James 1:19-22(NIV): 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 product 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. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
James is writing to early Jewish Christians, giving them instructions on how to live good, moral lives. Through a series of commands, James is very direct in pointing out behavior that will “produce the righteousness that God desires.” Being “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” are behaviors that can bring about the righteous response that God desires us to have. Anger is at the top of James’ list of actions that will not bring about the righteous behavior that God requires of his children. Sometimes anger is justified, such as anger over how certain groups of people are being treated unjustly. The anger that James is referring to however, is the type that believers must try to avoid, because it will not produce anything beneficial.
I was stopped at a traffic light recently and was the first car in line. It was a two lane road out of a busy shopping center and I was waiting to make a left turn as soon as the traffic light turned green. I noticed a large pickup truck pull up closely behind me and he immediately began to blow his horn. As I looked up in my rear view mirror, he was gesturing at me and waving his arms while continuing to blow his horn at me. He wanted me to pull up enough so that he could make a right turn, but that was not possible unless I pulled out into the oncoming traffic. After about 20 seconds, he drove over the sidewalk and curb, made another gesture at me, sat down on his horn, and pulled out into the road. About 5 seconds later, the light turned green and I was on my way.
Perhaps this guy that I encountered had an emergency situation that I was unaware of or maybe he was simply angry. James is seeking to get our attention, in telling us in no uncertain terms, that this type of anger will not produce anything good or positive. Anger like this does not yield the righteousness in our lives that God desires for us. It appears that so many in our world today are filled with hate, anger, and disregard for others. We encounter people every day that are indifferent to those around them and care only about themselves and meeting their own needs. James commands us to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” and turn to the word of God which can “save you” and guide you into righteousness living. Anger, if allowed to go unchecked, will destroy you and your relationship with God.
We have all been in situations where someone is angry with us; they lose control, and all of their anger is unloaded upon us. It could be months or decades of anger that has been festering and you are the target; it all comes directly at you. How do you respond? Remember James? He says; “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That’s tough advice to follow if we are totally honest with ourselves.
Throughout my life I have been successful in following this advice about fifty percent of the time. As I grow older my statistics are improving however! I’m working on being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” I’m starting to realize how anger affects me personally and the added weight and toll that is carries. God has used many situations of dealing with anger to shape me and to show me a better way. Allowing less space for anger and holding onto grudges means dedicating more room for God to produce a change in my life. This leads to a closer relationship with God and with my family. I always strive to be a better role model for my family, especially my kids, and also for people who know me as a Christian and a follower of Christ. So I’m working on being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
A final word of wisdom from Proverbs sums up the best way to deal with anger. Proverbs 15:1(ESV): “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”