BY WILLIE AND ELAINE OLIVER
Since you’re not supposed to “let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4:26), how do you deal with an issue with your spouse that cannot be settled before the sun goes down, when the issue requires more time to be settled?
Anger is often a response to a perceived danger to oneself or to someone else. It is also a response to frustration, which has been identified for some time as a cause for anger and subsequent hostility.
To be sure, anger often destroys peace within relationships. When one is angry, one tends to do or say things one later regrets. That’s one reason the wise man Solomon offered, “Better a patient person than a warrior, and one with self-control than one who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32). Later the writer declares: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28).
Solomon’s counsel is impeccable. Relationships always do better whebn we learn to control our anger. If we don’t, we often find ourselves having to walk-back what we said or did in a moment of uncontrollable rage. Interestingly, Solomon refers to the reality of behaving out of control—often when anger is present—as “a city whose walls are broken through,” in short, a place unsafe for human dwelling.
Your question deals directly with the text: “Be angry, and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Here, the apostle Paul actually uses the language of Psalm 4:4, and qualifies what a person of faith should do when angry, that is not sin.
The apostle Paul’s choice of language about the presence of anger in the life of Christians, makes clear that if we allow that emotion to surface, it should be a contained and controlled one, rather than the explosive behavior that invariably characterizes uncontained anger. “Ruling one’s spirit,” or allowing God to have control of our lives, compels believers to live lives of peace.
While many view Paul’s counsel as literal, and hasten to make things right before sunset on the day anger surfaces—and this isn’t the only application one can take from the text—Paul’s intention is much more comprehensive. Paul sees evening as a time for rest, renewal, and reconnecting with God, and offers counsel that will put us in a frame of mind to maximize this experience.
True, a situation may take longer than just an evening to settle. However, Paul is suggesting that a measure of resolution should take place—at least within Christians’ hearts—about troubling conditions. After all, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
So, despite dealing with disturbing dilemmas that invariably surface in the experience of believers and their respective spouses, that reality cannot be bigger than the peace Jesus offers. God’s peace brings the assurance of calm, composure, rest, and serenity for His children. David suggests in Psalm 4:4 that we contemplate traumatic situations with composure and dependence on God.
Regardless of how difficult the situation, one must have an unruffled attitude before being able to fully solve any vexing state of affairs with one’s spouse. Always remember Jesus’ promise: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
You and your spouse will continue in our prayers as you trust God to help you settle your differences, so that your marriage will give honor and glory to Him.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries. You may communicate with them at Family.Adventist.org, or at HopeTV.org/RealFamilyTalk.