In Ephesians 4, Paul encourages the believers in Ephesus to live like redeemed Christians. Because they have new life in Christ, they should live like new people, not like they did before they were saved (Ephesians 4:20–24). In Ephesians 4:25–32, Paul gives several examples of what it means to live in Christian community. One of those examples involves our anger and the devil. “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27, NKJV). Some translations translate the word for “place” as “foothold” (NIV) or “opportunity” (ESV).
The word for “place” or “foothold” literally refers to a physical location. In the Greek-speaking world, it came to metaphorically mean “opportunity.” The sense in Ephesians 4:27 is metaphorical. We are not supposed to give the devil any opportunity to influence our lives. He should not have any place in our lives because he is an enemy of God and wants to destroy God’s people (John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8).
In the context of this passage, it is our anger that has the potential to give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26). Even righteous anger, if held too long, can become bitter and divisive. The longer we remain angry, the more opportunities we are giving the devil to sow hatred and discontentment. That is why Paul tells the Ephesian Christians not to let the sun go down on their anger, so that they do not give the devil any opportunities to twist the situation with his lies and deception. We must dispose of our anger as quickly as possible, so that we do not give any place to the devil.
How do we apply this passage? We must recognize that remaining angry with people gives the devil an occasion to wreak havoc in our lives. Anything that gives the devil an opportunity to influence our lives is bad for us by default. We should follow Paul’s advice, just a few verses later, to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).