Special photo: Susan Bennett
Scripture gives us the truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ: our Savior, Redeemer, and King. Scripture also gives us endless encouragement and instruction on how, through the Spirit, we are to relate to God and one another. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is filled with advice like this. He teaches us not only how we should treat one another, but also how love for one another will help build the church, the Body of Christ, into a unified group of disciples who will carry the gospel and the grace of Jesus into the world. And while lots of good and wonderful things happen in our churches, THIS is the only real reason for our existence: to be ambassadors for Christ, helping in many different ways to reconcile the world to God through Him and welcome others into God’s family.
Ephesians 4:26 says, Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. This is excellent advice! But it’s actually the first part of that verse that always captures my attention. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Look, you’re going to get angry — it’s part of life, part of being human, part of every relationship you have. The question is: What happens after that? Be angry, but do not sin!”
Everyone gets angry occasionally. Some people are yellers — they get angry and say what they think and maybe even raise their voice some. Other folks get real quiet, and won’t talk at all. And then one man told me once, he doesn’t get loud and he doesn’t get quiet — he just gets revenge!
Ummm … that’s a joke, not an option!
I tend to get quiet, which is actually kind of an awful thing to do to the people around you. They know you’re mad, but you won’t get honest and talk about it. I’m working on this. Now when I get mad, I still get quiet for a while, but then I do want to talk about it — not in anger, just to clear the air. And then sometimes, my husband will tell you, three days later I’m STILL talking!
Yellers, you have my sympathy. You’re mad, and it just comes out. The danger is you’ll say something you never meant to say, and really hurt the one you’re mad at. And those words can never really be taken back. It’s sin.
Quiet folks — we end up hurting ourselves. And we don’t do the one we’re mad at any good, either. We sometimes hold in all that anger, and don’t talk about it, and start building resentment, which can turn into bitterness. It’s sin.
There’s got to be a better way.
God is our first resource when we’re angry. Yellers have to take a deep breath and ask God to help them to be calm, wise, and patient. And yellers have to KEEP asking for these things as the conversation goes on! Quiet folks need to take a deep breath and ask God for courage, strength, and wisdom. And when all is said and done, both types have to ask God for His grace, forgiveness, and love — and then offer it to the one they’re mad at.
But in Ephesians 4, the main thing Paul talks about is unity in the church. When we get mad at someone we love, that can put a dent in the relationship, and reconciliation is needed. But when we get mad at someone we worship with, that puts a dent in the mission of Jesus Christ. And reconciliation may be even more crucial.
As a very imperfect pastor, I give my congregation lots to forgive me for! And you can be sure they give me lots to forgive them for. We’re going to get angry. But we’re not to sin. We have to be honest, talk it through, work it through, deal with it, and then forgive and reconcile. Church unity is essential to the work the Holy Spirit wants to do through us or ANY church, including yours.
Ephesians 4:29 says, Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
What? NO evil talk? Not even a little sometimes, when I’m really mad or hurt or upset? The only things I’m allowed to say are things that build people up and show God’s grace? That’s impossible! And on a human level, that IS impossible. We criticize, we judge, we get angry or hurt and we lash out. But once again, God is our first resource as we work on the “not sinning” part of being angry. We’ve got to go to God first.
When we’re angry, we need to tell God the truth. Tell Him everything! Doing this helps get the anger out, which means we don’t have to start fights or tell someone else and get something started. It helps protect our unity. Imagine a church where people pray, talk out their difficulties, forgive and reconcile. Imagine a church where people speak no evil words to one another, but look for ways to build others up and offer God’s grace. Imagine the love and the grace of God that people would see in that kind of unity. Folks would be knocking down our doors to be a part of that, and more and more people would join God’s family.
Remember: this kind of unity not only brings folks to Jesus, it gives us joy as well. It’s not impossible, or God wouldn’t be asking us to do it. Let’s pray for each other, and experience the unity and joy that God offers us.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.