Another one of those flaming missiles is found in Ephesians 4:26-27. Once again the Scripture explicitly identifies one of Satan’s strategies. “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.” Like unforgiveness, anger apparently is something that also moves us from walking in the Spirit to giving an opportunity for Satan to defeat us. We usually are not too concerned about this because the Scripture doesn’t prohibit anger; in fact, it seems to acknowledge that we will be angry. We simply are admonished to process it and get over it by the end of the day.
We rationalize that anger is an involuntary reaction. I don’t know of anyone who has said, “Here is the situation: I have been offended, so I think I’ll be angry.” That’s not how it happens. When something ticks you off, you don’t process it and come up with an angry reaction. Anger is an involuntary emotion; it is a psychological defense mechanism. You have been threatened; it may not be a physical danger, but your self-esteem has been challenged; your rights have been offended. Someone has been disrespectful, infringed on your space, or demeaned your idea. You respond with an emotion that is anger. We can easily justify it, and often we disregard it by claiming, “I’ll get over it.” But James 1:20 reminds us of the obvious, “For man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”
Let’s consider how Satan uses anger to get an upper hand in our life and attitude. Anger always has an object. It’s focused, not on something but usually on somebody. Hopefully you have never given expression to road rage when someone cuts you off in traffic, but how did you feel? I remember riding with one of our veteran missionaries soon after arriving in Indonesia. There was no such thing as orderliness in the midst of the traffic congestion there. This missionary beat on the side of his car and yelled, “Get out of the way. Don’t you know we came to help you?” His actions certainly didn’t reflect a servant heart of love and respect. What triggers rage? It is the need to assert yourself or defend your rights. It is the opposite of dying to self and is obviously not a reaction that is led by the Holy Spirit. Anytime we cease allowing the Spirit to lead, we are back into the selfish nature of the flesh.
The object of our anger is usually a person. Someone is at fault; someone is to blame. The verses that follow this passage in Ephesians say, “No rotten talk should come from your mouth, but only what is good for the building up of someone in need, in order to give grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness” (Eph. 4:29-31). Anger leads to a root of bitterness and a critical spirit. Outbursts of criticism, venomous put-downs, verbal abuse, and harsh, judgmental words do not glorify the Lord! That is why anger is one of Satan’s favorite weapons. You are the instrument he is using, but God is being deprived of a patient, selfless spirit in you that would bring Him glory.
You don’t have to lose your temper to express anger. Anger can be expressed with gentle condescending remarks, cutting sarcasm, or a judgmental attitude. Anger is about self and standing up for one’s rights, consistent with the nature of the flesh. It’s not serving and loving others, bearing wrong, and giving of oneself. I hope you have learned never to use the “why” question in your home or with colleagues. It is a subtle way of expressing anger. “Why did you leave that glass on the edge of the cabinet where it would fall and break?” “Why did you park the car where it would get dented?” How can anyone respond to a question like that? It puts people in a position of having to say, “Well, I’m stupid. I’m dumb. I was negligent.” How can they defend themselves? You’re expressing anger in a subtle way that puts down someone else. It is not edifying and usually precipitates dissension.
People who have a problem with anger are not just those with a short temper; they usually fly off the handle and then get over it. I’ve known and worked with a lot of such people, even among missionary colleagues. When they lose their temper, they usually realize it immediately, acknowledge it, and ask for forgiveness. That is a testimony of their walk with the Lord. A great many other people are seething with anger within, whether due to low self-esteem or a sense of rejection. Something within them is characterized by anger. This can be a much greater problem because it gives Satan a stronghold in their life.
The apostle Paul advised those in Corinth to “put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face” (2 Cor. 11:20). In 1 Corinthians 6:7, he challenges them with the rhetorical question, “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?” The implication is that it is better to suffer passively the consequences than to bring dishonor to Christ by reacting in anger and attacking someone in response and creating conflict.
When it comes to the matter of anger, we need to be careful about expressing what we justify as “righteous indignation.” Yes, I get angry when I see the courts approving homosexual marriages. I get angry about abortion rights and other moral social issues. But we had best leave indignation up to the Lord. He said, “Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay” (Heb. 10:30). That’s not our task. He has not authorized us to express anger; we are to walk in holiness, selflessness, loving one another and led of the Spirit, the fruit of which is self-control.
Jerry Rankin and Beth Moore, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2009).
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