The American Civil War, like all wars, was a brutal one. More Americans died in it than in all the wars our country has been involved in from that time forward, up through the Korean War. That is hard to believe, isn’t it? All we have to do to confirm it is to consult the historical record. 623,000 American lives were lost in the war between the states. How does that make any sense, given the far greater destructiveness of the weapons used in the ensuing century with its rapidly evolving technology? The simple answer: infection. About half of the wounded died of infection whether or not having had surgery. The fact is that some untreated infections can become deadly in a very short period of time. These infections must be dealt with promptly in order to save lives.
This grisly retrospective look at the past can serve as a vivid analogy on a spiritual level presently. Time is of the essence in dealing with a particular spiritual pathogen. In Ephesians 4:26, the Apostle Paul said, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Is anger, in general, the spiritual pathogen we are highlighting here? No. From Christ’s own example in Mark 3:5, we know that there is such a thing as righteous anger. Christ’s anger arose from the hardness of the hearts of those who would rather see a man suffer than be healed miraculously. Essentially, to have righteous anger due to dishonor shown to God or wrong done to man is not sin.
The pathogen that needs to be destroyed is unrighteous anger. The thing is, something can start as righteous anger and quickly become sinful. Such an account is recorded in Psalms. “They angered Him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses on account of them; Because they rebelled against His Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33). God was righteously angry with Israel at the waters of Meribah, and it is very likely that was true of Moses initially. His anger could have been righteously directed at Israel’s faithlessness in God when in the face of trial. But as the people’s attitude worsened, so did that of Moses. Notice the attitude with which Moses spoke to Israel at the height of his, now, unrighteous anger. “And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10) Moses was now so angry that the thought of honoring God didn’t even come to mind when he spoke. His mind quickly becomes focused on himself instead. “Must WE bring water for you out of the rock?”
Like Moses, our anger can start righteously and then very easily become unrighteous. And when the infection sets in, it can very quickly take over. Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 4:27 as to what it is that feeds lethal anger. He said, “nor give place to the devil.”
Unrighteous anger is fed by Satan’s influence – it gives him a place to work his work, a place to dwell in the mind. Moses was denied entrance to the promised land as a result. Even though Moses overcame this sin, he still paid a price on the physical level. The Apostle Paul, however, did not want anyone to fail at overcoming unrighteous anger and then have to pay at the spiritual level.
That is why we are not to let the sun go down on our wrath.