So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
I have to admit I don’t always find Paul easy to understand, but this passage is really clear. Maybe, because in this, his most impersonal of letters, he is being careful to give guidance that is more general and not tightly engineered for a particular group to meet a particular need. Whatever the reason, we see a clear list of things that a disciple of Christ should do and not do. In simple terms, this is an explanation of what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. It is quite a test to mark ourselves against this standard!
There is, perhaps, one small exception to the clarity. In verse 26 we are asked to be angry, but not in a sinful way. At first sight this is a strange request, but It won’t take you long to list a few times where Christ’s anger was recorded in the Bible; and this is our guide to non-sinful anger – Jesus was angry on behalf of others, when he saw them being maltreated. Some time ago, a Muslim friend of mine presented me with a sobering thought. “You see Christians around the world being persecuted, tortured and murdered why are you not angry? When we see our Muslim sisters and brothers being hurt we get angry.” Let me finish with a couple of sentences from William Barclay’s commentary: ‘The anger which is selfish and uncontrolled is a sinful and hurtful thing, which must be banished from the Christian life. But the selfless anger which is disciplined into the service of Christ and our fellow [women and] men is one of the great dynamic forces of the world.’ Amen
Lord, I pray that you will give us all the wisdom, courage and stamina to live our lives in the light of your example. Enable us to forget self when we are tempted to become angry because someone has hurt us. Help us to channel our anger towards those who deprive our neighbours of your great blessings and freedoms. Amen.
Alan Yates, Immediate Past Moderator of General Assembly