“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. Eph. 4:26-27
This is an interesting statement. If we are told not to do something, then it must be possible to do it. For example, God would not have told Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil if it was not possible for him to take it. So a warning or instruction is given against a very real possibility.
The above paragraph may seem obvious, but I want to show something. The fact that instruction is given means there is a choice. We are in danger of giving place to the devil, but we have the choice not to do it as well. The old saying, “The devil made me do it,” at least for the Christian, is simply not true. We do not have to give place to the devil. It is a horrible possibility, but it is a choice.
Having said that, what does it mean to give place to the devil? How do we give control of our life to satan?
Like any study of Scripture we need to look at context. Here it is in a couple of different versions:
”Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” [The Message]
”If you are angry, be sure that it is not out of wounded pride or bad temper. Never go to bed angry—don’t give the devil that sort of foothold." [Phillips]
"When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath (your exasperation, your fury or indignation) last until the sun goes down. Leave no [such] room or foothold for the devil [give no opportunity to him]." [Amp.]
Paul gives this warning against giving place to the devil in the context of our temper. We all feel angry sometimes. People get on our nerves, things don’t go as we plan, we are hurt. There may be many reasons and our temperament will determine how we tend to express it, but we all face anger.
The feeling of that hot rush of emtion is not sin. All anger is not wrong either. We ought to be upset over injustice and ungodliness. It is where we allow it to go from there that matters.
If you have taken Biblical Law you know that anger is a close brother of murder. When it is uncontrolled it can lead to bitterness, resentment, rage, be the motivating force behind other sins, harsh words, abuse, and, in extreme cases, can even lead to physical murder. It can murder relationships, friendships, businesses, drive other people into pain, suffering, and separation. Most certainly it will kill the person who allows it to run through their life as bitterness, resentment, self-pity, unforgiveness and a host of other destruction emotions ravage spirit, mind, and body. Can you see how this can be a real “foothold” or “place” for the devil. If we surrender to satan in this area our lives can be devastated and so can the lives of those around us.
As I said above, this is our choice. We may have made the wrong choice so often it is now a habit but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it can change. Certainly, if we make excuses - that’s the way I am, it’s my grandfather’s temper, if they hadn’t done that..., etc. - we will never have victory. The first step to victory in ANY battle is to accept responsibility.
Let’s take a quick look at two kinds of anger - unjust and just. The unjust one is the most common. It arises in us because someone has interfered with our plans or said something wrong, or embarrassed us. It is the temper of self-defense. It is self-pity which allows us to play the scene over and over again. We become the star of our own tear-jerker movie - Hollywood would be fighting over us if they saw how well we can act this movie! The original offense may have been real and hurtful, but as we replay the movie in anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, and death it grows and grows.
We need to a] recognize it is not sin to feel upset, b] try to resolve the situation that day, c] if “b” is not possible take the situation to God and leave it with Him, d] forgive the person and refuse to take offense, e] do not dwell on the offense but on the love and forgiveness of God.
The other kind is just anger. An injustice has occurred. God’s Word has been violated. It may be to us personally - as when a friend betrays us - or be in general - as government misspending, criminals escaping justice, abortion. But again, if not handled properly it can lead to self-destructive emotions and actions.
We need to a] recognize it is not sin to feel anger, b] if it is our power to correct it, then do it, c] if it is not in our power immediately then ask God if there is some action He wants us to take - join a pro-life group, begin a campaign, pray, d] don’t give into feelings of bitterness/resentment or helplessness, e] realize that God is in control and trust Him to work in the situation.
I know for those with serious problems in this area, this is simplistic and deep Christian counseling may be necessary. But for the rest of us, these simple steps may be the life-saver which keeps us from entering into the death of bitterness and allows us to live in the freedom for which Christ died. We are all in danger of anger and giving place to the devil if we are not on our guard.