While visiting a Bible study, a couple shared how they dealt with conflict in their marriage. “We don’t let the sun go down on our anger.”
When I heard this, my first thought was, “Is that in the bible?” There are many sayings attributed to the Bible that aren’t actually there. For example: “God helps those who help themselves,” isn’t in the Bible. It’s from Ben Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”
A quick search of my Bible revealed that it is actually there. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he instructed them:
“Be angry, and do not sin”:
do not let the sun go down on your anger. – Ephesians 4:26
Many a couple has spent a sleepless night trying to work through a fight with each other based on this passage. They’ve been taught that Paul was telling them that they can’t sleep until the problem is reconciled.
But that is not what Paul was saying. The command was for each person to take responsibility for their own anger; not to make sure that there is no anger between them.
This is an excellent example of how the Bible gets distorted, even with good intentions, to mean things it doesn’t say; sometimes causing great harm. And it is an opportunity for us to untrain our eyes in an effort to see more clearly what it is actually saying.
Paul’s audience was not married couples. He was speaking to all relationships. It is so important to learn that we have no control over other people’s actions. If they are angry, there is nothing we can do to control that. We aren’t responsible for their anger. And they aren’t responsible for ours. All we can do is take responsibility for ourselves.
When people insist that a fight be resolved immediately, they are trying to control each other, saying “You need to meet my need to resolve this issue. We can’t leave this conversation until you do.” That is focusing on yourself. Because you have no control over whether or not another person will resolve an issue, you may never sleep.
The better way is to ask yourself “how can I do my best to resolve this?” Your focus is off of yourself and on to the other person. The conflict still might not be resolved, but now you know, it’s not up to you to resolve it. Simply do your best. If you aren’t able to find some resolution, the next step is to follow Paul’s advice to make sure that you are not carrying anger away from the conversation. But remember, you are not in charge of the other person’s anger. If they continue to be angry and push the issue, then politely decline. The sun may go down on their anger, but it doesn’t have to go down on yours.