August 3, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
There was a time when it was popular to recommend that people “get it all out on the table” when they were angry, holding nothing back. But this approach didn’t help people express their anger without sin. In fact, it often did the opposite. Ephesians 4:26 teaches us not to hold onto our anger, but to deal with it in a timely way. Often the best place to start is in prayer, telling God what we’re feeling and why. God can handle our anger. And sharing it with God gets us ready to share it with others in a healthy, constructive way.
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 on your anger.” 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 previously, 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 in every situation. 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. I know, for example, that when I’m very tired I’m apt to be less careful and more sinful when I express my anger. So if somebody in my family did something to make me mad in the evening, trying to express my anger before bed was not usually a good idea. (Besides, technically speaking, the sun would already have gone down. But such calculations are not the point of Ephesians 4:26.)
Still, if I don’t tell one who wronged me right away that I am angry, how can I release my anger without undue 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 from Ephesians offers more wisdom on how to deal with anger in a healthy way. I’ll examine this tomorrow. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.
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?
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.
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.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Pharaoh’s Anger
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.