Truth and Anger in Ephesians 4:25-26

4.25   Therefore,  laying aside falsehood,  SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOUR, for we are  members of one another.  

4.26  BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger ...

Ephesians 4:25ff seemed to me like a bit of a muddled section.  Paul seems to make a list of imperatives about the type of lives that the Ephesians should live, but it reads like he gets sidetracked before coming back around again.  This is largely due to, I think, reading Psalm 4:4 with in Ephesians 4:26 outside of both the Psalms context and the preceding verse in Ephesians (v.25).  I do not think that 4:25-26 are two imperatives but one, spoken both positively and negatively.

Ephesians 4 starts out with Paul offering an extended interpretation of Psalm 68 (4:8-16), afterwards continuing on his original (main) topic of walking "in a manner worthy of the calling in which you have been called", taking off the old self and putting on the new (v.19-24).

When we arrive at verse 25 and 26 Paul quotes two Old Testament scriptures, Zechariah 8:16 and Psalm 4:4.  The 2 verses at first glance, seem to have nothing to do with each other, but Paul intends to combine them into one teaching.

Zechariah 8:16

Zechariah 8 is concerned with the remnant coming back to Jerusalem (the temple/God's presence) and resuming their role as the "people of God" (v.8).  Zechariah encourages them to listen to the prophet and there will be peace and prosperity.  God wants to do good for Jerusalem (i.e. the Holy Mountain, Temple).

In return, God asks that they, "speak truth to each other"

Both the immediate context and some of the out lying verses seem relevant to the Ephesian audience.  First the moral instructions in Zechariah are a little longer than what Paul quotes:

  • Speak the truth with ones neighbour
  • Judge with truth and judgement for peace (Psalm 4!)
  • Do not devise evil
  • Do not love perjury (Psalm 4!)
God hates these things, therefore they are not to do them.

But the larger section also is relevant to the Ephesians, since they are a Gentile congregation, a few verses later Zechariah tells Israel that the Gentiles will want to seek God with the Jew because they heard that "God is with you"

The verse therefore, seems to be chosen by Paul 3 reasons:

  • Deals specifically with speaking with truthfulness
  • It ties together Paul's temple language in with his ethical teaching which will continue on through chapter 5
  • It affirms that the Gentile hearers are now part of the "people of God" (Zech 8:23) and therefore subject to the ethical teaching that Paul is about to give.
Paul is still running with the temple imagery (God's people now form His temple) and applying the relevant Zechariah verses to the Ephesian churches - this is how the people of God act towards one another - because amongst them is the presence of God.  Paul will now say the same thing, negatively, through Psalm 4:4

Psalm 4:4

Where 4:25 offers a positive affirmation to "speak truth", this verse in a roundabout way tells the Ephesians not to speak falsehood of others (when angry).  As a link that binds these verses, Zechariah 8:16f also warns not to love perjury, which is very close to what Ps. 4 is all about.

This may not be apparent on an initial reading of the text, but when one considers Psalm 4 as a whole (rather than just the verse), it starts to make sense.

In Psalm 4 David speaks to God requesting that his prayers be answered (v.1).  He then starts speaking to the "sons of men" (those in authority [according to Word Biblical Commentary on Psalms] - v.2) - How long will they seek vanity and falsehood?  How long will they ruin his reputation?  David is more assured (even while writing) that the Lord will hear and answer his prayers, since he knows his position before God.

David addresses the "sons of men" again and tells them, "Be angry, and sin not".  The sin in this case is speaking falsely about someone else.  Even if they do not say a word they will feel the guilt about their angry thoughts as they lay to go to sleep.  Sin, in this context then is speaking falsehood.

Additional note: "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" (v.26) could easily be a warning based on the latter half of Ps. 4:4 warning of a pricked conscience while lying down to sleep.

Ephesians 4:25-26

Paul's argument in Ephesians then affirms/warns about speaking truthfully/falsely using Zechariah and David to bring about the message.  

First he quotes Zechariah about speaking truthfully to ones neighbours because they are members of one another.  In other words, they are, corporately, the temple of God (Ephesians 2:22) and this is how those who truly worship God act.  To act in any other way would grieve the Holy Spirit who resides in this temple (Ephesians 4:30).

Next, Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, if you are angry (with part of the temple, people in the Church) do not sin - which in the context of the Psalm (and the latter context of Zechariah 8) is speaking falsely about that person. Ephesians 4:26b also fits nicely as a reflection on Psalm 4:4b.

Therefore, what is often seen as 2 imperatives: 1 - speak truthfully & 2 - don't sin when angry, is actually one imperative communicated both positively and negatively: Speak truthfully about everyone, even when angry.  We are, after all, where the Truth dwells - His temple.