worship the emperor. They didn’t hang out at the temple to Artemis. As far as we can tell, this Ephesian church had maybe 50 people, on a good Sunday. A bunch of them were women, who had basically no power back then. A bunch more were slaves. Rest assured, the local MP did not take calls from this church. They were nobodies. And if they weren’t nobodies before they became Christians, they’d become nobodies fast, cause Christianity was no short-cut to getting ahead in life in the 1st C.
So when Paul urges them to be angry, he almost certainly was not following the ‘deflate-gate’ principle. He wasn’t talking about ISIS. His perspective was much smaller.
Remember, Ephesians is mostly just talking about two things. What God has done for us, and how we should respond. It’s not a treatise on societies or economies; it’s not about how to run a government.
This was a house church. And their biggest concern, at least from Ephesians 4; their biggest concern was just getting along. They seemed to fight a lot. And this makes sense, because they are all really new at this Christian thing. They’re just figuring this out. They’re dealing with basics: honesty, stealing…for them this is new stuff. And Paul is saying, listen, you’ve changed. When you became a Christian, you gave up an old life, you’re putting on a new one.
And so when anger comes up here…I think mostly what he’s talking about is getting angry about the things of the old life that still cling to us. He’s not talking about getting angry about child-trafficking or legislation for refugee resettlement. Though I think Christians today ought to be fired up about that. We should be at the leading edge of that. But the focus of Ephesians 4 is local. It’s much smaller.
It’s about you, what remnant of the old life clings to you? What sin are you holding on to, that you need some motivation to work on? He says whatever it is: get angry about that. Don’t just chill and think, “Oh, I’ll get to that later.” Get angry.
This is what makes our present culture of anger so destructive. What the talking heads and social media algorithm do is give you a sense of satisfaction–they direct your anger externally–they give you someone to blame, and it feels so good to blame them.
But Paul, Paul doesn’t see this anger directed outwardly, he wants the anger directed internally–to the sin within us. To the stuff of our old life that needs to go. And he adds a sense of urgency. He says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Actually, in Greek, it’s a little bit different again. I think I used to think of this as: if you get angry about something, don’t let that emotion simmer overnight. And clearly, that’s good wisdom. Don’t go to bed angry. But the word for anger at the end of vs 26 is different from the word for anger at the beginning of vs 26. At the end, it’s not orgismos, it’s paraorgismos. It’s not referring to the emotion itself. It’s referring to the cause of the emotion. In other words, a more literal translation of vs. 26 is, “do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.”
In other words, it’s the same idea that Jesus brings up in Mark 9: “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!”
Do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. In other words, if you’ve got a sin issue, get up out of your seat. Get engaged. Be angry. Paul wants a sense of urgency.
Now, some very important context: Does Jesus love people even people with sin problems? You bet. Sinners with sin problems are the only kinds of people Jesus loves. This is not a salvation issue. If you can’t shake that sin, God’s not going to give up on you. It’s not a salvation issue. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. We need a category between salvation issue and not important at all. Jesus is serious enough about it, he says “Cut it off.” Paul’s a little more diplomatic; he just says, “Be angry.”
So, don’t get me wrong. I want us engaged in ISIS issues. I think it’s every Christians calling, especially with the privileges that you still mostly enjoy here in Canada. But I can imagine how we could use the global stuff to minimize the stuff right in front of our noses.
You can imagine how someone would do it: what does God care about the porn on my computer, or the gossip in my conversation, or the little corners I cut in my expense report. …that stuff is nothing compared to Civil War in Sudan. And it’s sneaky cause it’s true: we should care about Sudan. But the temptation then is to discount the importance of what God is trying to do right here, right now with you. There will always be causes that are bigger, grander, more global and impressive than your porn problem or cheating on your taxes.
But the point Paul has been making all along is that this move from the old way of life to the new way of life–this is why he came–this is what the gospel can do–the global stuff? Sure. But the small stuff first. He came for that. He came for you. Stop making excuses for staying in the old life. Stop pretending the old life is normal or unchangeable or insignificant. Get angry. God came for Sudan, yes but he also came for you.
Even for the stuff that on the global stage may seem petty. That daily boring struggle–he says–don’t give up, don’t lose heart, don’t give the devil a foothold, don’t let these sins fester… God has a deeper, richer, more meaningful life for you. Stop settling for scraps. Get up out of your seat, get fired up and get engaged. This new life is for you. And this new life is only possible because of what we will celebrate at the Lord’s Table …