Recently, I made a list of my prevailing sins. This included the sins that seem to be deeply rooted in my heart and are continually problematic. One sin that has afflicted me for years is anger. The past few months have only made it more apparent. I long for the day when I’m finally rid of it, and I’m thankful for my Savior who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:8).
But for now, we must go to war with our sin, including anger. We must put it to death (Rom 8:13). God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit; his Word; and the fellowship, encouragement, and wisdom of his people, the church, to aid us in this battle. With such weapons and allies at hand should we not have hope? We should fight to win, knowing that in Christ, ultimately, we cannot lose.
Specifically with anger, I’d like to draw attention to a simple passage from James to help us in the battle. An arrow in the quiver, James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” I like the simplicity of verse 19. If we want to overcome anger, particularly in dealing with other people, we need to take these things to heart.
First, be quick to listen
I’ve learned that so much of anger towards others is fueled by self-love, self-concern, pride. Call it what you want, but it is a general concern for self over the other person. This often works itself out in not listening to others. For example, if one of my kids yells at me because they want a snack, I tend to get angry when I am more concerned about them yelling at me and the perceived lack of respect than at their feeling of hunger. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but if I only address their rudeness and not their hunger, they won’t feel loved, cared for, or listened to. God calls us to be people who are quick to listen. Sometimes this means enduring abuse, not defending ourselves. It requires humility and slowing down. It requires that we love people and consider their needs above our own (Phil 2:3-4). We would do well to listen better. When you want to make things right by responding in anger, just remember it probably won’t turn out how you’d like.
Second, be slow to speak.
This is the flipside of being quick to listen. Don’t be quick to correct, to respond, to defend yourself, to answer. Slow down. Our hurry to speak gets us in trouble. How many times have you vented your anger by saying hurtful words? Proverbs 29:11 says, A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. Not only is it sinful, it is unwise and unhelpful to blurt out your feelings in full. Hold back. We see the wisdom of not speaking right away when applied to others (go cool off, why don’t you and then we’ll talk!) but do we apply it to ourselves? Next time conflict arises and you want to argue, insult, or defend, just slow down and hold back your words. Let your tongue cool off. If you need to correct, you can always do it later. But if you wound, it can’t be undone and you’ll only regret it later.
Third, Be Slow to Anger
This is the main thing, isn’t it? Be slow to get angry. What this amounts to is: develop thicker skin. Learn how to take a hit and not instinctively swing back. Learn to let small offenses go. How many unnecessary arguments, door slamming, and screaming matches could be avoided if we learned to let minor offenses go? The fact is, not every slight, eye roll, insult, unmet expectation, or other offense needs to be met by the full force of your rage. This doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t diminish your leadership or your humanity. It makes you more like God, who is slow to anger. Psalm 103:8 says, The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God doesn’t have a quick trigger. He doesn’t have a bad temper. He doesn’t overreact. If he did, you’d already be dead. Instead, he is slow to anger, and he expects us to be slow to anger with others. This doesn’t just happen. It takes long suffering, learning to suffer through hardship, enduring insults. You are going to have to let minor offenses go if you are going to overcome anger.
Anger is destructive and it may, for you, be a prevailing sin. Go to war with it. Don’t be ruled by your passions; rather, be ruled by Christ. Put this biblical wisdom to work with God’s help.