Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

Many of us were brought up with the influential book Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams.

In that book, and the companion book The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Adams sets forth his system that became known as Nouthetic Counseling, which became tremendously influential. Many, in fact, teach that Nouthetic Counseling is the only true Biblical counseling. I have heard many pastors and professors teach that anyone who seeks another kind of counseling should be disciplined by the church.

Harsh treatment, indeed.

The first book is now almost 50 years old, and I wonder if it has brought forth good fruit or bad fruit. Theology has consequences.

But even more than that, now that I am older I am starting to see some of the problems. I am wondering if it is biblical. It is my position that “Biblical Counseling” is neither biblical, nor is it counseling.

But that thesis is too great for one blog. I would like to simply look at one example: Adams treatment of Ephesians 4:26.

Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Adams’ interpretation of this passage is found in Competent to Counsel beginning on page 220. He alludes to this interpretation throughout the book. Reconciliation is a big theme with Adams. In fact, I do not believe that it is over-simplifying his theory by saying that he contends that virtually every inter-personal conflict of every kind can be resolved by following the steps of Matthew 18. (See The Christian Counselor’s Manuel, page 52 and following).

His interpretation of Ephesians 4:26 fits into his thesis. He writes on this passage,

…Paul says that Christians must not allow one single day to pass with unresolved anger stored in their hearts. The principle is clearly set forth: “Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” In other words, every day Christians must handle the problems that have arisen. This does not mean that others must be confronted about every sin which they have committed. There are many matters that can be covered over by love…Yet there are some things that cannot be set to rest simply by covering them with love. They continue to rattle around down inside; they fester and eat away. Such problems need to be settled daily by personal confrontation. (Competent, 222)

At first glance, it seems practical and even Biblical. We all know those people who carry anger around with them and divide and destroy one another each day. The scripture is clear that we are to lay aside resentment and wrath and malice. Walking in love does indeed separate us from the world.

But at a closer glance, and now 50 years later, we see problems emerge. He does not define which problems are big enough to “confront” and which to “let go” except the ones that one cannot just let go must be confronted.

Suppose a woman has not gotten dinner on the table on time, and her husband, who loves to bully and threaten, decides that this is something that must be settled by personal confrontation. So he rails, reviles, threatens his wife, refusing to let her sleep until his anger is dissipated, only to start it again the next day – because they have to be reconciled daily.

Before you say, “That never happens”, just stop. It does. All the time. Until 2 or 3 in the morning, or all night. The favorite tactic of a son of the devil is to deprive his target of sleep, and Adams gives him the perfect excuse. He gets to define what sin must be confronted all night, and he must resolve it or she cannot go to bed.

To be sure, Adams would not condone abusive behavior. In fact, he might even confront it harshly. His disciples often do. But the heart of the issue remains, and the husband asserts his right to vomit his anger on his wife again the next time he feels like it.

Is this truly what this verse is telling us? Is the problem the practice, or is it the interpretation of the verse? It is saying that my anger is the fault of another who must be forced to bend to my will before I go to bed? This is how many tens of thousands of Adams disciples take it.

One of the problems with this interpretation is Psalm 4. Some, like Hendrickson, simply say that Paul quotes the Psalm and uses it for his own purposes. But there is no attempt to explain why Paul quotes this Psalm if his purpose is to teach about personal reconciliation.

Psalm 4 has nothing whatever to do with reconciling personal relationships. It has to do with worship. And Paul is using it the same way, being faithful to the text. The Ephesian Christians were also subject to injustice and wickedness and persecution.  Here is Psalm 4:

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, O you sons of men, Will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness And seek falsehood?
3 But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; The LORD will hear when I call to Him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.
5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us any good?” LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased.
8 I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This is a Psalm of David, ultimately fulfilled in Christ. David was hounded, persecuted, driven from home, slandered, and greatly abused.

Christ also, as our mediator, suffered greatly at the hands of wicked men. And it made him angry.

It is true that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return. It is true that he didn’t carry resentment around. But he was angry at hard hearts. He was angry at death, the old enemy. He was angry at the hatred and envy and lying and murder that the religious leaders stored up in their hearts.

But being without sin, Christ used that anger to worship God and to deepen his trust (according to his human nature and office of mediator), and that is what this Psalm is about.

The Lord sanctifies and sets apart. The Lord has not abandoned us to the rage and hatred of bullies and oppressors, but has promised redemption. He is coming in judgment.

And he allows us to sleep at night because he loves us. “I will lay down and sleep because the Lord makes me dwell safely.”

So at night, when your anger is bubbling over; when the blasphemy and oppression and injustice of the wicked one seems far too powerful, far too brutal, far to great for someone like you to handle, remember this: It isn’t too small for God. He puts gladness in the heart. Put your trust in his promises and sleep, dear ones, for God is faithful and true and just. And he sees.

He sees Hagar fleeing with her son. He sees Moses in the wilderness. He sees David in hiding in the cave. And he sees you.

Instead of anger at night, meditate on that and be still.

You see, Paul is not talking about personal confrontation. That makes your anger (whether it is just or unjust) someone else’s problem. Further, why are you so angry with your children or your spouse that you are trembling with rage (which is the word in Psalm 4) at them. Are they truly your enemies?

Enemies, though, can cause great fear and helpless, despairing anger. And the way to put it off is not to shut off your feelings. It is to turn to the Lord in worship.

Be angry. Injustice, reviling, blasphemy, crime, slander, destruction, senseless crime, abortion, immorality, is ugly and hateful.

Be angry at the things God is angry over. Don’t be angry that moths and rust destroyed what moths and rust destroys. That’s what happens in this cursed world.

Be angry, but sin not.

And when you are angry and what God is angry at, take heart that his anger is perfect. His justice is perfect. He will take care of it. “Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.

So leave it in his hands. The injustice and wrongs of the day, the folly and slanders of the day, the attacks of the day – be angry. But when the sun goes down, go outside. Look at the stars. See if you can count them. Remember God’s promise to Abraham. He doesn’t lie.

And then take a deep breath. Open up a bottle of wine. Kiss your wife. Hug your children. Get out a board game.

Cut some pie. Put some whipped cream right on it.

Look back at the sky. He who created those stars hates injustice far more than you do.

He who spread out that black canvas to paint the galaxies on hates the slaughter of infants more than you do

He who feeds those coyotes that you hear howling and he gave the crickets their song hates theft and murder and greed and adultery more that you ever could.

So finish your pie. Kiss your wife again.

Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t let your anger consume you. Don’t let it grow into that little ball of hatred that poisons everything.

Don’t let your anger consume you so much that you miss talking to a friend, you miss the smell of the night sky, the autumn night, the beauty of the creator, the calling of the dove and the hoot of the owl.

Be angry. But sin not.


Filed under counseling, Goodness, Pastoral ministry

10 responses to “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath

  1. Dorinda Burrell

    Really?!?!? I have read those books by Adams and have heard his teachings being taught and discussed and have never heard that interpretation of that teaching. Do you not like Adams so much that you are willing to twist his teachings? No one has perfect understanding of the Scriptures but you don’t need to twist someone else’s words to teach what you understand to be true.

    • If you have never heard that, then you weren’t paying attention. I can’t help that.
      My quote came directly out of competent to counsel. It was not taken out of context and it was not twisted. He spends page after page on it.
      Look it up again.
      If you do not believe that this is how it is taught and how it is applied, please look at my facebook page and you will see examples from real life in the comments.
      The examples I gave in my blog are not exceptions to the rule. They ARE the rule. This is how it is taught and how it is applied, and the lives it has destroyed are real.
      You can close your eyes to it all you want, but it is still there.

      It astounds me that I always get two responses when speaking out against abuse and abusive teaching.
      The first is hundreds of real-life accounts describing exactly what I wrote about, over and over again.
      the other response is from those who say it never happens, I’m exaggerating, no one ever said that, I’m just making it up.
      Please wake up. Listen to someone outside of your own tribe.

      By the way, you say that you are a student of Adams and yet you have never heard this teaching. Really? It is actually the heart of his method. It’s kind of like saying that you studied with Abraham Maslow and never heard of the hierarchy of needs, or studied with JS Bach and have never heard of counterpoint. I could go on.

      If any of my readers want to enlighten this poor woman, feel free.

      • My wife and I are professional counselors with a wide range of training and experience.

        I can’t tell you how many times we’ve struggled to undo the immense damage done to clients by nouthetic counseling / “Biblical Counseling” (the latter re-naming being a marketing gimmick, because the system itself has not changed). Souls have fallen away, individuals were damaged almost irreparably, marriages were destroyed. I could provide many examples, but not now. Nonetheless God is faithful, and all that damage can often be undone with loving compassion, sound theology and teaching, and a good set of therapeutic tools.

        I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that ” ‘Biblical Counseling’ is neither biblical, nor is it counseling” and I would love to see your take on that, since Adams’ books are some of the few that I’ve ever thrown across the room and wanted to burn. How any pastor or counselor can be fooled into thinking this is either true or effective, is beyond me.

      • Thank you for your response. I agree. I am a pastor and have seen the same damage. I think the root of the system is bad, so the fruit is bad.
        By this, I do not mean that Dr. Adams and his followers were not Christian. I simply mean that they were mistaken and have created some very ugly babies.

    • Anu Riley

      Hi Dorinda I can’t speak to the teachings by Adams since I’ve never heard of him, never read his books and have never met the man. I have no idea where his heart is with the Lord.

      I CAN speak to twisted interpretations of Scripture, especially when it comes to minor to major conflict in relationships.

      Pastor never said he personally dislikes Adams. Even gives him the benefit of the doubt: pointing out that Adams would not condone abuse; would likely confront it harshly. It’s about his work, not his persona.

      Also, there is no such thing as anyone, from Pastor to Adams and anyone in between—-having perfect understanding of Scripture. Not on this side of eternity, at least.

      Conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit is not the same thing as feeling bad or guilty or ashamed of yourself. Anger is one of those things that can either get a hold of you and control you, or you get a hold of it first so that it doesn’t control you.

      I’ve felt “forced” into giving up my anger because, simply put, it had to be done. It had to go away. It was a problem. It was an issue.

      What that really meant is that either the anger had to go away, or I had to go away. It wasn’t acceptable, so if I didn’t get rid of it, I wasn’t acceptable anymore.

      Anger is a very strong emotion. The mere intensity of anger tends to put others off, before there is a chance to understand WHY that anger exists in the first place.

      We as humans tend to see what is on the surface. When we had our roof replaced, the whole house shook, but it had to be done. That merciless pounding was not out of sinful rage, but it sure sounded like it.

      Righteous anger is a difficult tool to harness exactly as the Lord would have it. Letting the Holy Spirit’s righteousness work in you JUST right—-without your own self-righteousness getting in the way—is more of an art than a science I think. And it simply can’t be boiled down to: don’t let the sun go down on your anger—-work it out before it’s too late, or sin is not only knocking on your door, you’ve let it into your heart and home.

      For so many of us, we struggle with purging our sinful anger and letting in the Lord’s righteous anger—-because we were told to never be angry at all. In a sense, we were encouraged to numb that anger.

      Example, someone hit you on the head and as a result, a large, painful bump emerges. So you’re told to put a cold compress on it and the swelling will go down. It doesn’t matter how it got there Just make it go away, and in essence—so will your anger. You’ll forget you were ever assaulted in the first place.

      So it makes no difference that it was your spouse that assaulted you. In a fit of anger, no less. BUT, you dare not express any strong emotion in return, because before the sun goes down, you need to forgive him and not be angry. He demands it. He expects it. He isn’t angry anymore (never mind that he took OUT his anger on you), so why should you be?

      Anger is sometimes a sign that you are on the right track—not to justify anger that chooses to lash out, use vindictive words or takes matters into their own hands. But you have a sense that something is not right in God’s eyes (not just your own!) and you are daring to have a reaction to that. A strong reaction. One that understands that when one of His own is victimized, it is 100% Biblical to feel the way He feels about it.

      I think God’s anger is tempered with a great deal of patience—so it should be for us as well. Many people will not see justice in this life, they will have to wait. That can cause a lot of anger and frustration it of itself.

      I don’t think ti’s a coincidence that 1 Corinthians 13 states God is patient as the first line to describe Him as love. I’ve never seen righteous anger come “naturally” apart from Him, and neither does His patience! They are all works of Him that come when He works in us and through us—-and for us.

      It then becomes natural to trust Him—it becomes an act of worship to Him (as Pastor pointed out) when we are righteously angry, but we can still rest in Him—-knowing He is faithful and just. We can be patient, knowing He has never let us down—-never has, can or will.

      There is something NOT right about a spouse who doesn’t take being abused by her spouse personally. Who is told to NOT be afraid to remain with him. Who is told that it’s wrong to press charges or find a place of safety or ask for help—-whatever option she chooses.

      But to say: I’m not angry, it wasn’t personal, he didn’t mean it, he was just blowing off steam and I provoked him anyway, this wasn’t a big deal so when the sun goes down, my anger must go down with it.

      Pastor brought up how dangerous these words are: “things that cannot be set to rest simply by covering them with love…..Such problems need to be settled daily by personal confrontation.”

      There is no way to settle abuse daily, with confrontation, because abuse isn’t a communication problem. It’s a sin problem that is the fault of one person’s choice to sin, not a failure for one or both to communicate!

      In fact, abuse itself communicates a harsh message: I don’t love you and I never will. Not only can that not be covered by love, it can’t be confronted or settled or put to rest, period.

  2. Holly

    Oh Pastor Sam, did I ever need to read this tonight. I just met with two dear Christian friends to pray about how my son’s ex-wife is lying to get complete custody of their daughter. It is evil straight from the pit of hell. I do feel angry. And I remember that it must be a righteous anger so that I do not sin.

    Thank you for reminding me that God hates this more than I do. I know He is in control, but sometimes my faith wavers. Then I read all the stories in the Word of God that tell how God delivers His own. Over and over and over He gives triumph over the enemy. I praise Him!

    I also needed to hear that I can still enjoy life. I do not need to be anxious over what might happen. I will trust that God will make it right, then go to bed and sleep peacefully. Please pray for me. Pray for my son and his daughter.

  3. Natalie Barr

    Wonderful words, Sam.

    Many was the time I looked into the face of my abusive husband as he would repeat the words of our latest Biblical Counselor and use that advice given to us to abuse my heart and twist God’s words into excuses for me to live in daily hell.

    Thank you for taking on this topic in the face of criticism and for standing up for those of us who have been so harmed by Biblical Counselors unwittingly joining forces with the abusive spouses we were struggling to live with in peace.

  4. Well said, Sam. I really like how you laid out this post. One problem I see, abusers, bullies, tend to believe their feelings are everyone else’s problem. So if they are angry they believe it is your fault and your job to fix it. The Bible can certainly be misused to validate that lie.

    I wrote a post a few yrs ago about the other side of things, about those of us who tend to repress our anger. https://insanitybytes2.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/be-ye-angry/

  5. Jeff Crippen

    Great article, Sam. Very very true and helpful.

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