Summary: We all struggle with sinful anger. For some it’s violent and red-faced; for others it’s a quiet, building resentment. Whatever the form, James teaches us how to overcome it in this passage.
James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 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.
What if Anger Were Eliminated?
What would the church be like if all sinful anger werer eliminated? Nobody got irritated or aggravated or frustrated - no trace of bitterness in anybody’s heart toward anyone else. No harsh, angry words or attitudes. If all of that were eliminated, what would the church be like? What would your home be like? What would you be like? Take a look at that statement in verse 20 of James chapter 1.
James 1:20 Man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God.
That means the more we get rid of anger, the more of the righteousness of God we would experience in our church, our homes, and in our own lives.
The Root of Anger
But that is easier said than done. Everyone who has a temper problem knows that just deciding not to get angry doesn’t work. Something has to be done about the root cause – that thing down inside us that causes us to react in anger. What James does in this book is reveal to us what those root causes are, and then he gives us five chapters on how to change them. I will try to unfold this more as we go, but I believe the entire book of James is devoted to teaching us how to get rid of the three root causes of anger: pride, selfishness, and a wrong perspective on suffering.
Selfishness + Suffering = Anger
When there is pride or selfishness in your heart, suffering will cause a reaction toward anger. Instead of considering it pure joy, you get irritated. Pride and selfishness are kind of like cesium. If you take a chunk of cesium and set it down on the table, it will just look like a harmless piece of metal sitting there. But if you dump a bucket of water on it you will be injured. There will be an instant, violent explosion because coming in contact with water causes cesium to react in a violent way. Pride and selfishness can sit in your heart like a chunk of cesium. And suffering and the hardships of life are like a bucket of water. Is water a bad thing? No. If there is no cesium present, then water is good for you. If there is no pride and selfishness present, trials and hardships are good for you. But if pride and selfishness are sitting there in your heart, as soon as they come in contact with suffering, they are activated. And the byproduct of their reaction is anger. It might be explosive, violent tantrums. It might be invisible, under the surface resentment. It might just be irritability or a bad mood. But whatever form it takes – it is all anger.
Most people who have an anger problem think the culprit is the water. They think their anger is caused by suffering – people mistreating them, or things going wrong. But that is not the cause. The cause is that cesium – pride and selfishness in the heart, and the wrong attitude about suffering. And the structure of the book of James is very simple. It is like a sandwich. At the beginning and again at the end there is a section on the right way to interpret suffering. Those are the bookends. And in the middle – the body of the letter – is one section after another on how to deal with the problem of pride and selfishness. We finished up that opening section on how to properly interpret suffering. Now, in this passage, verses 19-20 we see an introduction to the main body of the book. He goes right for the jugular in dealing with their anger.
Symptoms of Selfishness and Anger
And you can tell how important this little paragraph is by the way he begins.
James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this:
James wants you to take note of everything he wrote, but especially this. There is emotion in his words – my dear brothers. James knows the devastation that comes from pride and selfishness and an unbridled tongue, so he just really wants the readers to get this.
19 …Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger
One of the most obvious marks of proud, selfish people is that they tend to be the exact opposite of this - slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger. When you are puffed up with self-importance, what you have to say matters more than what anyone else has to say. You are not quick to listen because you probably already know more than this person who’s talking. And unless they are talking about you, what they are saying is boring, because when you are selfish, you are not interested in the lives of others. And you are angry a lot because selfish, proud people think the world revolves around them, and so every time the world doesn’t cooperate, it makes them mad.