Elevation is in our genes. Not only do Tim and I find our favorite places at the tops of mountains, but our children are equally obsessed with getting to the top! From the time they could walk, these girls have been climbing anything and everything they can get their hands and feet on.
This spring, our oldest daughter, Ada, joined a youth climbing team at the local rock gym. Two afternoons a week she gets to climb her little heart out, moving from handhold to foothold, foothold to handhold as she ascends an assortment of vertical (and more-than-vertical) walls.
Last week, while watching her attempt a new bouldering (that’s climbing without a harness – but don’t worry, it’s on a shorter wall) route, I noticed her struggling to get to the top. Though she had successfully grasped the handholds above the overhang (yikes!), her body simply wasn’t long enough to gain a foothold within that route that would allow her to reach any higher.
When we think of climbing, we think mostly of people using their hands to ascend the side of a mountain, but equally as important as the hands are the feet. Finding a ledge or crack that at least a portion of your foot can occupy is necessary, not only to give your tired arms a break, but to give you the leverage you need to boost your body higher.
Though I’m sure this is not the exact meaning of the “foothold” referred to in Ephesians 4:27, I think it still gives us an idea of what Paul was talking about.
Anger is a fundamental human emotion. When someone does something that threatens us or threatens someone we care about, our blood pressure rises and our bodies become tense. Filled with emotion, we are spurred on to fight injustice and protect ourselves and others.
And though it can in some ways be beneficial, Paul urged those who were being “made new” by the Holy Spirit (4:23) to be careful with their anger. “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (4:26-27) Since most of our anger is only the result of our egos being threatened, Paul knew it had the potential to tear down the body of Christ.
The word translated as “foothold” in this verse is the Greek “topos” which means “an inhabited place” and, in a military sense, more territory.* With more territory comes more “opportunity,” as the ESV translates it, for power and influence. The more ‘inhabitable space’ we give to the devil, the more ‘opportunity’ he has to create hurt and division in our families, churches, and communities.
When climbing outside of the manufactured holds found in the gym, climbers take advantage of every indentation, protrusion, ridge, and crack real rocks have to offer. Over time, erosion has enlarged these ‘inhabitable spaces’ that give climbers the ‘opportunities’ they need to expand their ‘territory’ by climbing higher.
Since Adam and Eve’s first bite, elevation – of ourselves – has been in our genes. In his commentary on Ephesians 4, Albert Barnes states that: “The heart is deceitful; and seldom more deceitful in any case than when a man is attempting to vindicate himself from injuries done to his person and reputation.”**
When our egos are wounded, our tendency is to dwell on the situation. It baffles me that I can let the few seconds it took for someone to say something that offended me consume the other tens of thousands of seconds left in that day – or the following days! But the more I rehash what they said or did, trying to diagnose their sin and convince myself of their error, the more ‘inhabitable space’ I create. Dwelling is the erosion the enemy uses to carve out bitterness and resentment, which give him ‘opportunity’ in my life and relationships.
But as a follower of Jesus, I’m the one with the opportunity! Every time I want to vindicate myself, but choose to elevate Him instead, I leverage His power and grace. Every time I say, “I’m hurt, but Jesus, I will trust You with this,” I take the territory back. Every time I cut short the erosion process by saying, “Jesus, I surrender my reputation to You,” I shrink the devil’s inhabitable space. Every time I choose to “not let the sun go down” by having a hard conversation, apologizing, or offering forgiveness, I fill in the footholds – with my own two feet.
Anger is unavoidable, but the Holy Spirit is at work, empowering us to be careful with it!