What does it mean to give no place to the Devil (Ephesians 4:27)?
Ephesians 4:26–27 in the KJV says, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil." The ESV renders the verses "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil." To understand what it means not to give a place to the Devil, or to give him no opportunity, we need to understand these verses in their context.
In Ephesians 4:1–6, the apostle Paul issues a call for unity among God's people. First, Paul entreats believers to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (verse 1). We should walk in humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace (verses 2–3) because there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (verses 5–6).
In Ephesians 4:7–16, Paul shows believers how God works unity through the distribution of various spiritual gifts. Paul assures us that every Christian is given grace "according to the measure of Christ's gift" (verse 7). Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers are gifts to the church for the purpose of spiritual instruction and maturation (verses 11–13). The hope is that we might attain to the highest level of sanctification, and not be driven away from Christ by every wind of opinion (verses 14–16).
In Ephesians 4:17–24, Paul exhorts believers to put off the old man and to put on the new man. The old man was "alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (verse 18). "They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity" (verse 19). The new man, however, has learned a different way of life (verses 20–21). Therefore, we ought to lay aside everything that pertains to our sinful old way of life and become wholly conformed to the righteousness and holiness of Christ (verses 22–24).
In Ephesians 4:25–32, Paul lays out the conduct of the new man and how we are supposed to put away certain evils. We should avoid lying (verse 25), nursing anger (verse 26), theft (verse 28), unwholesome speech (verse 29), and grieving the Holy Spirit (verse 30). We should also avoid bitterness and malice (verse 31). Instead, we should speak truth (verse 25), resolve anger (verse 26), do honest work and share with people in need (verse 28), speak things that edify (verse 29), have a spirit of kindness (verse 32), and forgive one another (verse 32).
A spirit of kindness, forgiveness, and peace could be easily destroyed by unresolved anger. When someone wrongs us, or we believe that they have wronged us, there is a tendency to "get even" with them. This tendency reveals an unforgiving spirit, which the devil uses as a "foothold" (NIV) or "opportunity" or "place" to sow hatred and discord (Ephesians 4:27). This is why Paul encourages believers to "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). In doing so, we can guard ourselves against satanic schemes and "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).
The Bible offers guidance on how to manage anger in healthy ways. First, believers should have self-control. In Proverbs 16:32, Solomon writes, "Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (cf. James 1:19–20).
Second, believers should have a spirit of forgiveness. Peter, wishing to know how many times he should forgive someone who repeatedly sins against him, asks Jesus the following question, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" (Matthew 18:21). Jesus gives Peter a surprising answer, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times" (verse 22). The idea is that that there is not a limit to the number of times that we should forgive someone. After all, how many times have we sinned against God and He forgave us?
Third, believers should communicate with love. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (cf. Ephesians 4:25). This verse encourages us to address conflicts with gentleness and love, seeking resolution and understanding.
We must recognize that holding grudges against our brothers and sisters in Christ gives the Devil an opportunity to "steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). So, let us learn how to forgive one another, as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.
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