A Foothold for the Devil

“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 (Ephesians 4:26 – 27).

I attended Junior High outside of New Orleans. There were only seven of us who were “age-appropriate” in my class. Ours was the only Junior High I know about with a student parking lot! Two nineteen-year-olds were drafted out of my seventh-grade class. It was bizarre, and I was beaten up almost every day because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. When I saw wrong-doing – even at that young age – I had to say something. “It’s against the rules to smoke!” POW. “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain!” POW accompanied by a few expletives. “Leave her alone!” POW. I was pretty much a 90-pound punching bag, and it made me angry.

I hated PE class. “Coach” didn’t have a degree, but he was a lifeguard in the summer, which must have qualified him to teach physical education. He would gather us around and read from the National Inquirer. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, so I ran laps every day to “cool off.” I have to thank him because later, I became a long-distance runner in High School, and my stamina carried me up many mountains when my family moved to Seattle.

So, I have always wrestled with anger. Perhaps that’s why I am a preacher. When I see injustice, it makes me angry. I can’t just ignore evil. I have to say something.

On the other hand, as I’ve gained a few silver hairs, I’ve learned to recognize there are stages to anger. Anger isn’t a sin. It is how we express our anger that gets us into trouble. There are some things we must become angry about. In this passage, Ephesians 4:26, 27, Paul literally says, “Become angry.” This is the only place in the New Testament where the word parorgismous (παροργισμός), “provoke you to anger” is used. There is a difference between becoming angry and seeking vengeance. Vengeance is sinful!

There is a great temptation to treasure our anger, and that is why the apostle gives us two warnings: First, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Be very careful. There is something attractive about anger. It makes us feel alive. Making a judgment makes us feel superior. We become passionate, and so there is always a temptation to cling to our anger.

Second: “Don’t give the devil a foothold.” Anger escalates. Satan invites us not only to take an eye for an eye but to add some interest to the bill. “He hurt me, so I’m going to make him really pay.” No. Take comfort in the words of Jesus:

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10 – 12)

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