When was the last time you lost temper? What caused it?
When was the last time you got in an argument with someone else? What was it over?
What makes you mad?
We live in a world that prizes putting others down so we can look better. When we are in an argument, we love scathing comebacks. We like being quick witted, sarcastic, snarky. We love getting the last word in and belittling someone else. We hate being wronged, but we love it when someone “gets what they deserve”.
This last weekend I went and saw the new Pixar move “Inside Out”, and in it one of the characters, Disgust, tells another character, Anger, that they need to do something to solve a problem. But Anger immediately responds with, “What?! That doesn’t make any sense?!” And, as belittling as she can possibly be, Disgust responds, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak ‘idiot’, let me try and dumb it down for you: duhhhh buuhhh gaaah.” To which Anger responds by his head exploding into flames.
That’s a good picture of what we typically want to have happen in arguments with others. We want to make them feel stupid, so we can walk away feeling superior to them. That’s what we really want – that’s all over the TV shows, movies and books we read. The “cool” person is the one who always has the right thing to say, who never get’s walked on by anyone else. But God’s Word has something to say to both the person being walked on and the one doing the walking.
The Temptation of Anger
“Know this my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20
James just finished talking about Christians enduring difficult trials in Ja. 1:2-18. Speaking to these brothers who are going through times of suffering and pain, he immediately says, “Remember friends: be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” James is anticipating that when they are being attacked and persecuted by others, their flinch response is going to be to get angry and start yelling. And James is pleading with them to resist.
Don’t we love just letting someone have it? Don’t we love venting our anger at someone, ESPECIALLY when we feel like they have done something wrong to us? People get famous on YouTube today for posting videos of rants at people who have wronged them. Daily, we see people post on Facebook and Twitter these vague, passive-aggressive statements at people they are angry with. If this is so natural to us – why would James tell us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger?
James says that it is because, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The “righteousness” of God is the display of the perfection, holiness, and complete-ness of God. God’s righteousness is just another way of saying “the way things are supposed to be”. God did not make humanity to thrive off of the “anger of man” – when we feed into indulging our angry outbursts, we are ripping apart the fabric of God’s design for the communities we live in. And don’t we know this to be true? Have you ever lost your temper at someone and thought “Wow, I just took a step towards us having a stronger, healthier relationship.” No – we know that we just dropped a nuclear bomb on our relationship with that person, and, in the moment, we feel glad we did. Notice the connection that James makes between our ability to listen, our impulse to talk, and the presence of our anger. Our anger makes a quick path from our emotions to our mouths, and very slow path from our ears to our minds.
Why do we do this? I bet you know that losing your temper is a bad thing, and you shouldn’t do it – but I’m guessing you still do it, right? Well, maybe what we need is to figure out why we get so angry, and maybe this will help: what is anger? Do you know what anger is? Anger is a natural response we feel when something we love is being threatened. Anger, is love in motion; love fighting off extinction.
This is why the Bible actually, at times, commands us to be angry. Did you notice that our passage in James does not say “never be angry” – it says that we should be slow to anger. Eph. 4:26 tells us that we should “Be angry and do not sin.” There are things that we should be angry about, and that means that if we are not angry, we are sinning. Now, how do we know what we should be angry about? Simple: if we love what God loves, we will be angry at what angers God. See, most of our anger springs up from us loving ourselves most, not loving God – so when someone makes fun of us, inhibits our freedom, tells us what to do, makes us feel dumb, we explode because what we really love most is ourselves. Biblical anger both comes from a different source and looks very different: Biblical anger comes from loving what God loves. So, how do we learn what God loves? We spend time in His Word.
The Filter of Anger
James explains, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Ja. 1:21). James says that when we are presented with a frustrating situation where our anger inside of us is stirred up, rather than snapping back, spreading rumors, tweeting or posting an update – rather than exporting words, we need to receive THE Word. We need the “implanted word, which is able to save your souls” or more literally, “able to save your life.” You see, James is contrasting the outburst that comes from the “anger of man” and it “not producing the righteousness of God” with “humbly receiving the word, which is able to save your life.” When we indulge our anger, we rip apart the fabric of life – but when we remain quiet, seek God’s Word, and discover what it means to love what God loves and hate what God hates in this situation, we are weaving more unity into the fabric of life. And then, after filling our minds with God’s Word, loving what God loves, we may then be confirmed that our anger we are feeling is legitimate and we act upon it in a Christ-honoring way, or discover that our anger is centered on self-love, repent, and move on. God’s Word acts as a filter for our anger.
And just to make this clear, Scripture over and over again reminds us that God absolutely hates sins, AND God absolutely loves sinners.
For example, homosexuality is a dominating topic right now. I have seen all over the internet Christians responding in three different ways to the recent ruling about gay marriage. 1) A Christian will emphasize the sinful nature of homosexuality and how our nation is now ruined and how disgusted they are, and there is relatively now gentleness or love in their response. They are hating what God hates, but not loving what God loves. 2) A Christian will emphasize the accepting, loving nature of God to save all sinners, and all sin is the same, and Christians shouldn’t judge. But there is no sense of repentance or Christian holiness in their response. They are loving what God loves, but not hating what God hates. 3) A Christian will emphasize the loving, gracious nature of God to accept and forgive all sins, but will not redefine “sin” as anything but “sin” and therefore, like all other sins, must be repented of.
The Christian worldview is not reductionistic – we love what God loves, but hate what God hates. And if you are interested in learning more specifically about homosexuality and Christianity, I encourage you to attend a special night we will be having in a couple of weeks, on July 29th. We will be hosting a “Let’s Talk” event where we will cover the topic of “Christianity and Homosexuality.” This will be a night where we look at what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, and will be opening up the floor for a text-in Q&A afterwards. You are welcome to invite friends to come – the night will be held in a respectful, gracious tone, and we are praying that it will be a blessing to you and your friends.
The Law of Freedom
So after you figure out what God loves and what God hates – then what? Is this just a nice little mental exercise? James certainly doesn’t think so.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (Ja. 1:22-25).
After we humbly receive God’s Word, we then put it into practice. We don’t simply hear it and walk away unchanged. James compares those of us who hear God’s Word and don’t apply it to a man who looks at himself in a mirror, then immediately forgets what he looks like as soon as he walks away. James actually says we can look “intently” (vs. 23) at God’s Word and not put it into practice. It doesn’t matter how much of the Bible you have studied, how long you have been attending church, how much theology or doctrine you have learned: if none of it has changed your life, it is all worthless.
Here is what James is saying: what you do after hearing God’s Word reveals what you believe about God’s Word. When you encounter something in the Bible that confronts and convicts you of sin, do you repent? Or do you try and ignore it? I’ll say it again, but what you do after hearing God’s Word reveals what you believe about God’s Word. Or, to say it more plainly, what you do after hearing from God reveals what you believe about God.
Look friends, if we react to stressful or annoying situations the exact same way as the rest of the world does, then we are displaying to them that we have our hope in the exact same thing they do. Christ’s Kingdom will not extend if the members in the Kingdom are really just living for the kingdom of the world. Christians should be radically different people than the rest of the world because Christians should love God most, when the rest of the world doesn’t.
And perhaps as I talk, you are slowly realizing that there is a lot of your life that does not love God most. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed with the fact that you have a bad temper, and seem to be just like the person James is describing: looking in the mirror and forgetting who you are.
But notice that James describes the law of God as the “law of liberty” or maybe yours says “freedom”, in vs. 25. Why would James describe God’s Law as “freedom”? Isn’t God’s Law the long list of what we must do to make God happy? Isn’t the Law a bad thing?
The “Law” is a term that the New Testament authors use to refer to the moral requirements that God demanded of His people to be within a covenant with Him. When Jesus begins His ministry, He proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).
Jesus did not come to do away with God’s perfect, holy requirements of the Law – not at all! He came to fulfill them. Jesus obeyed the law, perfectly. But Jesus knows that we cannot keep the Law, and therefore are under its curse. Paul explains, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’ …Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”” (Gal. 3:10, 13).
Here is what is happening: At the cross, Jesus, though His life has earned all of the blessings, is taking the curse of the Law – so that you, who have done nothing but earn the curses, can now have the blessings of the law, in Him. So now, because of Christ, we don’t relate to God the way an employee relates to their boss, but the way a child relates to their parent – we obey because we love Him, and what he did for us changes everything.
Here are three massive implications that flow from what happened on the Cross:
- God’s love for us is not dependent on our ability to control our anger. God’s acceptance of us is built on Christ’s perfect obedience, and Christ always was quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
- Our identity is rock solid in Christ, so I don’t have to fight other people over establishing my own awesomeness. Half of our anger flows from us feeling like our identity is threatened, and we clamor to defend it. Relax, Jesus’ identity has been given to you, and it is a thousand times better.
- I can trust that since Christ took all of the curse of the law for me on the cross, that the Father gives me nothing but blessings and love, even if they take the form of suffering or difficulty. The other half of our anger is us getting frustrated at circumstances in our life. But God has promised that He is working all things, even difficult things, together for our good (Rom. 8:28), and you can trust Him because He already displayed how much He loves you (Rom. 8:32). God doesn’t just want our name in His book, but He wants to make us new creatures – and that often is a painful process – loving – but painful, at times.
So, dear Christian, I implore you: trust Christ. Resist the temptation to get angry about things that will destroy you; Submit yourself to God’s Word to filter your emotions and teach you to love what God loves; And, remember Christ’s perfect fulfillment of law.