top of page

Created for Community: Be Angry, But Do Not Sin

Lesson: Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2

On Thursday morning, as the centering prayer folks gathered, we left a chair empty for a person who usually joins us. Centering prayer starts on time, and sometimes when people arrive a bit late, they end up sitting over in the easy chairs near the library door, instead of around the table with the group. We all feel bad when that happens, as though someone’s been left out of the circle. So someone quipped, “Let’s make sure no one has to commit the sin of sitting in the easy chairs.” We all chuckled, probably because we all know the word “sin” is a loaded word. We know we all mess up sometimes. Sometimes we mess up royally. But the word “sin” implies that we’ve messed up in God’s eyes – raising the stakes considerably. So the first thing I want to do with this passage is move beyond that loaded word. We could spend years talking about a theology of sin – but let’s not. Not this morning. Let’s agree that what the writer of the letter to the Ephesians is saying is, “Be angry – but do not make things worse.”

Be angry. But don’t make things worse. This passage picks up just a bit beyond where we left off last week. It’s a letter to the church about the church – how to be Christian and how to be the Christian church, which then, as now, faced threats to unity and community. Today’s verses are a list of ethical instructions, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that reflect commitment to Christ’s teachings and that help a community to thrive. The passage begins, “So then…” and this is significant. The verses before this urged the readers to take up the new life granted them by God in Christ, and these verses answer the questions, “What will that look like? How do I do that?” The reference to the devil doesn’t need to be taken literally; it’s a warning against any forces outside the community that are capable of undermining its strength.[1]

I love this passage and particularly the verse that is the sermon title. Be angry, but do not sin. Be angry, but don’t make things worse. Part of the reason I love it is that many of us, maybe most of us, grew up being told we shouldn’t be angry, we didn’t have a right to be angry, in some cases we weren’t allowed to be angry. If you grew up Roman Catholic, you probably remember that anger or wrath is one of the seven deadly sins. That’s pretty serious. Women, in particular, struggle with anger. In an article entitled, “Most Women You Know Are Angry — and That’s All Right,” journalist Laurie Penny writes that female anger is taboo. Women know this. I don’t know whether it’s true that most women are angry, but it is true that most women are pretty good at hiding it, having been taught to do so since childhood.[2] Throughout our lives, women are given all sorts of coded messages that anger is shameful, like “Why so hostile?” or “Don’t get hysterical!”[3] Women worry too much about how men and boys will respond to our anger. One of the things we hear most often, either subtly or explicitly, is that angry women are unattractive. Penny writes, “This is supposed to end the discussion, because more than anything else, women and girls are supposed to want to be attractive.”[4] That – that right there – that just might be just one of the reasons most women you know are angry.

And that’s all right. Be angry, but do not sin. Don’t make it worse. In a burst of emotional intelligence that is exceedingly rare in Scripture outside of Jesus himself, this writer acknowledges that it’s okay to have feelings. It’s all right to feel angry. It’s all right to feel anything, in fact – as a society, we still fail to distinguish between emotions and actions, but it’s what we do, not what we feel, that makes the difference between right and wrong – between making things worse, or making things better. What matters is not how angry you feel, but what you do with it. Choosing to control your rage, to use it for good, is better by far than squashing it down or letting it eat you away from inside.