Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:27 “. . .Neither give place to the devil.”
This verse is connected to the previous phrase, and thus continues Paul’s analysis of anger. As we have already learned, “be ye angry, and sin not” (4:26a-b) requires us to become angry only for the right reasons, and to make proper reactions to our anger. Jesus demonstrated the right reasons: for the glory of God (JN 2:13-17), for the good of others (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Proper reactions to anger entail deeds and words kept under control. Also, once deeds are set in place to deal with the error which prompted anger, self must be calmed, anger has to be subdued.
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (4:26c) presented another safeguard against the wrong use of anger. A rush of anger must never last more than a few hours. By sundown the spirit must be calm. This is for our own good; it removes inner tension and bitterness. Peace by dusk also helps our relationships with others; the longer a rift continues, the harder it is to mend. Being calm by sundown also helps our relationship with God. It gives a daily built-in deadline for taking spiritual inventory of ourselves.
Paul’s analysis of anger now expands to include a new personality. Anger can affect self, others, and God, and when mishandled, it also involves Satan. If we are not careful, our anger can “give place to the devil.” “Place” here refers to any portion of space marked off from the surrounding territory. To “give place” thus refers to allowing someone a foothold, a base which provides opportunity for acting. Anger, when abused, permits the devil to build within our hearts an outpost, a headquarters for operations.
Satan is no myth. He is a real, powerful, cunning, living personality, under whose influence all Christians are capable of falling. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 P 5:8). Satan stalks us, studies us, scrutinizes our defenses to find a hole in the wall. When Napoleon prepared for combat, he had fresh maps of the battlefield drafted and brought to him. He would spread out the maps upon the ground, and stay down on his knees poring over the documents until familiar with every physical feature. He memorized the locations of rivers, bridges, fords, hills, valleys, rock formations. Napoleon knew the war zone. Satan does the same with us. He pores over our hearts, and surveys our essence, seeking an entrance.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us overreacting to anger. An uncontrolled temper flings our heart’s door wide open to the devil. Whenever we have a fit of temper, he sees his chance and comes to investigate immediately. He enjoys fishing in troubled waters. When he sees the storm kindled, he loves to employ his bellows in keeping it churning, and in turning storms into hurricanes. During a tantrum, we are ships adrift upon troubled seas, having the devil as our pilot.
A fit of rage will “give place to the devil,” and allow him to construct within us an encampment from which he dictates behavior. This explains why “a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (PR 29:22, NASB). An angry man out of control is under the sway of Satan and thus capable of committing any sin known to man. In a fit of anger, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel. As a result, on July 11, 1804, at Weehawken, New Jersey, America lost two of her greatest minds. Hamilton died; Burr was ruined. When Mordecai would not bow, “Haman was full of wrath” (ES 3:5). This fury set in motion cruel and sadistic edicts and events which Haman thought would destroy the Jews, but instead resulted in his own death on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Anger can lead to any evil. The devil wants us to be depressed, to feel overly guilty, to hate, to envy, to murder. A temper fit allows him opportunity to involve us in all these at once. The devil loves a temper raging out of control.
Satan finds opportunity to invade our hearts when he sees us keep anger past sundown. Anger retained gives the devil “a half-open door” (Moule), and tempts him to tempt us. An old Latin proverb says it well, “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.” When angry upon our beds, we throw ourselves into the arms of one who loves to seize every occasion to cast us down by doing dirty work within us at night.
When we slam shut our heart against reconciliation to another, we open it to Satan. He traces many victories, church fights, family squabbles, and divorces to nights when believers let the sun go down upon their wrath.
In the old school of Pythagoras, his students would throughout the day argue and engage in heated debate, but as shadows began to lengthen, they would gather round, embrace each other, and give one another a kiss of peace and brotherhood. If pagans could do this, surely our Christianity is shallow if we believers cannot settle accounts before tomorrow.
Even if you did not blow up at anyone during the day, do not hold in secret anger. Release it unto God at bedtime. Do not harbor smoldering resentment in the heart. Anger must not be cherished and nursed.
Brooding over anger can be as dangerous as temper fits. Anger unreleased can ultimately produce as cruel a deed as anger unleashed. The most infamous name in American history is Benedict Arnold. He turned traitor in 1780, after three years of letting his anger stew. In 1777 Congress promoted five men younger than he to Major General. Overlooked, he never released his anger, and for years sought a chance for revenge.
Anger prolonged readily aligns itself with our old man’s selfishness, producing a sinister duo which hacks away at the tender plant of love which is to dominate our hearts. Beware secretly retaining anger against others. Ruminating over it is fun. We lick our wounds, smack our lips, roll over our tongue the tasty morsel of upcoming revenge. Given time, such anger tends to overtake the psyche, and saturate one’s inner self.
Our anger may be caused for the right reasons, and our reactions in the day may be controlled and reasonable, but if retained, “good” anger becomes “bad” in the night. God can control and calm our anger by day, but somewhere in the night–Satan’s favorite time of day–the devil takes over, and whenever he, rather than God, gains control, the result is always sin.
Anger allowed to linger in the heart becomes a mighty weapon in Satan’s hands. After sunset, he begins to use our anger for his purposes. He turns our detained anger, which is an evil in itself, into a mother of evils. Anger, allowed to fester, bears a multitude of wrongs in its womb. In the dark, Satan spawns our anger into all sorts of evils–self-pity, self-righteousness, grudges, poisonous hatred, an unwillingness to forgive, vengeance, depression. Lucifer uses tonight’s anger to produce tomorrow’s sins.
These verses on anger (EP 4:26-27) force us to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of anger. We can never be effective for God until we deal with our temper-trouble. Anger has spiritual ramifications, and if abused, causes people to forfeit God’s favor. Naaman almost missed being healed in Jordan because he “was wroth” (2 K 5:11). One of Scripture’s most memorable revivals occurred when Nineveh responded to Jonah’s preaching. Some 120,000 souls were saved, but the prophet, missing out on the celebration of a lifetime, was miserable because he was angry (Jonah 4). One of the happiest scenes portrayed in Holy Writ is the party given at the return of the prodigal, but the elder brother did not enjoy it. “He was angry and would not go in” (LK 15:28). Even our prayers are ineffective when offered from a heart full of anger gone awry. “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 TM 2:8).
Be careful with anger. Permit it to rise only from proper motives. Let it prompt only controlled deeds and words. Never retain it past sundown. Right reasons, right reactions, right releases–heed all three, otherwise we will “give place to the devil,” something we never want to do.
Do not let the heart, our sacred temple of the precious Holy Spirit, be available for even a moment to the intrusive influence of Satan. Never “give place to the devil.” Do not open the heart’s door to him. Refuse to admit Satan. Do not let him in. Keep him out of the innermost citadel.
If we give the devil a foothold in but one place, he will soon cover the whole platform of the heart. Given an inch, he will take a mile and try to occupy all the inner throne-room. Give him no uncontested spot of ground to stand on. Whenever he attempts to land on the mat of our heart, make sure he is always having to wrestle. Let there be no yielding and no compromise with him. Satan must know two things: he is always unwelcome in our hearts, and if he tries to enter there, he will always have a fight on his hands. “Pray without ceasing.” Retreat often to our heavenly seat. Handle anger correctly–right reasons, right reactions, right releases.