Anger is not just polarizing among people, but within a person — within me. Ironically, anger in others offends us, while anger in ourselves comforts us — scandal and consolation, both wrapped in red. To surrender our anger feels like mutiny against our own heart. To store our anger for another day feels like a warm fleece blanket on a cool winter night.
We’ve all felt the furnace of wrath rising in us like molten mercury in a thermometer. Different sparks light the fire for each of us: disappointment, failure, disagreement, stress, betrayal, finances, exhaustion, and more. Whatever it is on any given day, anger can leave us lying in bed, contemplating another one-night stand against someone (or everyone).
Then the ten words come to mind we’ve tried hard not to memorize: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). With that strange and familiar chorus ringing in our ears, we may begin to loosen our grip on our wrath and consider how to move toward a spouse, or parent, or son or daughter, or friend, or co-worker to confess, confront (if necessary), and reconcile.
But why? Well, because God said so. But have you ever stopped to think about the wisdom in treating every day as another excuse to forfeit our fury with one another? Consider five reasons (among many) why God is good to ask for our anger each night.
1. The devil preys on angry hearts.
“To refuse to surrender our anger is to welcome the devil to wreak havoc in our hearts and relationships.”
The verse, of course, continues, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27). To refuse to surrender our anger is to welcome the devil to wreak havoc in our hearts and relationships. It allows him to take new ground, and to extend his stay in any given situation.
David warns us, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). Solomon agrees, in all his wisdom, “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression” (Proverbs 29:22). Anger does not resolve sin, but incites sin — and multiplies it.
James writes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20). Anger can feel so wonderfully right and necessary and productive in the moment, but it simply is not. It is producing, just nothing that will do any good.
2. Time can heal, but time can also hurt.
One pervasive lie is that time heals everything. Time can definitely help in some circumstances — allowing our emotions to recede, releasing relational pressure, giving us perspective. But time by itself heals nothing. If we depend on time to heal what’s wrong in our relationships, we will carry wounds with us the rest of our lives. The truth is time can heal, but not without real, tangible confession, correction, repentance, and forgiveness.
Time may allow us to stop caring as much, or even to forget altogether. But that’s tantamount to putting a donut tire on when you have a blowout on the highway. It buys you time to get to a mechanic, but it was never meant to replace your tire for more than a few miles.
God has engineered a better way of dealing with sin and anger in relationships. And he came to earth and took the cross to prove his process is infinitely better than all the ways we’re tempted to deal with conflict. Confess (James 5:16). Correct (Matthew 18:15), drawing in other believers if necessary (18:16). Repent (Acts 8:22). Forgive (Mark 11:25). Be reconciled (Matthew 5:23–24). Strive hard to live in harmony (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10).
One practical reason not to trust our anger to time is that delaying reconciliation almost always makes reconciliation harder. For one, we will not wake up with the same resolve to reconcile. Most of the time, after 24 hours, sin will not seem as terrible as it really is, and true reconciliation will not seem as sweet as it truly is. God has given you these emotions to lead you to himself, and to drive you to confess, correct, repent, forgive, and be reconciled. Take advantage of the anger you feel, and frustrate Satan’s plans for your fury.
3. You cannot do anything while you sleep, but God can.
“Delaying reconciliation almost always makes reconciliation harder.”
One reason we hold onto anger is that, in those moments, we only trust ourselves to right the wrongs we have felt. We’re afraid if we truly give the offense over to God, we won’t get everything we deserve. So we hold on for another day, waiting for greater confidence that justice will be done.
Ironically, we take our anger to bed with us, where we will lie totally unconscious for six or eight or more hours. All while God governs every star and planet in every galaxy every single second of every day. We trust ourselves more than God, even though we can only stay awake for two-thirds of our lives.
The psalmist writes, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3–4). Solomon likewise admonishes us all, maybe especially the unrighteously angry, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” — and stewing over offenses — “for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).
Surrender justice and vengeance to God, who sees absolutely all, who judges perfectly in every case, and who alone can grant eternal life and punishment. God inspired a guide for our anger that only he could write,
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:16–21)
If Paul wrote this about our enemies, how much more should we extend such grace to our loved ones?
4. Anger interrupts gospel witness.
One way to fight anger is to ask what our anger says about God. Righteous anger says something beautiful about him, even if it’s heavy and painful. Unrighteous anger says something ugly. It lies about God.
David says of God, “His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Micah worships him with wonder, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18, see also Psalm 103:8–9; Jeremiah 3:12). Isaiah anticipates the kind of forgiveness God nailed into the cross, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off” (Isaiah 48:9).
Does your anger tell that story? Does it paint another stunning picture of that God?
God does get angry (more than three hundred times in the Old Testament), very angry, but his anger is not the height of who he is, and it’s not his final word to anyone who trusts in his Son. If God could set aside the purity of his anger against us to forgive and restore us, we should feel the freedom and pleasure of setting aside our own for the sake of others (Ephesians 4:31–32). And in doing so, we rehearse our favorite story of all time for someone else.
5. Anger pretends to comfort, but only consumes us.
“We desperately and irrationally chase healing in our anger, but we find hell there, instead.”
We passionately guard our anger because it brings a pleasure we don’t feel as quickly or easily in humility or forgiveness. We ironically (and tragically) find comfort in our discomfort, and peace in our internal chaos. But Jesus says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). We desperately and irrationally chase healing in our anger, but we find hell there, instead.
Anger may pretend to console us, but it really consumes us. And unchecked, it will damn us — imprisoning us and keeping us from true life and lasting happiness. Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: . . . fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions . . . and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19–21). Kill anger now before it kills you forever. Seek comfort in God, not in anger.
Forgiveness Meets Trust
Applying Ephesians 4:26 does not necessarily mean refusing to go to bed without reconciliation, but instead doing everything in our power to confess, correct, repent, and forgive quickly — if possible, within 24 hours. The principle is plain in general: it is not good to sleep on our anger, even if a night or two may be necessary in exceptional circumstances to create the space and rest necessary to reconcile.
Relinquishing anger, extending forgiveness, and reconciling with one another does not mean things will immediately (or ever) go back to the way they were before. Anger should die every night, but trust is regained one morning at a time. We should refuse to harbor bitterness or to hold grudges against one another, but relationships run on trust — and the trust that matters is built over time, not given indiscriminately in a moment. Be quick to forgive and reconcile, and patient with the process of trust-building and full restoration.
“Anger should die every night, but trust is regained one morning at a time.”
Why did God make each day just 24 hours long? We all want more hours in the day, but God chose a couple dozen. Why did he decide the sun would go down when it does, and then tie our cycles of reconciliation to that schedule? Perhaps one reason he cut if off at 24 (among a thousand or more reasons) was because he knew the perfect span of time for conflict in relationships. It gives us some time to process, even to be angry, but then draws a line to keep us from holding on too long, and letting Satan have his way with us.
Don’t go to bed with your anger. It will harm you, not heal you. It will betray you, not vindicate you. And it will not produce the justice or reconciliation you need. Clothe yourself, instead, with the awesome power of patience and forgiveness. “Whoever is slow to anger” — and quick to surrender it before bedtime — “is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).