Jesus remains a popular figure in our culture despite our society’s refusal to acknowledge its biblical roots. Unfortunately, however, Jesus is often respected for the wrong reasons. Non-evangelicals typically see Him as a “flower child,” an honorary member of the 1960s–1970s counterculture who possesses a vapid understanding of peace, love, and “people power.” This Jesus never gets angry at sinners.
Of course, the New Testament paints a far different picture of Jesus. The true, biblical Christ does get angry at sin, even the sin of His disciples (Matt. 16:21–23; 23:1–26). How could it be otherwise? Jesus is perfectly righteous, and holiness cannot endure the presence of transgression without responding in wrath (Lev. 10:1–3; Rom. 1:18; 1 Peter 2:22–23). The Lord’s anger is always a righteous anger.
Putting on Christ in a life of discipleship does not mean we are never allowed to get angry. In fact, we must get angry at heinous sin. Paul presupposes this truth in today’s passage, for he tells us to be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26). Anger may be sinful or righteous, and the solution to sinful anger is not to refuse ever to be angry. The answer, instead, is to be mad only on appropriate occasions.
Still, it is exceedingly rare for human anger not to transgress God’s will. Commenting on Ephesians 4, John Calvin lists three ways in which anger can be sinful: “The first is when our anger arises from slight causes, and often from no cause whatsoever, or at least from private offenses.” A short temper that refuses to overlook minor flaws manifests sinful anger (1 Peter 4:8). Our anger is also sinful “when we go beyond the proper bounds, and are hurried into intemperate excesses.” Fallen anger, not righteous wrath, is disproportionate to the degree of the offense (Matt. 18:21–35). Finally, we sin “when our anger, which ought to have been directed against ourselves or against sins, is turned against our brethren.” Let us not get mad at the speck in another’s eye but ignore the log in our own (7:1–5).
Sinful anger certainly gives a foothold to the Devil, but even righteous human ire can degenerate into unrighteousness if we are careless (Eph. 4:26). Consequently, it is important to defuse anger as soon as possible. Dealing with our anger before we go to bed prevents it from festering into something worse (v. 27).