Sunday, February 19, 2006


Anger Itself

Not all anger is wrong. Righteous anger is frequently attributed to God Himself (Ps. 7:11). An example of Jesus' anger is recorded in Mark 3:5. And the Christian is warned not to allow righteous anger to become sinful anger by letting the sun go down on his wrath (Eph. 4:26). Every emotion with which God endowed us, including the powerful emotion of anger, is good when rightly aroused and manifested in a biblical way. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate anger - that is impossible to do anyway - but to control both the arousal and the manifestation of the emotion.

There are two basic words for anger in the New Testament, orge and thumos. One refers to the the emotion pent up inside and the other to the emotion let loose. It is the former term that is used here (James 1:20). However, in this place the word may be used generally for all sorts of sinful anger, whether pent up or loosed.

Your anger is wrongly aroused whenever you become angry for the wrong reasons: for example, envy (Gen. 4:3-10), pride (Prov. 16:18, 29:23), or when someone says something that injures your sense of self-worth. And anger is sinfully expressed (even righteously aroused anger) whenever you blow up (Prov. 29:11, 20) or clam up (Eph. 4:26) instead of using the emotion as a force to drive you to a biblical solution to the problem that has arisen (Eph. 4:29). These are background facts found generally in Scripture concerning anger. But now, let us turn to James' words on the subject.

Anger's Effects

Among the many harmful effects of anger is the one that James puts his finger on: It does not "work"; it does not produce "God's righteousness." Indeed, Proverbs 29:22 indicates that one of the effects of such anger is to stir up "strife" and the writer observes that "a wrathful man abounds in wrong."

Churches, homes, and personal relationships have all been ruined by anger. Can you remember a friendship that was broken because of anger? Can you remember a testimony that was lost as the result of a Christian's anger? What about hurts among members of your family that took a long time to heal? Have you ever lost the respect of associates at work because in a time of stress you went to pieces? Yes, such anger works the wickedness of the devil, not the rightousness of God. And if you have experienced the evil effects of someone else's anger (or your own), you will surely want to know how to deal with anger.

Anger than over doctrinal differences. Even in many of those cases where doctrine is surely an issue, the strife and division that accompany the difference are the result of anger, bitterness, and resentment.

It is not the effect of anger on the angry person that James has in view. Too often, in our humanistic, man-centered society is the emphasis found in Christian books. No, James is concerned about the righteousness of God. He wants to promote God's righteousness among men to His glory. But anger promotes the wickedness of the devil. A person's anger, then, may have sorry results for the kingdom of God. That is why James raises the issue.

Anger and the Word

How does James propose to help Christians become teleios through overcoming anger? From James 1:18-22, the main thrust is what the Word of God does in the life of a believer.

As James observes, like every other Christian, you received your new birth through the "Word of truth" (1:18). He is not speaking here of the conception of spiritual life (the life the Spirit gives to believers), but of the moment you became a believing member of God's family. That occurred when you believed the word of truth; that is, the word (or message) of truth about your sin and God's Son as a Saviour from it. Regeneration, thought of as a conception, goes back to God giving life (Eph. 2:1,5). This is described by Ezekiel as replacing the heart of stone (which is cold, dead, lifeless, and resistant to the truth of God) with a heart of flesh (which is warm, living, and receptive to His Word). That prior event is not in view here. The figure of birth here points to the mother delivering her child. It is the point at which she actually gives birth. Conception is the work of the Spirit; birth comes about by believing the truth.

James says that these Jewish Christians were a kind of firstfruits of God's newly-made-over race. That is, they were among the first to whom the Gospel was preached, and the first to believe. Christ, absolutely, is the elder brother in the family, of course. As it was preached, the Word of truth became the mother that gave birth. Now James says that her angry children must listen to their mother. Otherwise, they will disgrace her and bring her work to naught.

Slow Down

What does the Word say about anger? Two things: (1) Be slow to speak (when angry); (2) Be slow to get angry.

Welcoming the Word

So long as you resist God's Word, even by saying such things as, "Oh, I could never overcome my anger," you cannot expect the Spirit to work. The Spirit, whose Word the Scriptures are in a peculiar sense since He inspired them, has determined to work through and by means of the Bible that He produced (2 Tim. 3:15-17), not apart from it. He uses the commands of this Word, welcomed, received with joy as your hope, to remake and remold your life. Don't expect change apart from the Word. Every command of God should encourage you since God commands nothing of His children that obeying His Word, strengthened by His Spirit, they cannot do.

According to James 1:21, you may "put off" those filthy remnants of sin that remain as you meekly put on the Word that is able to save your soul both from sin's penalty and power. Here the sin in view, of course, is sinful anger. The "soul" or "life" is mentioned because anger must be met and defeated in the innermost part of a person. It can be curbed and restrained on the outside, but conquered and replaced only from within. Once more, James is careful to place the emphasis where it belongs - on the transformation of the person from within.

James' terminology, "putting off" and "implanting," equals Paul's "putting off" and "putting on." When God's truth has been implanted so that it takes root in your life, you have begun to live in His new ways. But James syas (vv. 22ff), you must be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only. Anger will be overcome when, and only when, the new ways (its biblical alternatives in any given situation) are "put on" by obedient, God-pleasing doing.

Concretely, Paul puts it this way: "Be angry, but don't sin; don't let the sun set on your angry mood' (Dph. 4:26). That means, don't allow anger to turn into resentment by carrying it over into the next day. That is the "put off." But the "put on" (the biblical practice to be implanted in its place) is to deal with every problem right away, before allowing it to grow into bitterness. All that is plain in Paul's words in Ephesians. The new thing seen in James is that the putting off of filth and the evil remnants of the past life and the "implanting" (or putting on) of the new ways, is only possible for those whose inner idsposition toward the Word is proper. It is possible only for those who "welcome" the Word in teachable meekness.

This was taken from A Thirst For Wholeness by Jay Adams. Satisfy your hunger for spiritual integrity through wisdom from the Book of James.


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