Considering again Ephesians 4:26-27—Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil—the New Testament speaks first of righteous anger.
Second, the New Testament also speaks of unrighteous anger. Paul adds another imperative, and sin not, which provide us with a check and a restraint, a test to show whether our anger is truly righteous. When is anger sin? Obviously, anger is sin when our anger is not directed at things that are sin against God. In short: Sinful anger is when our anger is motivated out of personal reasons, that is, when someone has offended us, not God.
How often is our anger selfish instead of Godly? How often do we get angry because we have been wronged instead of getting angry because God’s Word has been violated? Even if someone’s action is itself sinful, we also sin if our anger is motivated out of self, if it is motivated out of personal offense or “hurt feelings?”
And what horrendous destruction comes as a result of personally motivated anger! The story is told of a women who tried to defend her bad temper by saying to preacher Billy Sunday, “Although I blow up over the least little thing, it’s all over in a minute,” to which Sunday replied, “So is a shotgun blast! It’s over in seconds, too, but look at the terrible damage it can do.” Consider the results of so-called “crimes of passion,” where out of momentary anger someone is stabbed, shot, or just defamed by words.
The famous 1st Century B.C. Roman poet Horace wrote, “Anger is momentary insanity” (Epistolae). How true! “Insanity” is a loss of mental capacity and reason, and that is what uncontrolled anger is. That is not how the Christian is to live. The Christian doesn’t go insane, doesn’t “get stupid,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t “lose it,” doesn’t get enraged over the least little thing. When there is anger, it is for the right reason and is controlled.
This leads us to the positive consideration, that is, the deeper motive, namely: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. The word wrath comes from the Greek parorgismos, meaning embitterment or personal resentment. even righteous anger can degenerate, so Paul added this admonition. Kept too long, even righteous anger against sin can turn into resentment toward the person. It, therefore, must be dealt with before the sun [goes] down; that is, don’t take it to bed with you, deal with it, get it resolved. Again, be angry at the sin but don’t resent the person. Why? Because when we have resentment for someone, we cannot then be of help to them. Yes, we get angry at their sin, but our goal should be to bring them back to what is right by being a witness to them.
Why, then, must we not allow unrighteous anger? Because it will give place to the Devil. The Greek for give place exactly is another Present Imperative, a command. Give is didōmi, a common word found 416 times in the New Testament and means “to give of one’s own accord and with good will.” Luke records the words of our Lord when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The idea, then, is to say, “Here you go. I’m happy to give this to you. Take it. All power to you.”
Place, then, is topos (English, “topography”), which when used literally refers to “any portion of space marked off from the surrounding territory,” such as a spot, space, or room. Used figuratively, it speaks of an “opportunity, power, [or] occasion for acting.”
Finally, the Devil is tō diabolō, which because of the definitive article (the) refers specifically to “Satan, the great accuser, the prince of the demons or fallen angels, who is the great opposer of God and seducer of men, against whose schemes we are commanded to be constantly on our guard” (Charles Hodge).
So Paul is telling us that nothing gives the Devil a quicker foothold in our lives than anger, and we must, therefore, never give him any space to work, any room to maneuver, any opportunity to take advantage of our anger. It’s a medical fact that anger blinds a person’s mind; it obliterates a person’s judgment and rational thinking so he will do things he would not normally do. When anger comes, it opens the door to Satan and gives him an opportunity to work, and nothing opens the door faster or wider. Again, we can look at society today and see the devastation that has been caused by anger running amuck with “crimes of passion,” “road rage,” and the like. It’s far more tragic when such anger is allowed into the life of the Christian and into the Body of Christ.