There are three parts to this next passage in James. He gives the outline first and then addresses each of the three topics that are related: Anger, listening, and speaking. These are every day parts of our lives, but essential in our witness and example that we set for the world as followers of Christ.
I had the best of intentions to address all three of these in one message, but it just became impossible. So today I will just be talking about his opening statement and Anger. This started out as a 1 hour sermon because there are so many pieces to it, but this is now just bare bones.
James 1:19-21 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, It is at in verse 20 that James begins to unpack and explain the importance of this statement for us.
20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Man’s anger, which is different than God’s anger, is not righteous . . . not right . . . and leads to the opposite of what God desires. We taught last week that God’s desire is ALWAYS holy and righteous and man’s anger is NOT God’s desire.
A lady once came to Billy Sunday ( a famous preacher of the past) and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” she said. “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun, but look at the damage it leaves behind!”.
The anger described in this passage is translated as “wrath” in the King James Version. It is the kind of anger that has an aggressive intent behind it. James is saying when we perceive there has been an injustice, either to ourselves or to another person, we need to SLOW down before reacting and get God’s perspective first. Our motive must be nothing but to love, and gently help bring the person into a right relationship with God.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Stay out of foolish arguments over the details of other people’s lives. Do not quarrel and bicker with anyone. Even if they are unkind to you, be kind back. Do not resent the person who opposes you. Gently instruct them in the way and pray that God will lead them to repentance . . . not us. Our words can not save anyone. The best we can hope for is that our words lead people to God so that God can save them.
There is much said about anger and wrath throughout the Bible. Here are a couple of Proverbs:
Proverbs 16:32 Better a patient man (slow to wrath) than a warrior, and a man who controls his temper (slow to wrath) than one who takes a city.
Proverbs 22:24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered
And the New Testament has plenty to say about anger as well:
Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
As my friend Tim says, “I don’t get to do the smiting, only God can smite people”. So my question is, “is there any place for MY wrath or aggressive anger?” Yes, with a VERY BIG “HOWEVER” attached! Ephesians does not discount that we can and do become aggressively angry sometimes, but even then there is a warning to be careful not to sin in that kind of anger. And it should not be harbored over night.
Ephesians 4:26, 31-32
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, . . .
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I know that at least a couple of you out there are also thinking, well Jesus got aggressively angry, so why can’t I? It is true. Jesus got angry at the money changers in the temple and aggressively drove them out.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
And Jesus also spoke with anger to the religious leaders. In Matthew 23 Jesus gives out 7 “Woes” to the religious leaders and did not mince any words:
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are . . .
He then adds 5 more “woes” to the teachers and Pharisees and concludes with:
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
The only time Jesus expressed an aggressive anger is when God was being misrepresented or when people were being led AWAY from God. His anger was not a selfish anger. It was a Godly anger . . . under control and carefully measured.
Please note: Jesus never got angry when He was being personally attacked. Even when He was questioned by the Sanhedrin, and questioned by Pilot, and beaten by the soldiers, and nailed to a cross, and mocked by the crowd. He only said, “Forgive them”.
His example for anger is perfectly set for us. When the Holiness of God is misrepresented and when false teachers lead people away from Christ, then we may respond with some aggression, but with lots of prior thought and prayer BEFORE acting out aggressively. It needs to be done thoughtfully and with purpose. I am certain that Jesus did not respond to the money changers impulsively. He planned what He would do and say LONG before He actually did it. The same is true with His 7 “woes”. Do you think it is a coincidence that there were 7? It was planned indignation.
So generally yes, “God gets to be the one to ‘smite’ people . . . not me”. If God gives you HIS plan to smite people on HIS behalf then by all means, obey. But it needs to be very clearly directed by God. So, if you feel the need to express anger and wrath to someone in your world, there are 3 steps I would like you to consider. If you have a bulletin or a place in your Bible to write these down, they may come in handy some day . . .
As I share these with you, I would like to give you a little window into my world of sermon preparation and I how these were revealed to me. I confess that at first I fell into the sermon prep trap that is a pet peeve of mine when other people do this. It is to take what makes sense to you, and then find scriptures to support your hypothesis.
At first, my hypothesis was . . . consult the Bible, Consult God, and Consult trusted Christian advice. A nice neat 3 point package which makes perfect sense to ME.
I discovered these three were NOT supported by God’s Word! As I went looking for scriptures it was easy to find “consult the Bible”. It is in our passage James 1:21b. It was also easy to find “consult God” because it is in last weeks scripture James 1:5. What I could NOT find was consult trusted Christian advice. I tried for at least an hour of concordance work and racking my brain for times people in the Bible did that . . . and it simply was NOT to be found.
So I was at an impasse. I didn’t want to say something that I could not Biblically support. So I started praying. I prayed about it for quite a while. And slowly, I started to realize what I had done, and I felt compelled to throw away my 3 ideas completely and just look at our passage alone for God’s steps as I should have done to begin with.
Here’s what I believe God gave me. The first two were same as before, because they were a part of our focus scriptures. But the third one caught me off guard because I had really glossed over that part of the scripture. And the reason I glossed over it is because I didn’t like it. It made me squirm when I focused on it. It may affect you the same way, but I have to say it, because it is not me saying it, but the Lord.
This is a process for deciding if you want to act on your anger toward someone. It is also a process for releasing your anger toward someone. AND it is also a process for dispelling deep depression toward yourself. Depression is really just anger turned inward. You are angry with yourself and you punish yourself for something you have done which results in depression because the turmoil is boiling inside you.
Let’s look at the three things you can do and you will see what I mean. Get your pens ready to write . . .
1. Consult the Bible. Bury God’s Word deep inside you until it takes root and becomes a part of you. James 1:21b Accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
The analogy James is using is that of a seed planted inside you that must take root and grow first before any fruit can appear. Everything Godly starts with God’s Word growing inside you. This requires patience. The anger may not subside fully until God’s Word is well established inside you. Revenge in haste will not take away the anger. In fact, it might just fan the flame.
2. Consult God. Immerse yourself in prayer until you have peace in your soul and uncontrolled emotions are eliminated. James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God , who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
When you pray, it must be done in the Spirit to get God’s perspective, not to ask God to give it to you the way you want it. If I had my way, I would ask God to make that person bow before me and confess what they did wrong and say they are sorry and that they will never do it again . . . then, in my great benevolence, I just might forgive him and the let the anger go. But that is asking God to let us sit on in His place of Honor. We are the ones who should be bowing before Him and confessing what we have done wrong and say we will never do it again . . . and God in His benevolence DOES forgive us and lets His anger go.
Which leads to our 3rd mysterious part of the process:
3. Get rid of your own selfish desires before taking any action.
James 1:21a get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent
I tried to just gloss over this part, because it makes me look at the part of me that I don’t want to see. The part where there is sin and evil. I don’t want to get rid of some of my sins, because I like them. The analogy I can’t help make in my life is that I don’t want to give up sugar in my life because it tastes good! But to have a healthy body, I am trying to purge all sugar (carbohydrates in my case). Sugar is prevalent everywhere. It is not easy to get rid of it, especially when my fleshly desire is for as much sugar as I can get!
This is just an analogy. Ask God to reveal those other areas in your life that you secretly know need to be addressed, but you keep ignoring and hoping it will have no affect on you.
To recap and close, 1. Bury God’s Word deep inside you and help it to grow. 2. Immerse yourself in prayer and seek God’s perspective, not your own. 3. Get rid of sinful selfish desires that become barriers between you and releasing your anger.
These are not easy steps, but they are God’s steps.