I always loved those moments in church when someone would raise their hand and announce that they were celebrating a wedding anniversary. What a joy! When the number of years was especially impressive, say forty, fifty, and even sixty, I would ask them to share their secret to success. A couple of times the husband would joke that he learned early in their marriage to say “yes, dear.” But more often than not, the answer had something to do with “not letting the sun go down on their anger.” One wife told me that she and her husband believed in that so much, they would stay awake all night to resolve their argument rather than go to bed angry. That is excellent relationship advice from people who know!
We believe that scripture has warned us about going to bed when you’re angry with your bedmate, and so we assume this scripture relates to those kinds of relationships. But that is not the case. Read carefully and see if you can determine what exactly is said about not going to bed angry:
Ephesians 4 (The Message)
25 What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
26-27 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.
Did you notice that it says nothing about the person with whom you share a bed? No, indeed. This is how you are supposed to treat your NEIGHBOR.
That’s a bit startling, isn’t it? So what do you suppose would happen if we practiced this scripture with integrity? What would the world look like if everyone resolved their issues with their neighbors before bedtime? Some of us wouldn’t sleep for weeks.
Paul is right about needing to clear the air when there is a dispute. The devil absolutely is LOOKING for footholds in your life, and unresolved anger is a favorite.
Also notice that anger is not the villain here. Paul encourages us to go ahead and be angry. It is okay to be angry, but it is never okay to use it as fuel for revenge. Feeling anger is a natural response to conflict, but stuffing down your anger is far from healthy. Better to go to your neighbor and tell the truth. Get it out. Stop pretending. Open a mature dialogue. BUT DON’T STAY ANGRY.
And then he goes on to address other issues in the neighborhood:
28 Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.
29 Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
This is especially important when you are talking to that neighbor about what has made you angry. Say ONLY what helps, and watch the way you talk.
30 Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
And the final word on the subject is a great summation of how to live in harmony with your neighbor:
31-32 Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Are you caught in a situation where someone keeps making you mad? Pray, pray, pray, and then go gently into a conversation with them. Be honest, use helpful words, lay down your anger, avoid backbiting and profane talk, and be ready to forgive, even if you aren’t received well.
If you do this, you may sleep better tonight.