************ Sermon on James 1:19-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 8, 2006
"Slow to Anger"
This past Monday Charles C. Roberts killed five girls, seriously injured five others, then killed himself at West Nickel Mines Amish School.
When Roberts arrived at the school he brought an assortment of weapons, hardware and lubricant that indicated he may have been planning to torture and molest the female students, the police said.
What happened? What caused Roberts to go berserk? Roberts told his wife that his life had been warped by anger and grief since the death of their newborn daughter nine years ago. "It changed my life forever, I haven't been the same since," he wrote in a note the police released on Tuesday. "It affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate towards myself, hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness. It seems like every time we do something fun, I think abut how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I got right back to anger."
I Destructive Anger
A Anger. Uncontrolled anger. It is one of the most destructive forces around. Anger channeled in the wrong way leads to so much hurt, damage, pain, and agony – both for the person with the anger and for those they visit their anger upon.
Subtopic: Of Man
Title: Anger Kills
Richard Walters is a psychiatrist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes:
"People will be murdered today because of someone's anger. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings. Many people die in anger-related auto accidents, while others carry out the angriest act of all, suicide. Countless relationships die little by little as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust. Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us."
-- Jim Nicodem, "The Straight Scoop on Anger," Preaching Today, Tape No. 172.
B James speaks to us tonight about anger and anger management. He says,
(James 1:19) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry ...
Don't forget to whom James is writing. James is speaking to Christians who have been persecuted for their faith (1:1). They have been forced to leave home, family, work, country. Loved ones have been killed. Goods have been confiscated. Businesses have gone bankrupt. If anyone has a right to be angry, it is these servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1). To these brothers and sisters James says, "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
C You know as well as I do that not everyone who claims to belong to Christ actually has a saving relationship with the Savior. Unfortunately, too many people are Christian in name only, and their lives are not characterized by a pattern of repentance to God and obedience to His Word. Professing Christ is not enough; we also must actually live out the faith and put the Word of God into practice.
That is why James wrote his letter. James wrote his letter to teach Christians how to live out their faith. As James puts it in our Bible reading, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22). James insists that if we have real faith, we will show it by acting like Christians. According to James, there is every reason to believe faith is not authentic unless it responds to life in certain ways. Living faith, says James, results in a changed life that obeys God in all things – not as a way to be saved but out of thankfulness for salvation. Christians who live out their faith, says James, are "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
D "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). This is absolutely essential for servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because uncontrolled anger leaves a mark, a permanent stain, that we can never erase.
Subtopic: Of Man
Title: The Fence
There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. Most days he got to pull a nail but some days he had to pound a nail in.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a mark just like the nails left a mark in the fence. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there."
II Righteous and Unrighteous Anger
A James instructs us to "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). These words suggest that it is appropriate to become angry – though slowly. James would not argue with the idea that anger is a God-given feeling and therefore is not always evil. But James is careful to point out that what we do with our anger makes all the difference. It is okay to be angry – though slowly – but how we express our anger is crucial. I think you realize we often sin in the way we express our anger. This makes me think of what the Apostle Paul wrote, "In your anger do not sin" (Eph 4:26). Anger is okay, but be angry in the right way or else you are sinning.
"Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). What is James saying to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ? James is saying, think and listen before you act. Think and listen before you speak. If you are angry, you should talk about the situation, express your feelings as calmly as possible, and listen carefully to the other side.
How do you express your anger? Do you often blow your stack? Do you respond with swear words and cursing? Are you prone to road rage and waving weapons at offending people? Do you threaten lawsuits and other legal actions? Do you take your money and business elsewhere? Are you slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry?
Topic: AngerLincoln had the right idea.
Subtopic: Of Man
Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded missive to the President. "What are you going to do with it?" Lincoln inquired.
Surprised, Stanton replied, "Send it."
Lincoln shook his head. "You don't want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That's what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It's a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now, burn it, and write another."
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, gives us some wise advice when it comes to anger. He said
It is easy to fly into a passion--anybody can do that--but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way--that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it.But servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are always expected to be angry the right way. That is proof their faith is real and that they are being obedient to the Word of God.
B We not only need to be angry in the right way but we also need to be angry about the right things. Here it is most instructive for us to look at the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Did you realize Jesus never was angry when something was done against Him? For instance, during His trial, one of the most unjust trials in the history of the world, He never said a word. This tells us our anger should never be focused on ourselves and on how we have been treated or mistreated.
When we look through the gospels we notice that Jesus became angry when He saw indifference to human suffering. For example, Jesus saw a man with a shriveled hand – so He healed the man. The Jewish leaders thought it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus was angry and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts (Mk 3:1-6).
Jesus also became angry when He saw the honor of God being abused. When Jesus saw the temple courts being used as a marketplace where outrageous prices were charged for exchanging currency and for clean animals to be used in sacrifice, Jesus overturned tables and drove out the people who were buying and selling (Mk 11:15-17).
It is okay to be angry when we see indifference to human suffering. It is okay to be angry whenever we see God's holy name and character being slandered. But any other expressions of anger, especially if they concern our own wants and desires, are usually self-centered and selfish and spring from pride.
What kinds of things make you angry? Do you become angry when someone cuts you off on the freeway? Do you become angry when someone gets the better of you in a business deal? Do you become angry when you don't get to play as often as you like on the football field or volleyball court? Do you become angry when you do not get the recognition you think you deserve? Do you become angry when bad things happen to you? You have no business getting angry in such situations. Remember what James said earlier? He said,
(James 1:2) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds ...Don't get angry about such things. Instead, be joyful that God uses such situations to make you grow in the faith.
C Psychiatrists tell us it is destructive to hold our feelings inside, all bottled up. They tell us it is destructive to deny our feelings. They tell us we need to express what is inside of us for our own well-being. But they don't go the next step and tell us to express ourselves in the right way and about the right things.
James tells us that anger that is savored or freely expressed "does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." Don't forget, James is telling us how to live out the faith. He is telling us how to live as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is telling us how to be doers of the Word. He is telling us how to live "the righteous life that God desires." The righteous life, says James, does NOT include anger that is savored or freely expressed. I repeat, the righteous life does NOT include anger that is savored or freely expressed.
Real faith seeks to please God in all things. That includes how we express our feelings.
III Anger Management
A We all have problems with anger. So what do we do about it? James tells us a technique for anger management. He says, "be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19). There is a Chinese proverb that says the same thing: "Never write a letter while you are angry." Thomas Jefferson said, "When angry, count to 10; when very angry count to 100." Mark Twain changed it and said, "When angry, count to 4; when very angry, swear." [We can't agree with the second part of his advice.]
Do you hear what James is saying to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you hear what James is saying to those who live out their faith? James tells us today that if we are slow to hear our fellow believers, we might burn with unjustified and unrighteous anger and thereby do things that do not please God. If we are too quick to rush to judgment, if we are too willing to jump to conclusions, if we can't wait to open our mouths, we run the risk of becoming angry in a sinful manner. In other words, we are to never jump to angry conclusions without first hearing the other side.
B To grow in faith, to live out the faith, to keep their anger under control, Christians need to listen. They need to listen to one another. Especially, though, they need to listen to God and His Word. To get this point across, James uses the image of a mirror:
(James 1:23-25) Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror (24) and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (25) But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.
In today's world we never give a thought to mirrors. They are in our homes, our cars, and even in our purses. In Bible times, however, mirrors were uncommon. They were made of shiny metal such as bronze and were quite expensive.
In a mirror, of course, we are able to see ourselves, especially our faces. We use a mirror to see how we look, to comb our hair, to apply makeup, to shave, to check on a mole or a pimple. We can't make these checks without using a mirror of some kind.
The Word of God is like a mirror. As we hear and read the Word, especially the law of God, we get an opportunity to examine how we appear in the eyes of God. By looking into the mirror of God's Word we get to see the dirt on our faces and will want to make the necessary changes.
Unfortunately, do you know what we often do? Too often we fail to use the Word of God as a mirror in which we see ourselves. Instead, we use it to see how someone else measures up. We are too quick to point out the faults of someone else and to ignore our own sins.
Go back to the mirror image. You don't use a mirror to look over someone else – unless you are a dentist. A parent doesn't look over a child by using a mirror. A husband doesn't look over his wife by standing her in front of a mirror. We use a mirror to look over ourselves. Each one of us has the responsibility to use the Word to correct our own faults and sins.
Let me conclude with a story from seminary. I don't know which seminary or when it happened.
Title: Dart Test ...
One particular day, Sally walked into the seminary class and knew they were in for a fun day.
On the wall was a big target and on a nearby table were many darts. Dr. Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who had made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person's picture.
Sally's friend drew a picture of who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of his little brother. Sally drew a picture of a former friend, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing, even drawing pimples on the face. Sally was pleased with the overall effect she had achieved.
The class lined up and began throwing darts. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart. Sally looked forward to her turn, and was filled with disappointment when Dr. Smith, because of time limits, asked the students to return to their seats. As Sally sat thinking about how angry she was because she didn't have a chance to throw any darts at her target Dr. Smith began removing the target from the wall.
Underneath the target was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus; holes and jagged marks covered His face and His eyes were pierced.
Dr. Smith said only these words... "In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matthew 25:40).
No other words were necessary; the tears filled eyes of the students focused only on the picture of Christ.
We don't usually think about it this way, do we? We don't realize that anger expressed wrongly ends up hurting Jesus.
I can't end this way, of course. I need to end with a message of grace and forgiveness. Yes, our anger wrongly expressed hurts Jesus. But do you know what Jesus says to you and to me? He says, "For those sins I died."
He died for all our sins. He forgives us all our sins. Now, He expects something from us as a sign of our forgiveness. Every servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ "should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page