Human Anger and the Love of God

The title of this sermon is Human Anger and the Love of God. It’s part of a series we’re doing now through the end of October. The series is called Facing Difficult Emotions. The difficult emotion we’re going to face together this morning is our anger.
The year 2020 will most likely go down in history as the most angry year on record in the United States.
We don’t have to expend a lot of energy trying to figure out why. Take the pandemic, the racial riots, the economy, the controversy over the election of Joe Biden. Any one of those things would be enough on their own to cause disruption, but in the year 2020 all four came together and converged over our nation in a perfect storm.
And of course, it didn’t help that none of those things were anything we could do very much to control. And when we’re scared and frustrated, depressed and panicked, and we can’t do a single thing to change what’s making us feel that way, we get angry.
I believe the Lord Jesus wants to help us with our anger. If you believe that too, look with me at James 1:19-21. And notice with me three instructions for facing the difficult emotion of anger.

#1: Stop talking and start listening

Number one: Stop talking and start listening. Stop talking and start listening. Look at verse 19: “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
Right there, right off the bat, the vast majority of us in the room this morning are immediately charged with wrong. When someone’s upset with you and you’re talking it out, or shouting it out, and it’s not your time to talk — it’s theirs — what are you doing while they’re talking? Not listening. Anything but listening. Tuning them out. Freezing them out by refusing to make eye contact with them? Thinking about what you’re going to say to rip them to shreds in response to them ripping you to shreds?
God wants us to reverse this. Instead of being quick to become angry, let’s be quick to hear.
Do you know what that means?
It means paying attention to what they’re saying. It’s means listening for comprehension: Do I understand what this person is saying?
It means asking questions: “When you say I don’t pick up after myself, what exactly do you mean?”
It means clarifying their intentions: “Can you give me an example of when I’ve made you feel inferior?”
Being quick to hear means doing all these things, and it means doing all of those before you’ve said anything in response.
And that brings us to our second instruction in verse 19: “quick to hear” and — what is it? -- “slow to speak.”
“Slow to speak.” You say, “Pastor Dustin, that’s hard. I’m the kind of person who says what I think. I’ve got to retaliate. I can’t let these comments stand.” It’s true that quick to hear is the opposite of our reflexes. We’re quick to fly into a rage. Quick to become offended. Quick to show how insulted we feel. Not quick to listen, not quick to hear.
But here’s the thing. The text doesn’t say you can’t answer back. The text doesn’t say you can’t stand up for yourself. The text doesn’t say you can’t set the record straight. Hear me well: God is not against you speaking. Well, then, what is it? God is not against you speaking. God just doesn’t want speaking to be your first inclination.
Lest you think I’m giving you some instructions that I don’t abide by myself, years ago I sat down with a lady at the church I was pastoring. I knew that something was wrong, I knew she was very unhappy at church and she had been for a while. I didn’t know why. I had an idea of what it might have been. But I needed more information. I went to an older pastor and asked for advice: he said, tell her you want to meet with her and hear her out. Take notes. Write everything down. Ask questions. Then thank her, and tell her you’ll pray over all she said and get back with her.
So I did that. One evening in early 2019, I sat down with her and her husband and for 90 minutes I did nothing but absorb her anger. I didn’t speak, really, until the end. I’d say 90% of that meeting was her talking.
Now some might hear me tell that story and say, “Well, that was dumb. You were asking for it.” And yeah, I did. I literally did ask for it. But I honestly believe the Lord called me to do that that night and I did it.
Quick to hear, slow to speak. God does not want speaking to be our first inclination.” Why is that? Well, that brings us to our next instruction — “slow to become angry.”
It’s interesting how many times the Bible connects speaking our minds with foolishness. The Bible often tells us when we air our opinions in an angry fashion, we become fools. I’m thinking of verses like Prov 29:11.
[SLIDE: PROV. 29:11]
Proverbs 29:11 ESV
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
[SLIDE: PROV. 17:27
Proverbs 17:27 ESV
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
[SLIDE: ECCL. 7:9]
Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
Now you say, “Pastor Dustin, what about righteous anger?”
There is such a thing.
Winston Churchill exhibited righteous anger in his speech to Parliament. On May 13, 1941 an angry Churchill delivered these remarks to Parliament to convince them to go all in and fight Nazi Germany.

I would say to the House … I have nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” We have before us many long months of struggle and suffering. You ask me what is our policy? I will say it is to wage war by sea, land and air with all our might and with all the strength God can give us … against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the lamentable catalogue of human crime.… You ask me what is our aim? I can answer in one word—victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terrors, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Jesus exhibited righteous anger when he turned the tables upside down in the temple and drove out the moneychangers. “Take these things away,” Jesus said to the moneychangers, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16 ESV). His disciples witnessed that with stunned admiration. Right after we read, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17 ESV).
That’s righteous anger. Unrighteous anger is what the disciples did soon after. Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They go through the region of Samaria. The people of Samaria did not welcome them. This is what James and John said: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54 ESV).
“Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19 NASB). Stop talking, and start listening.
But Pastor Dustin, “That’s just who I am. You gotta understand. Look, I am the kind of person who calls it like I see it. I speak my mind. I say what I’m thinking. I don’t care if you think what I’m saying is hurtful. I say what I think, and people like me for it.”
…do they? Prov. 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
Stop talking, and start listening.

#2: Understand that your anger will not make you more like Christ

If you have your smartphone with you, hold it up. What you’re holding in your hand — when you open social media or the news, you’re sitting down to a feast of bad news. We all know that media companies want you to open their apps and expose you to their ads. That’s no secret.
So what do they have to do to get you to open their apps? They have to lure you in with teasers. And this is based on your previous reading history. If you’ve read a bunch of articles that are negative toward Democrats, that’s what you’re going to see in your specialized queue of material. “Here’s what you should be angry about today. Have you heard about this court case or that piece of legislation? Did you catch President Biden’s latest comments today? Oh man, they are really out there.”
Here’s the point: your phone usage may be contributing to your anger, and hindering your walk with Christ.
So look with me at verse 19. Verse 19 says “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” And then verse 20 gives us the reason if you’ll look there with me? For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
If you’re trying to become more like Jesus, which I hope you are as a Christian — if you want to grow in godliness, which as a Christian I assume you do — unrighteous human anger is just not going to work. Look again at verse 20: “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”.
And because our anger is mostly not righteous anger, because our anger is most often sinful anger, because we are sinful, could it be that your pattern of news watching is hindering your growth in godliness? Is it possible that your social media usage is blocking the Holy Spirit from producing the righteousness of God within you? Set boundaries on your phones.
Forget social media, though. Our anger isn’t in our phones. It’s in our hearts. And the problem is that when we get all tied up in knots inside ourselves, those knots find their way to the outside. We insult people. We assume the worst about people. When people offend us, we cast them off like they’re no more than unwelcome weights keeping us down. So strange isn’t it? Christians, who claim to have met a God who has given us mercy, when people disappoint us mercy feels like the last thing they’re entitled to.
The world is angry. We are to be different than the world. We don’t have to be as angry as the world. We have both better resources and a better hope.
When we get angry at the way the world is going, we have the Holy Spirit within us, the word of God in front of us, and the people of God around us.
We also have a better hope. The best the world can hope for is to try and try and try to engineer the outcome we all want. As Christians, we know that we hope for is what the rest of the world is striving for.
We hope for the return of Christ and the ushering in of perfect peace — no more wars or riots or revolutions. We hope for the resurrection of our bodies — the end of disease and starvation and sickness. We hope for the new creation — a new heaven and a new earth, better than anything we’ve ever experienced before and without anything that ruins life in this creation.
And we have Jesus walking with us. Jesus, the One who as He was being murdered chose compassion rather than anger. “Father, forgive Him,” He said so beautifully, “for they know not what they do.”
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God wants to develop inside us. What does? The answer is the gospel.
So that’s the first two instructions: Stop talking and start listening. Understand that human anger does not make you more like Christ. And lastly, stay connected to the source.

#3: Stay connected to the source

He wraps it all up in verse 21: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
Notice that the instruction is first negative, then positive. First he tells us to put something away: “putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness...” he says.
Men, have you ever been outside working in the mud or rarely in the snow and when you want to come back in, you have to completely disrobe in the mudroom? Like, your wife is saying “I love you but you cannot advance another inch into our home before those clothes go into the washer.” “Putting aside all filthiness.” The picture is of taking off dirty clothes, laying them aside.
Does filthiness and wickedness include anger? If it’s unrighteous anger, yes. If it’s merely human anger, yes.
Last night I was out for a while and Abigail texted me a picture of a spider. This is one of those spiders that come out in the late summer. They have big bodies and long legs. They sleep during the day and then hang in their webs from evening until sunrise.
I don’t mind spiders, really. I don’t have a problem with spiders existing in this world. But this is what I have a problem with. Those spiders build webs overnight. They’ll build a web from the top of the driver’s side door of my car to the branches in the tree above it. And I’m on to these suckers. I look for the webs. I don’t like to walk through them. I’ve done that before. These things are monsters. And mowing the grass and plowing through a web with one of those brown and orange striped monsters hanging down in your face — nah, I’m good.
So last night Abigail sends me this picture of one of those kinds of spiders. It’s just below the eve of our back door, between the eve and gutter. She asked me, “Do you want to do the honors?” And I said, “Yeah, wait till I get back. I’ll take care of it.”
Actually, this is what I said word for word: “Yeah I’ll brutally extinguish every facet of life and breath from his tiny mortal body.”
Now that might sound like unrighteous anger. It probably is. I have no reason to despise these spiders. They’re part of God’s creation that He made and called “good”. They aren’t harming me or anyone else. I tell that story at the risk of trivializing anger. I don’t mean to trivialize anger, although sometimes we are angry over trivial things.
The point is: I don’t get to indulge my anger. I am called to question my anger. My question for the Lord is, “Is this anger right? Do you approve? Does this anger in my heart come from a place of moral purity, moral conviction? Or does it come from something in my fallen nature — maybe it’s driven by envy or jealousy. In which case it is not right. And if it isn’t right, I am not to indulge it; I am to resist it and starve it.
In fact, here’s a question worth asking. What are you really upset about? Sometimes, our anger is something else with a mask on. Anger can be driven by envy. Sometimes we’re angry because we grieving and we don’t want to admit it.
What is it, really? Are you depressed? Are you hurt? Interrogate your anger. Get alone with the and talk with Him. Get outside and pray. Get out your journal if you prefer that. He’s the great physician. “Lord, why do I feel this way all the time?” The human heart is deep — who can understand it? Jesus. He knows you inside and out. Seek Him. Let Him heal what needs to be healed. He is waiting to do that for you!
Put aside all filthiness and all wickedness. Put off your anger. Put off everything that causes anger. Avoid your triggers to use updated language. Take all that mess off. Next, we would think he would tell us to put on something — like patience or joy or love. But he doesn’t. What does He tell to do? He tells us to receive something: “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21 NASB)
We learned already that human anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Now we learn what does produce the righteousness of God: “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls”. What is the word implanted? The word implanted is the gospel. The message of salvation. Jesus Himself has come to live within you.
Do you understand what James is saying, church? Your anger cannot produce God’s righteousness in your heart. But Jesus can, and His tool for doing so is His gospel. James says, this gospel, this implanted word, it is able to save your souls. Save you — in every possible way. From death and hell, yes, and praise God. But from anger too. And from lust. And from envy and jealousy. From despair. We are works in progress. My anger is part of that work in progress.
“Receive the word implanted” — receive the gospel. Haven’t I already received it? If you’ve trusted in Christ, yes. By the same grace that saved you, God will root out your anger. Never perfectly. And none of us knows how far we’ll get in this life. But in the next, when we see Jesus, all anger and all sin within us will be banished from His sight, and we will be sinless.
In the meantime, you must keep coming back to it again and again, like a water fountain or a charging station. Stay connected to the source. One way you do that is by sitting here under the preaching of the Word. Another way you do that is by reading the word on your own. Another way is coming to a small group Bible study and growing there.
Prayer. Fellowship. The church. Your Bible. These are the means of grace. The God who saved you by grace is sanctifying you by grace and will by the same grace perfect you in the world to come.
Stop talking, start listening. Recognize that your anger will not make you more like Christ. And stay connected to the source.

Call for response

In the book of Zechariah, there is a scene that beautifully illustrates the power of God’s grace to cleanse us and change us. Zechariah the prophet is given a vision of an exchange between three people: the Lord, a man named Joshua the high priest, and Satan.
Satan is here doing what he is often portrayed as doing in the Bible: accusing. He’s accusing Joshua the high priest. Apparently, Joshua is guilty of something pretty serious. He’s wearing soiled clothes. Joshua and the Lord are standing face to face. Satan is standing to the right of them, facing Joshua. We don’t know what he’s saying, but he’s accusing. “Lord, do you know what this so-called priest of yours has done? Are you aware of his guilt? Look at how filthy he is. How can you ever forgive him — let alone keep using him in his service as priest!”
The Lord rebukes Satan. But after that, he turns to some other people who are present — some angels. The dirt on the clothes on the outside of Joshua’s body symbolize the dirt that encases his heart. The Lord wants to forgive Joshua. He tells the angels to take off Joshua’s dirty clothes. He tells them to replace them with clean clothes, bright, white, festal clothing. He tells them to put a clean turban on his head. He forgives Joshua. And He recommissions Joshua to service as a high priest.
This is a picture of what God wants to do for each of us today. Christians get dirty. We are dirty this morning. God wants to take our angry clothes off of us. He wants to put clean clothes on us. And He wants to get us back to doing what He’s called us to do: Worship - Grow - Love - Serve.
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