Don’t Let the Sun Set

I was a new Christian. Nancy, my new wife, also was a new Christian. One night, 22 years ago, we had quite an argument. The longer it went on, the more I persuaded myself of my rightness in the argument, and Nancy’s wrongness. We stopped arguing, but there was no reconciliation. I walked into another room, and the verse came to me, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” I remember thinking, “Boy, am I glad it’s already night, I can be angry until tomorrow.”

Let me assure you from the outset that if you have ever understood that passage in the way I did, you, along with me, are completely wrong. When Paul amplifies his quote of Psalm 4:4, “Be angry, and do not sin,” with “do not let the sun go down on your wrath,” he is certainly not intending to teach that there is a time period in which you can nourish your anger, until such time as you have to deal with it. Rather he was teaching the necessity for me to deal immediately with anger.

Anger isn’t necessarily sin. You can “be angry, and do not sin” (Ps. 4:4). I may even have been right that my wife was wrong. But what “really” matters is that we don’t let our anger fester. What really matters is that we deal with anger immediately. Paul writes, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, … be put away from you…” (Eph. 4:31). The author of Hebrews warns that you are not to let “any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble…” (Heb. 12:15b). Bitterness is anger that is left to fester. It poisons you. It poisons your life. It poisons every relationship you have. The word bitterness means “a settled rage.” It is an anger that is no longer furious, but always there, just under the surface, a kind of poison that allows you to justify all your hatreds.

I once counseled a couple that told me they had not spoken to each other in four months. I was very interested, wondering what had provoked such anger, such acrimony. I asked them what it was that had triggered this four month reign of silent terror. Each one seemed ready to burst to be the first one to pin the blame on the other. But what happened was that they wound up just sitting there in silence because neither one of them could actually remember what it was that had provoked it.

Now this is truly amazing. Two adults, married, with children, engaged themselves in the most hostile behaviors with each other, and they can’t even remember what started it. All they can remember is their hatred, which justified their silence. We allow anger to harden us in our condemnation of others. We allow anger to feed our pride. We allow anger to justify sin. We allow anger to let us run others down, and ourselves up, because often all we care about is making sure that everyone knows “I’m in the right.”

Do you know what this accomplishes? Paul tells us in the remainder of the verse, when he says that it gives “the devil a foothold.” Paul uses a picture of a glass mountain. All the devil can do is slide down, unless there is a place on which to grab. Unresolved anger provides that place. It is a break in the smooth surface that allows the devil to grab hold. Once he does, he won’t let go. Unresolved anger leads to the kinds of bitterness that destroy individuals, marriages, families, churches, and even nations.

If you want to deal with this, you have to be willing to swallow your pride in order to attack the problem, not the other person. Think of what it is like for you when someone comes to you saying, “You made me angry.” All you do is brace yourself to defend against the attack.

What is it like instead, when someone comes to you without accusations. They are angry, but they don’t say, “You did this to me,” but rather, “I need your help with something I’m struggling with.” You know how quickly you would be prepared to help someone with their problem. Even as you look at what might be your responsibility, isn’t it easier to do so when it hasn’t come through accusations? Remember this the next time you have to deal with someone who “made you angry.”

Deal with anger immediately, so that at the going down of the sun, you can “lie down in peace, and sleep” (Ps. 4:8a), which is how the psalm which Paul quotes in regard to anger ends. There is peace for those who deal righteously with their anger.

Copyright © 1995 Ligonier Ministries-Tabletalk Magazine