When You Get Angry: Is it Carnal or Christlike? (Ephesians 4:17-32), Part 1


17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:17-32)

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.”

Someone said, “A rose by any other name smells the same.” In response, someone quipped, “A skunk by any other name smells the same, too!” I am afraid we have a tendency to play the “any-other-name” game with the word “anger.” Hence, Christians have developed all kinds of euphemisms to describe being upset. Instead of saying, “I really got mad,” or “That made me so angry,” many seek to “sanctify” what they felt, thought, or said by calling it “righteous indignation.”

Others say, “I was emotionally upset,” or “It’s my nerves,” or “I was very distraught,” “perturbed,” “agitated,” or some similar circumlocution. Whatever you prefer to call it, I am referring to those situations that trigger chemical changes in your body that occur when you feel inward stress and become upset. Some people have the mistaken notion that all anger is wrong.

Years ago I read a booklet by John R. Church in which he argued that Ephesians 4:26 was wrongly translated and that entirely sanctified Christians did not get angry. What Dr. Church failed to recognize is the Bible speaks of both acceptable and unacceptable types of anger. The anger that is Biblically commanded (Eph. 4:26) and approved by God, I term “Christlike anger.”

The type of anger that is Biblically condemned and is to be put away from the Christian life I term “carnal anger.” Our goal in this sermon is to establish the characteristics of Christlike anger and then seek, by God’s grace, the power of the Spirit, and the engrafting of God’s Word to remove all non-Christlike anger from our lives.

A Definition of Anger

The verb for anger (orgizo), occurring eight times in the New Testament, means, “to become angry, furious, or enraged.” The noun “anger” (orge), occurring 36 times in the New Testament, basically describes the same emotions. Both the verb and the noun are used to describe acceptable and unacceptable angry emotions and behavior.

Characteristics of Christlike Anger

The fact that Jesus, our example (1 John 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:21), got angry proves that there is such a thing as “Christlike” anger.


“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:5). The grammar of Mark 3:5 reveals that Jesus’ anger was tempered by grief.

The phrase, “when he had looked round about on them with anger,” expresses a momentary angry look as contrasted with the phrase, “being grieved for the hardness of their hearts,” which expresses a continuous state of grief.1 Christ was angry with the Pharisees because of their resistance to the work of God whom they professed to serve.

Yet surrounding his righteous anger was a compassionate concern and pity for the Pharisees. He longed to help them, but their morally blind condition seemed to make this impossible. Yes, Jesus was angry. But we see here no chafing and irritated selfishness in it.

Anger at sin, either in yourself or others, if kept within its due bounds, is not only lawful but commendable. This passion of anger was found in Jesus, in whom was no sin. Further, Jesus’ example teaches us that our anger against sin ought to be accompanied with grief and compassion towards sinners.

Anger at sin, either in yourself or others, if kept within its due bounds, is not only lawful but commendable


Ephesians 4:26-32, plus other New Testament passages, provide the data for defining Christ-like anger. The next time you become angry (or whatever you prefer to call it), measure your attitude, words, or behavior by this Biblical criteria.

Christ-like anger is of short duration (Eph. 4:26). Paul wrote, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”

This command does not mean, as I recently heard one person say, “Stay mad at the Devil!” It means the emotions and behavior of Christlike anger are to be of short duration. You are not to go to bed angry. You are forbidden to stay angry. You are not to have a grudge-book or seek to “get even.”

Christ-like anger does not speak unkind, demeaning, or abusive words (Eph. 4:29). We are commanded: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth [unwholesome words or talk], but that which is good [appropriate] to the use of edifying [building others up], that it may minister grace unto the hearers [give grace and may benefit those who listen”].

The term “corrupt communication” is not limited to cursing and name-calling. A person with Christlike anger is careful that what he or she says has “AGE” (that is, it is appropriate, gracious and edifying). Any unkind comments or any ungracious or demeaning words are indicative of “corrupt communication.”

Christ-like anger is not vindictive or cruel (Eph. 4:31, 32). “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger (orge), and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

A Christlike anger does not cause you to lose control over what you say or how you act. If your anger causes you to be less than kind to the person you are angry with or less than tenderhearted and forgiving in the way you talk to him or about him, you are experiencing carnal anger. Carnal anger is sin and must be put away from the Christian life (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).

Carnal anger is sin and must be put away from the Christian life

Christ-like anger is careful not to sin or to give the devil a foothold [an opportunity to cause you to sin] (Eph. 4:26, 27). “Be angry [present imperative] and sin not! [present imperative].” “Neither give place to the devil [do not give the devil an opportunity or a foothold].”

When we experience Christ-like anger, it can easily be pushed into unChristlike behavior by the devil. If we are not careful, we can become self-assertive and manifest wrong attitudes and actions. Even Christlike anger is dangerous. When we get angry, if it is not tempered with grief and compassion as was Christ’s anger, the devil will endeavor to push us over the line of Christlike behavior into that of carnal behavior.

Christ-like anger always acts in harmony with Christian love (1 Peter 1:22). Peter tells us, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”

This love, according to 1 Cor. 13:4-8, “suffers long [is patient], and is kind, is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

If you are not able to manifest these qualities of spirit when you become angry, you are not experiencing Christlike anger.

Christ-like anger is not explosive (James 1:19, 20). “Be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires [does not produce the righteousness that God requires].”

Christlike anger does not “blow up” or “explode.” A person with Christlike anger does not have a “short fuse.” A person who finds himself “exploding” is one who has developed reactionary patterns while living under the dominant control of self-centeredness. Such behavior is not to be part of the Christian’s life.

Christlike anger is guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Carnal anger grieves the Holy Spirit.

If your words and behavior do not fit within these seven characteristics of Christ-like anger, you are not pleasing the Lord. Galatians 5:16 says, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust [desire] of the flesh.” Christ-like anger operates under the control of the Holy Spirit, and He does not lead us to violate Scripture.

Carnal anger is sinful and must be put off!

Originally published in God’s Revivalist.

  1. This is seen by the interchange of the aorist participle periblepsamenos (peribleya, menoj) followed by the present participle sullupoumenos (sullupou, menoj). For further information, see A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament on Mark 3:5.
Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.