By Sophia Bricker, Crosswalk.com
In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo March is known for her fiery temper. After Amy burns Jo’s manuscript, Jo vows never to forgive her sister. However, Marmee, their mother, lovingly reminds Jo of a biblical truth: “My dear, don’t let the sun go down upon your anger; forgive each other, help each other, and begin again tomorrow.” Later, Jo confesses how often her anger overwhelms and controls her. A heart filled with anger can cause suffering and pain.
In Scripture, we read about the instruction and warning to not let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Although people are not sinning if they feel anger, the problem is when they act on that emotion.
In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul uses the figure of speech of the sun setting to show us how and why we need to deal with anger.
Verse Background and Context
In chapter four of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, he urges believers to live in unity and according to the new life they received (Ephesians 4:1-3, 22).
Instead of living how they used to in their sin, the apostle encourages them to “put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:24, NLT). The characteristics of a believer are different from those of a non-Christian.
After mentioning the need to put on their new nature in Christ, Paul gives a list of behaviors that do not belong in the Christian life. Since they are new creations, believers should not lie to one another but speak truthfully (Ephesians 4:25). They should not sin in their anger, steal, or use foul language (Ephesians 4:26-29).
Furthermore, believers should not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Such things as “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” have no place in the life of a follower of Christ (Ephesians 4:31).
In addition to listing behaviors and attitudes that do not belong in the Christian life, Paul also includes positive commands.
For instance, he tells them that they should use their hands to work and provide for themselves and others, as well as use their words to build others up (Ephesians 4:28-29).
Christians should show compassion to others, forgive because they have been forgiven by Christ, and imitate God in everything they do (Ephesians 4:32; 5:1).
Therefore, Ephesians 4:17-32 presents us with important teaching about Christian living. We do not follow these instructions because we want to gain favor with God.
Instead, we want to act loving, compassionate, forgiving, and helpful because we have been born again and are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can put off the deeds of the old self and follow Jesus.
Do Not Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger
In the context of these instructions, Paul discusses anger. As the apostle told the Ephesians, "'In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). Many people have misinterpreted this verse because some translations, such as the King James Version, say “Be ye angry, and sin not” (see also NKJV and BSB).
As author and Bible teacher Jerry Bridges explains in his book The Fruitful Life, “To have a temper that requires control is not a mark of ungodliness: to fail to control it is.”
We will feel anger at times, but we should not let this emotion control us. Modern translations of the verse attempt to convey the meaning more clearly, including the New Living Translation, which reads, “Don’t sin by letting anger control you” (Ephesians 4:26).
In instructing Christians not to allow the sun to go down on their anger, Paul uses a figure of speech to show us that we need to deal with anger quickly.
Scripture is warning us against the dangers of lasting anger, which leads to negative consequences. When we allow anger to grow in our hearts, we become bitter, hateful, and unforgiving. As a result, this hinders our relationship with God and others.
Directly after the instructions on anger, Paul adds, “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). Dwelling on anger for extended periods gives the devil an opportunity to tempt us into sin. Satan wants to magnify our anger so that we will act on the emotion, sin against the Lord, and hurt others.
When our temper leads us to sin, we need to confess our sins and seek forgiveness from the Lord. Scripture reminds us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Also, if others were negatively affected by our anger, we should quickly seek their forgiveness. Paul’s instruction to not let the sun go down on our anger involves promptly dealing with anger as well as sin caused by anger.
The Need for Self-Control
To properly deal with a short temper, we must practice and cultivate self-control. Scripture tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Spirit will produce spiritual fruit that is evident in the way we live. Although this work is His, we can do our part by “walking in the Spirit,” which includes listening and yielding to His guidance and obeying His Word (Galatians 5:16).
A helpful way to practice self-control when we are angry is to remind ourselves of Scripture. By memorizing and meditating on passages that deal with anger, such as Ephesians 4:26-27, we store God’s Word in our hearts, which the Holy Spirit can then use to guide us (Psalm 119:11).
Remembering verses such as “human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” redirects our focus when we feel angry (James 1:20, NLT). Other important verses about anger include Psalm 103:8; Proverbs 14:29; 15:1; Ecclesiastes 7:9; 1 Corinthians 13:4-5; Colossians 3:8; and James 1:19.
Furthermore, removing ourselves from the immediate situation and praying to God can also help us control our anger. If a conversation becomes heated or someone is doing something that angers us, we can step away and talk to God about how we feel.
The Lord cares about us and wants us to come to Him (1 Peter 5:7). Entrust the situation to Him and ask Him for self-control. Although we will still stumble at times and struggle with our temper, seeking His help with anger is essential.
What Does This Mean?
The Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger because anger can grow in our hearts and leave us bitter and hateful. If left unchecked, anger will start to control us and give Satan a foothold in our lives.
Soon, we will find ourselves sinning against the Lord and hurting others. We need to deal quickly with our anger and any sin that results from a short temper.
If we sin because of anger, then we need to confess our sin to the Lord and seek forgiveness from Him and others who were affected.
By taking steps to memorize and meditate on Bible passages while also yielding to the Holy Spirit, we can begin to cultivate self-control to help us in the struggle against uncontrolled anger.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.