The advice to “never go to bed angry” comes from the wisdom Paul shared with the Ephesians. “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).
At face value, this verse offers a helpful guardrail against allowing anger to grow and produce bad decisions. The verse also implies that our anger should not last longer than a day.
On the surface, this is wise advice for any kind of relationship. But is there more to Paul’s words in the context of his letter to the Ephesians?
Is Anger a Sin?
Although both man and God can experience anger, there is a stark contrast between the anger of God, and of man. “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20)
Human anger is insufficient for spreading God’s purposes on Earth. While anger can be a right response sometimes, protesting injustice, anger does not build up something that will last. More often human anger is misled and misapplied, used to act on selfish gains, not godly benefits. Scripture shows us time and again that sinful anger, when fully formed, leads to murder, abuse, and other wrong deeds.
This is why Scripture encourages us to distance ourselves from the feeling. When possible, we are admonished to avoid anger altogether, as we see when Paul commands believers to do whatever they can to put an end to their anger before the day is out. “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)
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In this fourth chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes about two important ideas: the unification of the church, and each member of the church becoming more like Jesus.
The chapter begins with Paul urging fellow believers to pursue oneness with each other.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
We are all of the same faith and should subsequently be of one accord. Division weakens the faith. While Christians look different and come from varying backgrounds, the goal is to see God in the same way. The way Christians achieve this, as Paul mentions, is to constantly learn and mature in the faith. The more we all know about God, the more being of one accord becomes possible.
After discussing the oneness he desires for believers, Paul admonishes believers to further their faith by changing how they live. Instead of living like non-believers, we need to walk more like Jesus Christ. Paul acknowledges the sinful state of man and gives the reason why we should become more like Christ.
“They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18)
In sin we separate ourselves from God. By becoming more like Christ we do just the opposite. This is where Paul makes mention of anger. The full verse reads as follows.
“Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Paul too was aware that human anger can be used maliciously, and wants better for his brothers and sisters. By encouraging them to end their anger before sun goes down, he is helping believers to avoid any temptation of Satan. Likewise, he is encouraging a culture of forgiveness between people, where instead of holding a grudge, people seek reconciliation. In fact, the last idea he writes reminds believers to forgive others just as God also forgives us.
What Does “Never Go to Bed Angry” Mean?
Based on Paul’s verse, we can conclude that anger in itself is not a sin. Remember, God too experiences anger. What we do with anger makes the difference between sin or virtue. This is why Christians and nonbelievers are familiar with the phrase, “Never go to bed angry.” Couples undergoing marriage counseling often hear this line of advice. By not going to bed angry, a couple will not be forced to wake up the next day with unresolved conflict. When a new day comes, so does new life, with the pain of conflict being left in the past.
For Christians, we know that forgiveness must be given in order to be experienced (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are going to bed angry then there is a chance we have chosen not to forgive. Also, Paul mentions that we are allowed to be angry but should not sin. The longer we hold onto anger, the more tempted we may be to use that anger for ungodly reasons. Anger could lead us to have continued conflict, say hurtful words, or perform other hurtful actions that we cannot take back.
The phrase “never go to bed angry” is a good point of reference, but is not meant to be taken literally. How do we know this?
Certain events in life affect some of us more than others. For example, a disobedient child and a cheating spouse are both incidents that can cause anger. However, a cheating spouse is not likely to cause anger that ends in a day. Some conflicts do not end overnight. Referring to Scripture, we know that God was angry with the Israelites at various points in time. In the Book of Numbers, they were made to wander the wilderness for 40 years. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for far longer than a day. While there is no way to assess God’s emotions moment to moment, the conflict He had with His people was not resolved in a day. And in slavery, the Israelites were not experiencing joy at the hands of the Egyptians. They were suffering, and Moses’ anger in response to their suffering did indeed lead to murder (Exodus 2:14).
Practical Ways to Apply This Verse
We can surmise that not going to bed angry will sometimes be possible, but at the very least can be a goal we all strive to achieve, no matter our relationship. Friends can strive to avoid ending a day feeling upset, as can a parent and child. The goal may seem lofty for some, but by abiding in Paul’s words written in Ephesians 4, we can take note of practical ways to apply the biblical verse.
Here are some steps believers can take to lay aside anger and become more like Christ:
– Forgive others (apologize for any wrongdoing)
– Reconcile with others (communicate your problems)
– Don’t sin in anger (don’t make decisions or discussions while upset)
– Increase our knowledge of Christ (read Scripture to become more like Jesus)
– Seek unity (search for areas of similarity and agreement with others)
The Impact of Self-Control
However inspiring and informative emotions may feel, human emotion does not indicate truth. Emotions are neutral. We can be happy at someone’s success, or someone’s failure. Conversely, we can be angry for the right or wrong reasons. Only by becoming more like Christ will we be able to better regulate ourselves and find self-control. Paul’s writing helps us move toward this goal.
The better we can be at controlling our anger, the more we will witness reconciliation’s power in our lives. We will have stronger and healthier relationships. We will grow in self-discipline. We will experience God’s forgiveness as we forgive others. These are but a few of the benefits — but the most important is that we will become more like Christ, so let us walk as Paul suggests, “walk worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
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Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, dance teacher, and visual artist. He currently contributes articles to GodUpdates, GodTube, iBelieve, and Crosswalk. Aaron also supports clients through the freelance platform Upwork.