“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 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.” James 1:19-21
The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote that, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” If more of us practiced this dictum there would be far fewer problems in this world and in our relationships. James knows this principle and he wants his hearers to take note of it. It is a discipline that is sorely lacking in our culture. In fact, slowness to speak and slowness to anger are seen as weaknesses not virtues. Due to the internet, social media and cell phones, every Tom, Dick and Harriet is now able to tell the world whatever they think about any and every topic, whenever they think it and with the appropriate amount of rage. People have no filter. Once again, God’s Word radically confronts our prevailing worldview.
The reason we are so prone to get heated is because we think we can actually change things through our anger. We believe that our sinful anger will produce righteousness. However, how often have you responded impulsively and shot off an email, hammered out a text or said a cruel word that didn’t help at all? Act in haste, repent at leisure. You see the thing is, anger does seem to work. Who hasn’t worked for a quick-tempered boss who gets things done by shouting and threatening? Perhaps you have had a parent or maybe even, sadly, a pastor who uses anger to get their own way. Notice James doesn’t say that anger doesn’t get results, he says it doesn’t produce the righteousness that God desires. Or as the King James Version says, “The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Sinful anger does not produce righteousness in your heart or in the person you are angry with. It is doubtful that any employee ever walked away from a humiliating public roasting with a soft heart. Nor is it likely that any child or spouse ever thought, “I feel so close to Jesus.” After being corrected with a torrent of withering sarcasm. Sinful anger does not produce righteousness.
This verse is soooo important because it covers each and every domain of life. Think about it, there isn’t an area of your life where you are not tempted at some point to use anger to get your way: family relationships, work relationships, church relationships, your neighbour etc. During this lockdown, this time of close confinement with family members, no doubt you have been tempted to get angry; maybe it seemed like the only way you would get anything to change. Perhaps you have succumbed to this sinful anger. Please don’t despair, confess your sin to the Lord and the one you have sinned against and ask for forgiveness.
James gives us some very practical advice to win the battle against sinful anger. Put off and put on. Put off moral filth and evil that is so prevalent and put on humility and submission to God’s Word. No rocket science here! Read your Bible and submit to it. While this is not difficult to understand it is difficult to practice. Remember that God’s Word isn’t just a book, Christ is God’s Word, we need to submit to Christ as revealed to us in the Bible. It is a relationship. Notice that James tells us that the Word is implanted in us. If you are a Christian God’s Word has regenerated you (1 Peter 1:23) and is in you, sanctifying you. As you start this new day, hide God’s Word in your heart, humbly submit to it and put off sinful anger (Psalm 119:11).