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Anger Without Sin: Part 4

April 1, 2019 • Life for Leaders

“In your anger do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:26-27

 

When I was growing up in California in the 1960s, I heard people claim that the best way to deal with anger was to “get it all out on the table.” This approach to anger, which was popular in some “enlightened” circles, was known as Expressive Therapy. Some expressive therapists recommended, for example, that married couples “have it out” when they are angry. Any suggestion that you limit your expression of anger was a denial of your feelings and your absolute freedom to express them. It didn’t take too long for people to discover that such a free-for-all didn’t foster healing and often led to more hurt and, yes, even more anger.

Ephesians 4:26 might at first seem to endorse the “get it all out” approach of Expressive Therapy. This verse says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Doesn’t that imply that if I am angry with someone, I should let them know about it right away, certainly before sundown, without holding back?

No, it doesn’t. For one thing, the verse does not actually say, “Express your anger to the person who hurt you before sundown.” Such direct communication is surely helpful in some situations but unhelpful in others. As I mentioned in a previous reflection, when we’re feeling lots of anger, it’s terribly easy for us to say hurtful things, thus doing precisely what this verse prohibits (“Do not sin”). No matter what, we should not express our anger sinfully; sometimes this means letting our feelings cool down a bit before we communicate with one who wronged us.

Moreover, the expression “Do not let the sun go down” is a poetic figure of speech, not something to be taken literally. Prosaically, it means something like “Don’t save up your anger, but deal with it soon.” It would be wrong to apply Ephesians 4:26 to every situation in an overly literalistic way.

Still, if I don’t tell one who wronged me right away that I am angry, how can I release my anger without delay? In my experience, it is appropriate to share my anger even when it’s white hot—just so long as I’m telling God about it. When someone has hurt me and I feel irate, the best place for me to start is in prayer. I don’t have to hold back with God. I don’t have to be afraid that God can’t handle my feelings. I can pour it all out, trusting in God’s grace, patience, and wisdom. Telling God exactly what I’m feeling when I’m upset helps me to gain control over my emotions and how I express them. It keeps me, in particular, from sinning.

Our passage offers more perspective on how to deal with anger in a healthy way. I’ll examine this tomorrow. For now, let me encourage you to reflect upon the following questions.

Something to Think About:

What do you think about the “get it out right away” theory of anger management? Have you ever seen this work? Have you ever seen it make matters worse?

What helps you to get beyond your feelings of anger so you can communicate in a helpful and healthy way, not a sinful way?

How free do you feel to tell God when you’re upset? What might help you to be more expressive of your true feelings to the Lord?

Something to Do:

If you have been angry about something, go ahead and tell God about it if you haven’t already done so. Be honest. God already knows everything about you, so you can be completely honest with him.

Prayer:

Gracious God, you know how tempting it is for me to blast away at someone who has wronged me. These days it is convenient to let email do the dirty work, especially when my anger is burning hot. Yet, I’m all too aware of how poorly that works out. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I have hastened to communicate my anger, thus falling straightaway into sin.

Thank you, Lord, for being there to hear me out when I am angry. Thank you for being a safe place – the safe place – for me to share my heart. Thank you that I don’t have to hide from you. Thank you for looking upon me with mercy and grace. Thank you for comforting me, admonishing me, guiding me, and helping me see how I should act. Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
A Long Nose for Anger

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2 thoughts on “Anger Without Sin: Part 4

  1. alron2018 says:

    I am afraid I don’t agree with you on two points. 1 Ephesians is meant to be taken literally otherwise why did Paul say it that way, he could have said don’t let your anger last for long. Secondly I have been a marriage cousellor foor 35 years and I agree getting it out on the table is the best way as long as you have someone who can be their to monitor and guide, like me.

    • Thanks for your comment and your expression of disagreement. Paul sometimes speaks literally and sometimes metaphorically. For example, the church is not the literal body of Christ. So, as interpreters, we need to figure out what he meant. I assume from your second comment that you would agree that it isn’t always the best to get it out on the table right away when there is not a wise counselor present. Such a counselor makes a huge different. Yes? Your point is another way of affirming what I was saying about the value of the community in helping us deal with anger.

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