Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:26b (continued) “. . .and sin not:. . .”
Anger, a God-given emotion, has a rightful place in our lives, but must be carefully controlled. As the life of Jesus showed, we must become angry only for the right reasons: for the glory of God (JN 2:13-17), and for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Also, once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, self must be calmed, the anger has to be subdued.
Another warning–even when our motives are right, we must not overreact in deeds or words. A Christian who is angry remains responsible for what he does or says. Our deeds and words must always be under control.
A fit caused by anger is never a minor matter. An uncontrolled temper is as dangerous as a fire-breathing dragon in an explosives factory. A temper fit is a keg of dynamite exploding into misery for everyone nearby.
Ill temper has brought prominent men to their knees. In a fit of anger, Herod the Great killed the only woman he ever loved. He went to his bed and hugged her corpse until it began to rot. In a moment of rage, Alexander the Great killed his best friend. In remorse he went into a drunken stupor from which he never recovered. Temper fits toppled Moses. One cost him forty years tending sheep on the back of the desert; another cost him standing on Canaan’s land. An uncontrolled temper is serious business.
Anger is sinful when it carries us beyond proper bounds, and into intemperate excesses. Anger can throw one into a tantrum appropriate only for bees and wasps. The body becomes deformed, muscles tense, limbs tremble, fists are clenched, jaws clamped, face flushed, ears turn red, eyes get big and bulge, veins pop up in the neck. Deeds and words run amok, objects are thrown, doors slammed, people slapped and beaten, ugly words shouted. We lash out, sacrificing others to our cursed lack of control.
Anger spinning out of control wreaks absolute havoc in our homes. Often we store up anger caused at work or school. Then we come home and spread its vile venom on those we love most. Every one of us has done or spoken things in anger we would give anything to retrieve. Though forgiven, some actions and statements leave permanent wounds. Words spoken in anger can leave deeper scars than physical blows. Among church families, more children are scarred by anger than by alcohol, drugs, and liberalism combined. Allow me to correct the old nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will crush me.”
Esau’s anger destroyed his family. It forced Rebekah to send away her beloved Jacob, whom she never saw again. The history of my own family was forever altered by anger. In a dispute over some dogs, a neighbor killed my great-uncle Henry Hill in 1909. His younger brother Hosea Hill was so angered that he planned to kill the neighbor. The family thus had to send Hosea away to Memphis, where he lived the rest of his life.
“Be ye angry, and sin not.” This is not an admonition easy to heed. It requires carefully guarded motives and meticulously controlled reactions. Realizing the difficulties of anger, Paul gives us even more helpful advice.
Eph. 4:26c “. . .let not the sun go down upon your wrath:. . .”
Polycarp, referring to this phrase in his letter to the Philippians, said, “Blessed is the man who remembers this.” I agree. No verse has been of more practical help to my family in our life at home.
Phillips paraphrases, “Never go to bed angry.” One day is more than enough time for a flush of anger to last. The day of an anger-bolt’s birth must also be the day of its death. Do not nurse anger and keep it warm. Throw it out before fermentation begins. Anger flashes forth in a good man, but “resteth in the bosom of fools” (EC 7:9).
By command of William the Conqueror, the English extinguished their fires and candles when the curfew bell was rung. By command of Holy Writ, let us douse all sparks of anger at sunset. Even the loveliest sunset can be made more beautiful by flinging into it all our anger. Let every sunset be a clarion call to test our inner self to see that we are tranquil.
Why does anger need to be calmed by sundown? First, for our own good. What a gracious God we serve. He commands us not to be miserable. It is a blessing at end of day to relax, to let tensions and bitterness go. Setting aside anger quiets the spirit, helps make our pillow soft, and serves as a great sedative. Retaining anger strains the mental faculties, racks the nervous system, and begets insomnia. A person who refuses to release anger eventually becomes unhappy. When we carry anger into tomorrow, we lose innocence in the dark river of the night. Like the manna, anger is God-given and appropriate for a day, but corrupts and breeds worms if kept till dawn. Old anger is to the spirit what fever is to the body. It festers, produces misery, discomfort, restlessness.
Kept long enough, anger becomes a bitterness which puts out roots (HB 12:15). It digs in and takes hold. As a result, all of life becomes sour. Psychologists tell us that depression, the most common form of mental illness, is anger based. “If every Christian would obey this verse of Scripture (EP 4:26), allowing himself to be angry but maturely getting rid of all grudges by bedtime, no Christian would ever get clinically depressed” (Happiness Is a Choice, Minnirth and Meier, p. 50).
When we have felt anger at someone, we need to get the fire out of our bosom quickly. It is hard to sleep when the mind is pursuing a foe. Why let an enemy invade the privacy of our bedroom? To hold on to anger against another “is to revenge the fault of others upon ourselves” (Pope). “Fence out your enemies by the golden bars of the sunset” (Talmage). For our own mental well-being, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Our anger needs to be calmed by sundown, secondly, for the good of our personal relationships. If during the day we give vent to anger in an improper way, confess it and rectify matters at the latest by nightfall. If possible, never let anyone leave our presence angry. For two people to be reconciled, they must be together. When the rift itself occurs, they are together, and possibly for the last time. Try to stay together till calm.
Elapsed time makes reconciliation harder. It is extremely difficult to cure long-continued animosity. The longer a rift continues, the harder it is to mend. Deal with breakdowns in relationships as quickly as possible. If we were in the wrong, ask God to give us humility to take the first step to make amends. If in the right, ask God to give us grace to still take the first step to make matters right. Ultimately, blame does not matter. A relationship, when broken, must not be sacrificed due to one’s stubbornness.
Leontius Patritius was one day unreasonably angry with John, Patriarch of Alexandria. At evening, the patriarch, the one wronged, sent a servant to Leontius with this message, “Sir, the sun is set.” Leontius was deeply smitten and immediately sought reconciliation.
Someone might say, “I get angry often, blow up, but then everyone knows it is over. That’s just my personality.” No, my friend, it is not over. When we explode, feelings are hurt, egos smashed. If we did right, if every night before going to bed we went to make things right with the one we offended, maybe we would soon tire of our temper tantrums. If we do not correct ourself, the habit and its resulting devastation will continue.
Our anger needs to be calmed by sundown, thirdly, for the good of our relationship with God. Zeroing in on a particular time of day provides us a daily built-in deadline for coming face to face with our innermost selves. We are thereby forced to take spiritual inventory on a regular basis.
Be careful with anger. If weak in this area, learn to avoid flammable situations at all costs, walk away, shrug things off, change the subject, count to 10. . .thousand.
Most importantly, muster spiritual resources. Confess temper fits are sin. This brings the battle into the spiritual realm, where God’s power flows. We get no help from God to overcome a particular evil till we admit it is sin. Never make excuses to justify fits of rage. Never be tempted to say, “But I was born like that.” As Christians, we are born again, and must let the second birth overcome the first. The new man must surmount the old. Never surrender and give up the battle. Pray by sundown. Retreat nightly to our heavenly seat, and ask God to crush this evil in us.
Every day, no later than sunset, take care of business. Be at peace with self, make matters right with others, conduct spiritual inventory and settle accounts with God. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”