Last week’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount has had me thinking all week about the topic of anger. Jesus’ inclusion of calling a brother or sister a fool under the commandment against murder is certainly confronting and makes us realise the seriousness of anger in our hearts. So, why do we find it so easy to get angry? And especially, why do we find it so hard to control our tongue from venting forth our anger?
The book of James is especially preoccupied with this struggle. James warns us that:
If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself (James 1:26). For James, the idea that someone could claim to follow Jesus and yet feel free to abuse others with their tongue suggests that they may not know Jesus at all.
But why is anger such a negative thing? Our world doesn’t always see it that way, instead it suggests that to bottle it up is unhelpful and it is cathartic to sometimes ‘let it rip’. Irish playwright Sean O’Casey says, ‘It’s my rule never to lose my temper till it would be detrimental to keep it’. His point was that sometimes you just have to release the valve or you will explode. However, James has a different view. He suggests that anger is so negative because it never works to bring about God’s good. So, in James 1:19 he says:
My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
Of course, we know James is right. We do work at not getting angry and we are repentant when we do. We do strive to be people who listen rather than rush to speak. Yet, for me at least, it seems like it’s often two steps forward one step back. However, James suggests that this is not to be unexpected:
Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. (James 3:7-9)
Ultimately anger flows from our heart and so this is where change needs to happen. Praise God that he forgives us for our anger and puts his Holy Spirit in us to work to change our hearts. But now as forgiven sinners what steps can we take to ‘tame our tongues’? Here are a couple of thoughts:
1) Focus daily on the forgiveness we have in Jesus. When we truly understand our own sin and the extent Jesus went to forgive us, it must make us more ready to forgive others.
2) Work at listening. We need to take seriously the encouragement to be ‘slow to speak’.
3) Remind ourselves regularly that all people are made in the image of God. How can we use the tongue God has given us to disparage other people made in the image of the God we praise?
You might have other ideas for how to fight this battle – why not share them over morning tea or after church?