May 29, 2016
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
When was the last time you got angry? How did you respond to your anger? Each of us, to varying degrees, will face anger or at least frustration. For some, anger is a way of life, poisoning relationships with others. Today we will see a glimpse of how God views anger through the book of James, addressing Christians “scattered among the nations” (James 1:1) who faced sustaining, systemic mistreatment.
In James 1:19-21, we learn some about the way that God views anger:
1. Anger is not always wrong.
James tells us “to be slow to become angry” (James 1:19), but does not command Christians not to be angry at all.
Godly people in Scripture, such as Jacob, Moses and Nehemiah, got angry. Jesus became angry in cleansing the temple and at the religious authorities when healing a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5).
In the Old Testament, God the Father showed anger, such as at the time of the Flood, at Sodom and Gomorrah, and when the poor were mistreated. The New Testament tells of a day of God’s wrath coming against those who have settled against Him.
There are times when anger can be helpful — anger can strengthen us to fight when we need it. The fight could be on a physical level, or on a relational level, such as against mental or emotional mistreatment. Anger empowers us to push back against abuse to protect ourselves, our families and those we care for.
2. Anger often results in wrong.
James commands us “to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Feeling and acting in anger can be dangerous and powerful, and James is warning us to use it sparingly.
He explains that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20). We might think that the outworking of our anger brings about the administration of justice. Anger that leads to vengeance is a special sin, because we think we are righteous in our anger and it plays off our sense of justice. We say, “It feels so right,” or “No justice, no peace.”
However, James is clearly saying that man’s vengeance does not bring about God’s justice, equality or righteousness. James tells us to “…get rid of all moral filth and evil [especially anger] that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21).
Instead of harboring anger and acting it out, we are to turn away and humbly follow the Spirit of God’s inner direction. We must be very careful with anger.
Some specific reasons of why the path of wrath and vengeance is not the way for believers:
- We do not know all that there is to know. Our perspective is often limited in not knowing all the facts.
- We are not impartial. In fact, we are biased, such as when we excuse the failures of those we love far faster than those with whom we are more unfamiliar.
- We almost always go too far. Throughout the world, we never stop at justice. Instead we go further, never agreeing how wrong someone has been or how much the person(s) should pay for their injustice. Vengeance just keeps escalating when we are in charge, instead of God.
Scripture does not give us the right to take vengeance without His direction. “It is mine to avenge: I will repay” (Romans 12:19). Instead we are told, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20).
3. There is a better way to achieve righteousness.
The “righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20) is not accomplished through anger. In fact, it is the wisdom of God to know that “peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). Growing a crop of true righteousness is best grown in a soil of peace (not wrath or vengeance). The native soil of righteousness is peace.
By His own wrath against our imperfection/sin, our loving God has accomplished righteousness in us. He did not execute His justice on us personally, but instead made peace by giving the ultimate sacrifice of His Son for our faults. At the Cross, God poured out His wrath and made peace with us. In the righteousness of Jesus, believers can now have a relationship with God and experience His peace and transformation as we live out our daily lives with Him in this broken world.
May your Holy Spirit come to us and help us deal with our anger. Help us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) as we rest in Your peace and follow Your directions, as You grow us in righteousness to be like Your Son (2 Corinthians 3:18).