God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Anger and the Glory of God

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 7, 2006

Ephesians 4:16-37

The Lord’s Day
Morning

May 7, 2006


Ephesians 4:26-27


“Anger and the Glory of God”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians, chapter four, as we continue to work our way through this great
letter of the Apostle Paul.

Let me remind you that from Ephesians 4:17 to the
end of the chapter, the Apostle Paul is pursuing essentially the same message,
repeated and applied specifically to various areas of the Christian life. And
the message is this: Christians, having been saved by the grace of God…
Christians, having been made new creations through the finished work of Jesus
Christ and the application of that work to us by the Holy Spirit, who has caused
us to die to the old man and to live to the newness of life as new creations in
Christ Jesus…Christians are to live differently from the world. Christians are
not to be like unbelievers. They are not to live in ways that cause them to be
confused with unbelievers as to their hearts, as to their lives, as to their
desires, as to their standards, as to their aims and goals. They are to be
distinct in this world.

And the Apostle Paul has continually said that is
important for at least two reasons. One, he says it’s important for the display
of God’s glory to the world.
The Apostle Paul says our living distinctively
as Christians gets God glory in this world. As the world looks at the church and
has to admit ‘those people are different, and they manifest a reality of God at
work in them that we cannot deny.’ And thus God is glorified by believers living
distinctly as Christians. And so, especially as we live together distinctly as
Christians, God gets glory in the church.

But there’s a second concern that Paul has, and
it’s a concern that’s been very much on the face of this whole chapter,
Ephesians 4, and that is the concern for the unity of the body.
The Apostle
Paul knows that when we do not live distinctly as Christians it compromises the
unity of the body. It sows dissention in the body. It divides the body. And
whereas God is to get glory in this world by the diversity of the church living
together in unity and fellowship, in harmony, in mutual service and
forbearance…whereas God is to get glory from that, when we do not live
distinctly as Christians, it robs God of glory in the church by bringing about
disunity and dissention.

Last week we looked at truth-telling. Very
obviously, truth-telling promotes the unity of the body of the people of God, it
promotes the unity of the church, and thus it witnesses to God’s glory displayed
in His church.

This week we come to the issue of anger. So Paul
goes from stepping on one of our toes to stepping on another. Before we hear
God’s word, let’s look to Him in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word. Your
word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way. Your word discloses the
secret things of our hearts, things that are often hard for us to see. Your word
is truth. It shows us the way of life; so we pray, O God, this day, that You
would show us the truth, that You would open our eyes to see it and appreciate
it, and to embrace it; that by Your Spirit You would apply that truth to our
hearts, and that we would live as You have taught us in Your word, in humble
reliance upon the grace of Your Holy Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word, in Ephesians 4:26:

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do
not give the devil an opportunity.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

The Apostle Paul has already urged us in this
passage to put on the clothing of Christians, so that in our life together we
are to manifest the reality of God’s saving grace at work in us by the way that
we are different from the world. And that will serve not only to foster our
fellowship and communion and shared life together, our closeness and unity and
mutual serving of one another, but it will also bring glory to God in the world.
And interestingly, when Paul gets specific about how we put on the unique
clothing of the new man, of the new creation, of the Christian, it isn’t about
articles of clothing at all. There’s not some special outfit that the Christian
wears that distinguishes him or her from the world. It’s actually qualities of
character and behavior, grace-wrought attributes of our character, that serve as
the clothing that witnesses to the world that we are different, that God has
been at work in us.

And last week he mentioned the quality of
truth-telling…that we were to wear that; just as a fireman puts on his uniform
to go fight a fire and a policeman puts on his uniform to go serve as a public
servant and to police the city, so also the Christian puts on truth-telling as a
component part of the new life in Christ. And that truth-telling sets us apart
from the world, bears witness to God’s glory, and actually promotes unity in the
church, because, whereas untruths divide the people of God, rupture the
fellowship of the family of God, truth-telling brings the people of God
together, and grows the people of God together, and increases our union and
communion and our experience thereof with one another.

And now he comes to anger. It’s interesting what
Paul thinks is important for the unity of the body and for the witness to the
world, isn’t it? We’ll be very interested when we get to the end of this list to
ask the question, “Why did Paul pick these examples?” I think by the time we get
to the end of this list, we’ll be very impressed that, under the inspiration of
the Holy Spirit, he has indeed chosen very important practical examples of how
to live distinctly as Christians.

Today he comes to the issue of anger, and I want
you to see three things that he says to us about anger, and about how it can
either rob God of glory and bring disunity to the body, or in our biblical
governance of it, it can bring God glory and contribute to the unity of His
body.

I. A specific prohibition
against sinful anger.

The first thing I want you to see is right
there in verse 26: “Be angry, and yet do not sin…” the Apostle Paul says. This
is a specific prohibition against sinful anger. Paul is giving a command to
Christians. He’s not saying be angry and yet do not sin, and if you do that you
can save yourself. He’s not saying do these good things and you will be saved.
He’s saying, no, God has by His Spirit brought you from darkness into His
marvelous light. He has caused the old man in you to be crucified with Christ,
and you are a new creation; therefore, live out of that glorious grace of God
that He has given to you in Jesus Christ. Put on the clothing of a Christian,
and do not give way to sinful anger. His command is, here in verse 26, “In your
anger, do not sin.”

Now, before I say what that means positively, I
need to stop and say at least two things about what it does not mean negatively.
First, this is not a command to be angry.
Don’t read the passage “Be angry”
as if the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Look, it’s five o’clock. You haven’t been
angry yet today. To be a good Christian, you need to be angry now.’ This is not
a command. He’s not saying it’s really important for you to stop and be angry
right now. Both sides of that and need to be held together. “Be angry,
and
yet do not sin.”

In other words, Paul is saying ‘In your anger, when
you express anger, make sure that you are not expressing anger sinfully, or
expressing sinful anger.’ It’s a command not to be angry, but to refrain
from sinful anger. That’s very important for us to say.

Now, that having been said, it leads us to a
second thing we need to say. This is not a declaration by the Apostle Paul that
all anger is sin.

I remember hearing a liberal seminary professor once
say, “I can prove that Jesus Christ was a sinner.” And he turned in the several
passages in the Gospels to where Jesus, in righteous indignation and hot wrath,
cleansed the temple of those who were selling the various sacrificial animals,
overturning the tables of the money lenders and driving them out. And he said,
“Aha! You see? Jesus got angry. That proves He was a sinner.” Wrong! All anger
is not sin, and the Apostle Paul’s very words to us about refraining from sinful
anger imply that. But it is explicitly stated for us in both the Old and New
Testaments about God and about Jesus.

Did you know that in I Kings 11:9 it tells us that
God was angry with Solomon? Now, you’ll have to go and look at I Kings 11:1-8 to
see why God was angry with Solomon, but I think you’ll agree after you read
those verses that God was justified in being angry with Solomon; in fact, that
God would not have been a good God, a righteous God, or a just God, if He had
not been angry with Solomon.

Or if you were to turn to II Kings 17:18, in that
long passage where the author of Kings stops to tell you why it was that the
Northern Kingdom disappeared and ceased to exist…and for 17 verses he tells
you all the things that the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had done.
They had caused the people to worship Baal; they had caused the people to
worship Asherah; they had caused the people to worship Molech. They had given
their own children in flames in sacrifice to false gods. And when you get to II
Kings 17:18 and you find out that God was angry with Israel, everything in your
soul says, “Lord, You were right to be angry with Israel!”

And notice, by the way, God in both of those
instances was not simply angry at sin, He was angry with sinners.
We
often say God loves the sinner and hates the sin, and there’s something very
important and true about that truth. But you also need to understand that God is
angry with people, and not simply with acts. He was angry with Solomon when
Solomon married many foreign wives, who led him astray from his fidelity and
devotion to the one true God. He was angry with Israel when Israel strayed into
idolatry. His anger comes to rest on people. Does not the cross teach us that?
That His righteous anger found its place on the head of His own Son?

But you say, “Oh, that’s the Old Testament.” Read
Hebrews 12:29 recently? It’s the passage after the author of Hebrews has said
that we don’t come to the thunderbolts and lightning of Mount Sinai; we come to
Mount Zion. How does that chapter end? “Our God is a consuming fire.”

You say, “Yeah, but that’s not Jesus.” Read the
Gospels lately? Remember in Mark 3, when Jesus is going about healing. It’s the
Sabbath Day. It’s the seventh day; it’s the Old Testament Lord’s Day. And there
are people actually following Him around trying to catch Him breaking God’s law,
and He’s trying to heal people who are in desperate need. And those people are
standing around waiting to accuse Him, to see if He’s going to do something
unlawful. And He turns to them, and He says, ‘Let me ask you a question: Is it
more righteous to heal someone on God’s day, the Sabbath Day, or to attempt to
snuff their life out?’ because that’s what they were trying to do with Him. They
were trying to find something that they could get on Him so that they could put
Him to death. And they didn’t say a word to Him. And do you know what it says in
the next verse? That He was angry! And then He healed.

He was right to be angry. They were taking what God
had given in His Law to be a blessing, and they were turning it into an
instrument to do wickedness, and it vexed His soul. The same thing when He turns
over the tables of the money lenders and drives out those who were selling the
sacrificial animals in the temple. This isn’t some sort of an irrational display
of sinful anger. This is righteous indignation on the part of the Savior.

The Book of Revelation, in Revelation 6:16, tells us
about “the wrath of the Lamb.” Oh, there is some anger that is righteous, to be
sure. In fact, my friends, B.B. Warfield said,

“A man who cannot be angry cannot be merciful. The person who cannot be angry
at things that thwart God’s purposes and God’s love towards people is living too
far away from his fellow men ever to feel anything positive towards them.”

But that’s not Paul’s focus today, but we needed to
say that in passing, because if we see this as a blanket command saying that all
anger is wrong, we’ll have missed Paul’s point.

One day over a dozen years ago, a woman came into
Dr. Doug Kelly’s office in tears. And she was wrestling with anger, and she
poured out her story to Dr. Kelly. Her husband had been unfaithful to her —
maritally unfaithful. And she wanted to save her marriage, she wanted to see
them reunited in life and in their marriage together, but she was struggling
with anger. And she said, “Dr. Kelly, I’m wrestling with my anger, and I’m so
sorry that I’ve got this anger in me. It grieves me that I’ve got this anger.”
And he simply responded to her – and I can’t actually repeat in polite company
the words that he said to her, but he said to her, “You ought to be angry! You
have every reason to be angry. It would be sinful for you to not be angry
about what your husband has done. It’s a gross violation of God’s Law! God is
angry about what your husband has done!”

Now there are some kinds of anger that are right,
but that’s not Paul’s focus here. Paul’s concern for us is that so much of our
expression of anger is sinful.
He’s telling us here to be on guard against
sinful anger. He’s giving us a strong command against sinful anger because it
undermines the unity of the body and it robs glory from God, and the Apostle
Paul wants to frame it for us in that way so we’ll recognize what a cosmic issue
this is. The Apostle Paul is wanting us to understand…Do you realize that when
you indulge in sinful anger, you rupture the body of Christ? Do you realize that
when you engage in sinful anger, you rob God of glory?

The very fact that Paul would pause and give this as
an example of something important for the unity of the body and for God’s glory
in the world is a reminder of how insidious anger can be in taking over our
hearts. It can do it, and we don’t even realize that we’re eaten up with anger.
And so the Apostle Paul is raising the stakes for us. He wants us to understand
how serious the issue of anger is: it robs God of glory; it undermines the unity
of the body. And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Do not let your sinful anger
divide the body of Christ. Do not let it rob God of glory.’

And you say to yourself, “How do I know that I’ve
got a problem with sinful anger?”
Well, it may have been manifested to you
by your friends. They might have shared with you troubles that they have had
with you because of your sinful anger. Or maybe it’s your husband or your wife
who has spoken to you about your sinful anger. Or maybe it’s when you assess
your anger you realize that you get angry because you don’t get what you think
you ought to get. And you think about it, and you realize, “You know, it’s
really about me. This anger is really about me. I think I’m being kept from
getting something that I ought to have had, and I’m angry about it.”

Maybe it’s in the attitude that you have towards
people that you’re angry with — there is a malice in your heart. There is in
your anger, though you may try and justify yourself as being justifiably
indignant, justifiably wounded, and therefore justifiably angry, you don’t see a
real concern for the well-being of that other person in the way you react to
them, in the way you express your anger. And all of these are clues, you
understand, to show you that you’ve got a problem with anger.

We’ve got a culture around us encouraging us to
indulge in this kind of anger, to stand upon our rights, to demand that we get
what we deserve, to protest about it when we don’t get it. And that kind of
anger breaks apart marriages and families, and turns husbands against wives and
wives against husbands, and parents against children and children against
parents, and congregations against themselves, so that brothers and sisters in
Christ are estranged because of anger. It’s like a fire out of control, and the
Apostle Paul says ‘Dear friends, do you not realize that this is a matter of the
unity of the body and the glory of God? The unity of the body and the glory of
God are at stake in you dealing with this issue!’

II. A command to contain and
limit anger.

The second thing that the Apostle Paul says
you see there in verse 26. Not only does he give us a weapon against anger by
drawing it to our attention, because so often we’re not even aware that we have
a problem when we do; and not only is he giving us a weapon against it by
reminding us how serious it is. So often we want to deal with our own sin, our
deepest sin, by ignoring it.

Denial is our favorite way of dealing with
things, especially in this culture.
We want them to go away, in part because
they’re so painful to us to deal with that we just want to ignore them out of
existence! We’re embarrassed by them, we’re shamed by them, and we don’t want to
deal with them. We want to shuffle them off to the side and pretend as if they
are not there, and hope that the consequences go away. And it never works. And
here’s the Apostle Paul just saying to us ‘Do you realize what’s at stake here?
These things don’t just go away. There are always consequences. There are always
results. There are always things that flow from these things. God’s glory is
robbed. The body’s unity is disrupted. Your souls are damaged.’

He not only gives us these as weapons to fight
against anger. Notice what else he does: he gives us a command to contain and to
limit our expression of anger: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Paul is saying put a terminus on the expression of your anger. Put a limit on
it. Put a terminus, put an end on your anger. Don’t nurse anger. Don’t allow it
to go on. Don’t put it in its little flower pot and water it and feed it, and
encourage it to grow. Don’t let the embers smolder.

J.B. Philips, who wrote an expanded paraphrase and
translation of the New Testament, gave us the phrase — translating, or
paraphrasing Paul in this passage — “Never go to bed angry.” That’s a good rule.
It’s a rule I have not kept, to my shame. And it is seldom more applicable than
to a married couple. You see, the Apostle Paul is saying anger is so serious —
you need to recognize God’s glory is at stake, you need to recognize the unity
of the body is at stake — you’ve got to find ways to contain it, or it will
spread like wildfire and it will destroy everything in its wake.

Paul is saying don’t cherish anger, because if you
do, you’re going to divide your family, you’re going to divide the body, you’re
going to destroy your friendships, you’re going to rob God of glory, you’re
going to break the unity of the church.

III. A command warning about
anger and spiritual warfare.

And then, to raise the stakes even more, in
verse 27 he says, “And do not give the devil an opportunity.” Now he’s got to
bring the devil into this thing! You see, the Apostle Paul is giving us here a
command and a warning about anger and how it relates to spiritual warfare. He
sees it as an opportunity that Satan often uses to destroy us.

Paul is saying, in verse 27, don’t give the devil,
don’t give the accuser, an occasion to entrap you in sinful anger. Paul knows
that anger is hard to handle responsibly, and so the evil one lurks, ready to
exploit us, ready to provoke us, ready to prompt us, ready to sail with the
wind. Our sinful anger is kindled, he is ready to fan the flames…he’s ready to
blow wind into those sails and help us go along in the expression of that sinful
anger, because the devil wants to use our sinful, prideful, selfish anger to
breach the fellowship of the body and rob God of glory. And he wants to use it
to destroy your souls. And when he can do all three of those things at the same
time, he loves it! When he gets to rob God of glory, destroy the fellowship of
the body, and send your soul on the way to destruction, it’s three for the price
of one for him! He loves that! And the Apostle Paul says ‘Friends, understand
that your battle with anger is a matter of spiritual warfare, because when you
are expressing sinful anger, the evil one is at your shoulder ready to do his
nefarious work.’

Frederick Buechner, the Christian writer, now in his
eighties, says this about anger in his book, Wishful Thinking Transformed by
Thorns:

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds,
to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the
prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome
morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back…in many
ways, it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are
wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at that feast is you.”

And Satan knows that…that we can consume ourselves, and
we can destroy what is most precious to us – our husbands, our wives, our
marriages, our parents, our children, our families, our friends in Christ, our
churches – with our sinful anger, and rob God of glory, all at the same time.
And the Apostle Paul says it is of the utmost importance that we do not give the
devil an advantage or opportunity to act, with our sinful anger.

But you know, the sheer power of anger unleashed
in our hearts — does it not in and of itself remind us of our need for God’s
saving grace and God’s sanctifying grace?
Because if there is anything that
can prove to you that you do not have the power to reform yourself, to change
yourself, to save yourself, it is anger. Because when you are wounded and bitter
and indignant about what has been done against your person and the way that you
have been robbed of what is rightfully yours, there is no earthly power that can
un-root that bitterness from your heart. Only the saving grace, only the
sanctifying grace of God can avail.

And so, if you’re here today and you don’t know
Jesus Christ, you’re not resting on Him for your salvation, you’re not clinging
to Him, acknowledging Him as your Lord, you’re not worshiping Him as your God
and Savior, here’s my plan for you to conquer anger……….OK, did you get
that? There is no plan to help you conquer your anger — except to avail yourself
of the saving grace of God.

And if you’re here today and you’re a believer, and
you’re wrestling with anger, there’s nothing like anger to show you that you
can’t fix yourself. You can’t self-generate your own growth. You have got to
have the comforter, the paraclete, the Holy Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit of
the Lord Jesus Christ, at work in you in order to grow, because this anger is
something beyond our power to change.

John Calvin wrote 500 years ago,

“We feel every day how incurable is the disease of long continued anger, or at
least how difficult it is to cure it.”

And so the battle that we wage against anger just drives
us back to our need for the grace of God.
But when we go back to the grace
of God and we seek that grace from God, let us not forget how crucial it is for
us to fight this battle. God’s glory is at stake. And what a display, when the
world can look and see people who have been angry transformed into people who
are able to trust in the providence of the living God, despite their
disappointments and trials! The world knows that the world can’t supply that;
that only God’s Spirit, only God can do that. What a glorious thing it is to see
people who have been consumed with anger reconciled through repentance and
forgiveness, so that those who were estranged are now friends, dearest of
friends. That’s the power of God’s grace at work. It’s a witness to God’s glory
in the world, but that’s what’s at stake in our warfare against anger.

The unity of our fellowship is at stake. If we will
not deal with our anger individually, it will and does affect the unity of our
fellowship, and that affects our witness to the world and robs God of glory, if
we do not attend to it.

My dear friends, let us pray that God will give us
the grace to see our anger; to hate our anger; to repent of our anger; by His
Spirit to grow out of the bitterness and the pride and the self-centeredness
that feeds our anger; to forgive one another; to forbear with one another; and
to express the life transformed by the grace of Christ that will witness to the
world that God is at work in us.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, we need You every hour. We
especially need You when we’re dealing with anger. Lord God, You know how I need
Your help with sinful anger. You know how my sinful anger grieves You and hurts
those I love, and wounds the unity of the body, and robs You of glory. And I
suspect, O God, that there may be a few other people praying that prayer with me
right now. We need Your grace, O God, to address this monster. And as we are the
problem, we cannot be the solution. Only Your grace can prevail. O God, make us
determined to battle with Your grace against this foe. For Your glory, for our
unity, for our souls’ and lives’ everlasting good, we pray it in Jesus’ name.
Amen.

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