In the previous couple blogs posts, I’ve explored the person in relation to community from the latter half of Ephesians 4. In the mid-90’s and into the early part of the new millennium, the term community was trending. Everyone was talking about building community. However, the lofty ideals of community were not always very practical. Paul wastes no time getting down to brass tacks. In this post, we’ll look at what he has to say about honesty as an integral virtue in community, and anger management.
on honesty and anger management
For more of these writings see the following posts:
I’m drawing from some very specific sources for my own sake, people I’m hoping to read a little more deeply. The people cited in this post are not only Church Fathers but also Doctors.
i. Community based on honesty
Ephesians 4.25: Therefore, having put away falsehood . . . falsehood is often translated as lying in other versions. It can mean a deliberate lie. It can also mean any manner of deceit.
A lie sets us apart from those around us. The open book of our life is closed and we are no longer fully accessible to those we care about, or who care about us. We are hiding. We do the same thing with deceit. For instance, if we are exaggerating, we are falsely setting ourselves above others. We are isolating ourselves. It’s the same with other forms of lies (i.e. cheating, 1/2 truths, denial, minimization, etc.).
Ephesians 4.25: let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. If lies isolate us from community, then the answer is not just telling the truth.
Being honest with those around us is a profound way of engaging them
We don’t necessarily need to air out all of our dirty laundry, but we can be real. Otherwise, we present a false self to them. If we’re lying or presenting a false front to make ourselves appear better than them, then perhaps we could look at our neighbor not as who he is, but who he is becoming. It wouldn’t hurt to look at ourselves the same way.
Jerome says there is a great mystery in the fact that Paul calls us “members.” This is not language that is commonly used in that era, so the people of God have a unique connection. May our unity drive us to live honestly and openly with each other in the light.
Lies are not only an untruth. Lies are a catalyst for isolation. Therefore truth is only a partial cure. Our longing for community and the necessity of unity with the family of God, will motivate us to tear down our deceitful barriers.
ii. Anger management
Now, we come to one of the most interesting verses on human emotion in the New Testament. The next verse is often referred to by itself, but it is best read with the following verse as well.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. – Ephesians 4.26-27
None of the Church Fathers that I’m consulting at this point think that anger is completely wrong in every scenario. However, they do offer some guidelines.
Anger is permissible, but rage is not
John Chrysostom basically says that it is preferable not to be angry. However, if you do get angry, then don’t get carried away with anything like rage.
Jerome states that anger naturally arises when someone hurts us. Paul understands this, but he is not giving us the freedom to hold on to the anger. Jerome also states that giving in to rage is going too far.
The consensus is that rage is evil in some way. If I allow my emotions to escalate into rage, then I seem to be yielding control to an emotion that steps outside the bounds of Christian accountability.
There is a real connection between anger and the night
A couple of the Cappadocian Fathers speak about anger. Basil the Great says that we are not to let the sun go down on our anger, because we may wake up the next morning with a desire to seek judgment against our brother, instead of forgiveness. Gregory Nazianzen offers the most comprehensive commentary, quoted here instead of summarized:
For just as it is good and well-pleasing to God not to let anger last through the day, but to get rid of it before sunset, whether you take this of time or in a mystical sense, for it is not safe for us that the Sun of Righteousness should go down upon our wrath; so too we ought not to let such Food remain all night, nor to put it off till to-morrow.
Gregory of Nazianzus is saying that anger is like a food that we don’t want to eat right before we turn in for the night. It would be much better to free ourselves from anger than to let it have some harmful affect on the soul if we ruminate on it during the night watches.
Gregory says that this could be a metaphorical “mystical” night. If it is metaphorical, then that seems worse to me in some ways. It means that anger could lead us into some type of darkness for the interior life.
Nonetheless, it would be safe to say that the real night is highly important. The Jewish day begins at sunset the night before. Psychologically speaking, if you’re having a bad day, it’s not because “You got up on the wrong side of the bed.” It’s because you went to bed on the wrong side. This seems to be implicitly understood in Jewish writings and the Hebrew Bible.
The proper interpretation of this verse may very well be an injunction to make room for anger to subside before the end of the day.
The influence of the enemy
There is the possibility that we can yield to the enemy (verse 27). There is a lot to this verse. It is not entirely clear if Paul is only referring to anger, or to the other vices before and after this verse.
There will be more discussion on this verse next week. For now, I’ll point out that this is not talking about demon possession. However, Christians can slowly give up control to our lower nature and to evil. We voluntarily give it up, which means it can’t be taken.
The authors of the New Testament and the great voices of the Early Church do not sugarcoat passages that deal with honesty and anger. I find it amazing that they are openly discussing what we would call anger management, but they’re speaking about God’s people, and directly to us. I’m humbled by the fact that I must always rely on the grace of God, yielding control to Him, instead of my lower desires.