“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:26-32)
When we are biblically commanded to speak well to our neighbors, spouses are not excluded but should be thought of as our closest neighbors. Paul describes a particular challenge we have in speaking well—anger. First, he hints at anger that is not sinful, which is righteous zeal—against our own sin, the sin of others, or sin in general, including immorality, unforgiveness, false teaching, and oppression—anger that promotes the glory of God and his commands. However, this passion can be carried too far or held on for too long, after the sun goes down, and then becomes that which is sinful. The longer we hold onto any kind of anger, the more tempting it is to grow bitter and develop grudges, which Satan can use to distract us from Christ. Once the sun goes down on the day of anger without resolution, we grant it a place in our lives for yet another day. The power of anger to distract us, to bind us up in emotional angst, and to separate us from our spouses, family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers grows the longer we hold onto its pain and fury.
Wise Christians know that anger is the biggest problem for the one holding onto it; it sucks us dry of love and tenderness and keeps us imprisoned by its intensity. Being willing to forgive someone before the day ends, or asking for forgiveness demonstrates our desire to be free to love and live well. Of course, it is best to avoid anger in the first place, letting “no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” One test for freedom from anger and bitterness is our ability to speak well regardless of our circumstances, to build others up, sharing God’s grace with them. Forgiveness is a free gift from God that we are to offer each other, whether it’s requested or not. If we are gracious to extend our forgiveness, even our enemies will be built up. We forgive those who hurt us, who accuse us, and whom we have offended, even if they are revengeful. We also forgive those who refuse to be forgiving themselves if we are free in Christ. Our emotions do not determine whom we love or how we love them.
Another reason to let go of anger, in the spirit of forgiveness is for the sake of honoring God, the Holy Spirit. Here we have a command to “not grieve the Holy Spirit” with our anger, so we shouldn’t. Only by “putting away” the six specific sinful aspects of antagonism (bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice) can we glorify God in our marriages and other relationships. How can we live and love in the grace of God if we are determined to make others suffer because of our hurt and anger? “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7-8) Let’s run to Christ, confess when we are angry, and let God take away the bitterness in our hearts, for his glory, our spouse’s well-being, and our own good.