How to Overcome Anger
How to Overcome Anger
Why do you lose your temper? When are you most likely to get frustrated?
Maybe it’s because your kids don’t listen to you: “I’m angry because they keep doing the same thing over and over again!” Maybe it’s because your spouse doesn’t meet your expectations: “I’m angry because he doesn’t nurture me the way I need.”…“I’m angry because she doesn’t respect me the way I deserve.” Maybe you get mad because people cut you off on the H1: “I’m angry because that guy cut me off on purpose!”
Really? Are you sure? There’s an old proverb that says, “Never attribute to malice
that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” There’s a lot of stupid people out there who are just being stupid!
That’s why James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20). In other words, we need to learn to control our emotions.
Maybe you’ve heard before that emotions can’t be controlled. They’re not good or bad, they’re just involuntary reflexes. Like when the doctor hits your knee with the hammer, and your leg jerks up. Maybe you’ve heard that you’ve got no control over your emotions, only what you do with your emotions.
But that’s not what James seems to be saying here. Be slow to anger. Which says to me that we have control over when and where we choose to become angry.
We know the opposite is true. In Philippians 4:4 Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again: Rejoice!” He’s commanding us (twice!) to have a certain emotion. “Be joyful! Always! I’ll say it again: feel … joyful!”
It’s possible to gain control over your emotions, just like Jesus did. There’s no question that Jesus got angry sometimes. At his disciples when they were all arrogant and prideful. At the religious leaders when they took advantage of people at the temple who just wanted to worship God. Jesus got angry, but it wasn’t a reflex outside of his control. It was a tool he used carefully, rarely, and slowly.
That’s just not what our anger usually looks like. It usually just erupts, completely out of our control. And as James says uncontrolled emotions lead to uncontrolled words. How often have you said something you regretted? You were seeing red, and you said it in the heat of the moment?
That’s why James says, “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself” (James 1:26). As Christians, we won’t intentionally hurt people with our words. Do you ever do that when you’re angry? Say things you don’t even believe, just because you know it’ll hurt that person? We won’t slander people with our words, casually slipping into conversations how terrible that person is.
Why not? Because as James said, that doesn’t accomplish God’s righteousness. That might seem obvious, but in the heat of the moment we always think we’re accomplishing God’s righteousness. When we’re angry, we always believe we’re right and they’re wrong.
In college, I took a class called Deviant Psychology. It sounded like a cool class, and it got me out of classes like Applied Anthropology. It was a cool class, and I learned something fascinating: every serial killer in history has believed they were doing something righteous. They believed they were cleansing the earth of something dirty, immoral or offensive. Every serial killer thinks he’s standing up for righteousness.
Because that’s all of us! When I get angry at my kids for not listening? I’m standing up for Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right!” When I get angry at the guy who just barged into my lane without signaling? I’m standing up for Romans 13:1: “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities!”
And James is saying, “Yeaaaahhhh … not so much. You’re only standing up for your own ego, comfort, and convenience.”
That’s why James says in verse 21, “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
The implanted word is the word of the gospel. Which says that God’s righteous anger toward me was satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. So now, instead of anger, God only displays love and compassion toward me.
In light of that reality, what right do I have to display my (mostly un-righteous) anger toward the people around me? My anger toward others can be overcome when I recognize how God’s anger toward me was overcome at the cross.