“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 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. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:25–29, NASB95)
After writing about putting off the old self, having the mind renewed, and putting on the new self, Paul then goes on to give some specific examples. The first one is “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor….” It’s pretty basic. If you have a problem with lying, then stop lying. We read in Scripture that it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:16; Titus 1:2), and as people who are called to live according to His ways we are not to lie either. Before becoming Christians, we had a different master, the devil, who we read in John 8:44 is the father of lies. Rather, being united in Christ we are to speak the truth to one another as Christ would speak to us. He has brought us together in one body, and we are to treat the entirety of that body honestly as we submit to Christ who is the head.
Taking this a bit further we can look back to Zechariah chapter 6 from where this instruction is previously given. “‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. ‘Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the Lord.”” (Zechariah 8:16–17, NASB95) This is how God had directed His people Israel to live, and this is how He instructs us to live as well—as people who speak the truth not to bring others down, but to create peace and to promote godly living.
I don’t think it any accident that this next instruction follows the previous. Paul continued, “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.” Clearly we see from this that all anger is not sin, but the line between not sinning in our anger and letting it turn to sin can become very thin. There are times when we see Jesus angry at the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and religious leaders of the Jews, and He spoke strongly against them. We also know from Scripture that He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. But I don’t think it much of a stretch to say that a significant percentage of the times when we become angry it is not over issues such as this, but because our desires were thwarted in some way. In all anger we are told to reign it in. The appropriate anger we are to process before God and not nurse it so that it grows into sinful resentment or something else. And the sinful anger, we are to cut it short and deal with it before God.
The quote here is from Psalm 4:4 where we read, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (Psalm 4:4, ESV) In the next verse the psalmist continued, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:5, ESV) Putting them together we read that we are to take our thoughts of anger captive and even ponder them on our beds before we go to sleep with the result being us becoming silent in the face of it. The reason we can do this is because we put our trust in the Lord. God is just. He is our defender and our help, and He will act. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5, ESV)
The other side of not dealing with out anger is keeping the door open for the devil to poke and prod. Paul said that it is very important that we set anger aside, even “justified” anger so that the devil does not have an inroad into our hearts. When we do this the anger is given room to fester and make our hearts sick. It affects our attitudes and our actions. It hinders our walk with Christ. We hold onto the role of defender and corrector in our minds, and we don’t relent until it is satisfied which most commonly results in great hurt. Nursed anger and peacemaking to not go hand in hand. The solution is to hand the anger to God and trust Him to work it out. As we do this we can even ask if there is a more appropriate response that might preserve the oneness we have in Christ as we read in Matthew 18:15. “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, NASB95)