The Truth of God’s People and Anger Management in View of God’s Forgiveness

Fredrick J. Long, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament, Director of Greek Instruction, Asbury Theological Seminary

The Truth of God’s People and Anger Management in View of God’s Forgiveness

We all have to deal with anger, and if not anger, then the temptation to remain embittered at some wrong done to us or to those close to us. Paul addressed this matter head on in Eph 4:25–32. What makes this passage so significant is that it contains the first set of commands in Ephesians and follows a very significant call to follow the teaching of Jesus (4:20-21), putting off (ἀποτίθημι) the old self, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new self made to be like God (4:22–24). These verses are amazing enough on their own, but they essentially tee up what follows; in this article, I’d like to focus on these commands, especially the lists that conclude in 4:31–32.

Significantly, the first command in 4:25 is from Zechariah 8:16 which delineated how the Israelites were to live repentantly in view of God’s desire to restore his people. God’s expectation for His restored people is reaffirmed here: Under the new covenant Paul urges believers to start by “putting off [ἀποτίθημι] falsehood, and speaking the truth with one another” (4:25). Notice that the same verb “putting off” (ἀποτίθημι) is used in 4:22 and 4:25. This indicates that Paul in 4:25–32 is providing crucial specifics of “putting off” and “putting on.” Getting rid of falsehood is the start; being truthful is the beginning of restoration. This is true today! In our divisive political climate, this is my prayer for our nation. “Lord, allow us to be truthful, to move past lies and falsehood and to accept the truth and be truthful in all that we say and do.” God’s people especially need to exemplify “truth speaking in love” which should be their hallmark (see especially Eph 4:15).

It is not accidental that Paul turns next to the issue of “anger”––“Be angry, but do not sin.” There is a place for righteous anger, and Paul directs us here to Psalm 4. We need to understand that the Psalmist does not seek his own revenge, but submits the situation to God. Indeed, anger is hard for us to manage. Paul’s statements on anger, however, are further elaborated in 4:31. Here we must see that all of Eph 4:25–32 is arranged chiastically. This chiasm is based upon key words (placed in bold) and at the center is working or speaking the good for the benefit of those in need.

  1. Life Together: 4:25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. [Zech 8:16]
  2. Anger Management: 4:26-27a Be angry, and yet do not sin; [Ps 4:4] do not let the sun go down on your anger,
  3. Spiritual Dimension:  4:27b and do not give the devil an opportunity.
  4. Good Work to Meet the Need: 4:28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must work, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he would have something to give to one who has need
  5. Good Word to Meet the Need: 4:29 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, in order that it would give grace to those who hear.
  6. Spiritual Dimension: 4:30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  
  7. Anger Management: 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
  8. Life Together: 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving yourselves, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. 

However, I want to focus on the list in 4:31 that I memorized decades ago—“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (NIV1984).

31 πᾶσα πικρία “all bitterness”

                καὶ   “and”

             θυμὸς  “rage”

                καὶ   “and”

             ὀργὴ   “anger”

                καὶ   “and”

             κραυγὴ  “shouting”

               καὶ    “and”

             βλασφημία “slander”

                                 ἀρθήτω  “get rid of”

                                 —ἀφʼ ὑμῶν  “from you [pl.]”

                                 —σὺν πάσῃ κακίᾳ. “with all malice.”

When you see a list in Scripture, I would urge you to stop and consider what it may reveal about the nature of life and being a follower of Christ.  This vice list in Eph 4:31 shows polysyndeton, which means that each item is separated by its own “and.” This offsets each vice to be considered on its own. In fact, as we look carefully we see that the list describes an inner to outer progression. It starts and builds inwardly with “bitterness”, then moves to “rage” (θυμός; a word describing more of an inner feeling), and then escalates with “anger” (ὀργή; this word moves outward to action). Then, “anger” moves outwardly first describing “shouting” presumably with the individual(s) wronging us and then addressing another third party with “slander”––at this point our bitterness/anger has triangulated outward to infect other people.  Finally, the list comes to a climax with “all malice” directed towards the one(s) hated. Paul commands believers to “get rid of” these escalating vices.

          Importantly, in 4:32 Paul shows us the remedy to the temptation to bitterness and anger. This verse may be displayed as follows:

4:32 γίνεσθε [δὲ]  “[Moreover,] be becoming…”              

                   (1) εἰς ἀλλήλους χρηστοί,  “kind to one another”

                   (2) εὔσπλαγχνοι,  “well-compassionate”

                   (3) χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς, “forgiving yourselves”

                   (4) —καθὼς καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν Χριστῷ ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν. “just as also God in Christ forgave you.”                                                      

The initial command form uses a present imperative form of γίνομαι. The final “just as” clause shows the basis and God as our comparator for our forgiving ourselves, which is prerequisite to then having compassion and being kind towards one another. The καί after the καθώς is adverbial (“also”), giving additive or comparative force (“just as ALSO God in Christ has forgiven you”). So, in this list, even though there is an initial priority on “kindness to one another” (it is placed first), successively in the ensuing description, one discerns the basis upon which that virtuous action is even possible: compassion (of the deep gut-bowels kind, εὔσπλαγχνοι), forgiving oneself, and ultimately knowing that God in Christ has forgiven us. Interestingly, the three different kinds of pronouns used (all underlined above) also reflect this movement: reciprocal first (one another), reflexive next (yourselves), and finally the personal pronoun (you) as the ultimate basis. So, there is structure of relationships that forms the basis of expected and ideal communal living that entails mutual kindness. Isn’t Paul amazing??? How insightful into human relating and God’s relating to us.

If you would like to reflect further on these verses, you may like to hear my sermon on Eph 4:31 in context in my Asbury Seminary chapel homily, “The Bitterness of Anger, and God’s way out” from June 7, 2011. Also, I have produced an 11 minute “Greek Matters” video on Eph 4:31–32 located here

One response to “The Truth of God’s People and Anger Management in View of God’s Forgiveness”

  1. Pedro Magalhaes says:

    So good and insightful… thanks a lot! May God help us to live this Scripture.

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