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.
We live in a time of barely and rarely concealed anger. Political discussions get intense and the airwaves, social media, and newspapers are filled with rage. Cable news commentators loudly denounce elected officials, or angrily defend them, depending on which ‘side’ they’re on. We all know how easy it is to become angry. We tend to see the world in the terms of this or that political party, and when someone disagrees with us or takes an opposite viewpoint, we become incredulous: “How on earth can any reasonable person think that way!?”
Scripture recognizes that people living together in community will occasionally drive each other crazy. We’ll see things differently. We’ll support a public figure that someone else thinks is pure evil. Paul exhorts his churches, however, to avoid sinning in anger. “Yes, you’ll get angry – that’s normal,” Paul concedes. “But when a situation makes you angry, do not sin.” And the kind of sin Paul has in mind here is sinning in a way that does damage to community. Satan’s aim for Christian communities is to destroy them through division. If divisions develop and people turn against each other, he will have a foothold in that community. The Church is upheld by Christ and held together and protected by the Spirit of Christ. We are surrounded by the power of God and when we pursue love for one another, serving one another, God protects us.
It is astounding to imagine that we surrender this protection and weaken our communities when we hurt one another. We are vulnerable. When we lash out, shame someone else, demean them, or spread gossip, we create the conditions for Satan to thrive. We provide him a foothold so that he can invade a community and destroy it.
Because so much angry talk fills our daily lives, we begin to think of it as normal. And when politics comes up in a discussion, we assume it’s acceptable for us to start slinging angry words around at each other. We need to recognize, however, how dangerous this is. Yes, tempers will flare and tensions will rise. But God’s people must be zealous to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3) and avoid sinning against others in anger. When we do hurt each other, we need to avoid letting the sun go down on our anger – that is, we must be quick to reconcile when we’ve been hurt or when we’ve hurt someone else. The consequences of not doing so are spiritually disastrous for our communities.
O God in heaven who gave his life to create a new people zealous for good deeds, fire us with zeal for unity by your Spirit so that we will be slow to anger, quick to listen, and quick to reconcile.