January 11, 2016
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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.
Last week, James sternly warned us, “Do not be deceived.” Though he seems to shift gears pretty quickly to talk about anger, we can’t so quickly leave the problem of deception behind. So what do anger and deception have to do with one another? While anger can be a justified response to being wronged, it readily leads one to return the favor; answering a wrong with a wrong. Justified anger feels so right and powerful it can be intoxicating. In this state, one can be easily deceived that this anger is a righteous anger and warrants a decisive response.
Master Yoda’s response to the young Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars saga is instructive. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Perhaps the biggest temptation in the midst of a difficult test or trial, especially if it involves some form of injustice or oppression, is to fight back in anger. James is giving us a very practical strategy. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I’m not sure if it is still the case, but it used to be that a car or truck either had warning lights on the dashboard or gauges. With a gauge we are able to keep an eye on something like say a motor running hot. We can make adjustments. Without gauges, we are left with the red light and when it comes on, it’s too late. The engine has already boiled over. People are like that. Anger has a way of sneaking up on us. We don’t see it coming and by the time it is upon us, it’s too late. We have already boiled over. Are you attuned to your anger quotient—which is another way of asking if you have a gauge? Anger is not itself a bad thing. It’s what we do with the anger that matters. Will we develop the ability to see it coming so we can slow down our response and perhaps counteract it with listening more deeply in the midst of a hot situation?
It matters because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Anger produces a type of self righteousness. It is so often the expression of a wounded pride. This also indirectly tells us something about God. God is not angry.
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.
I love how Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message Translation of the Bible.
“In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”
Anger works like a weed. Weeds take an inordinate amount of water and nutrients from the soil. Weeds grow fast, quickly reproduce, and grow out of control. Weeds bear no fruit. And worst of all, weeds choke the life out of the healthy fruit bearing plants around them. Yep, that’s exactly what anger does. The Word of God not only gives us life but it cultivates growth and fruitfulness in our lives. I want God to landscape me with the Word, making a salvation garden of my life. I want that for you too.
1. How about your anger quotient? Are you quick to get angry at what can seemingly be a small thing—like someone cutting you off in traffic? Ask yourself this question, “What am I really mad about?” (It’s not the other driver).
2. Can you think of someone in your past or present life who is “quick to listen?” Be on the lookout for that. What can you learn from them?
3. How about being “slow to speak?” Take an audit of your speech today and pay attention to how many times you quickly begin talking to justify yourself, something you did, your position or argument in a given situation. How much of your speech is self-justifying?” This may surprise you. Self righteousness is in essence the insatiable need to be right and a person who always needs to be right most often seethes with anger just under the surface.
4. Finally, what could it look like for the Holy Spirit to become your landscaper, landscaping you with the Word of God in order to make a marvelous garden space of your inner (and outer) life? What would it mean for you to move in this direction, “in simple humility,” as the text instructs?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.