James: The Anger of Man

For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

James 1:20

This statement comes on the heals of the previous divinely inspired sentence, in which James says that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (1:19).  The Bible has much to say about anger.  Solomon wrote, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9).  It shows a lack of wisdom as well as the departure of the self-control God lists as one of the signs that one is a spiritual person (Gal. 5:22-23) as seen in several biblical proverbs: 

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32). 

“He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29).

“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated” (Prov. 14:17).

The Psalmist was inspired to command, “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing” (Ps. 37:8).  Paul was inspired to echo these commands several times in the New Testament.  He wrote Colossae, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth” (Col. 3:8).  He also wrote Ephesus, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32).

Interestingly, God inspired Paul to allow Christians to be angry, albeit briefly, just a few sentences before commanding Ephesus to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor…be put away from you…”  He wrote in verses 26-27, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27).  Why did God tell Christians to be angry…and then to put all anger away from them?

The key is found in James 1:20:  “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  Note…“the anger of man.”  Man’s anger.  Not God’s anger.

God gets angry (Rom. 1:18; 2:5; 5:9; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6).  Jesus got angry several times (cf. Matt. 23; John 2:13-17).  Yet there’s a distinct difference between what gets God angry and what typically gets man angry.  God and His Son get angry about sin, as the verses cited above show.  Being omniscient and completely just, their anger is always properly shown and properly directed.  Our anger, on the other hand, is often misguided and misplaced.  It often comes up because of our selfishness.  For example, if we get angry about sin it usually tends to be sin that is directed against us or our loved ones rather than sin in general.  Not only that, but oftentimes we also get angry about things which, as far as God is concerned, don’t even matter at all in the eternal scheme of things and are often quite trivial and petty.

Therefore, God wants us to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor…be put away from (us)” since our kind of anger (“the anger of man”) does not lend itself to “the righteousness of God.”  When we get angry, He wants us to “not sin” as a result of our anger and thus “give the devil an opportunity.”  Towards that end, He demands that we stop being angry about whatever has upset us within 24 hours (“do not let the sun go down on your anger”).   Doing this will indeed make us “slow to anger” and help us to better achieve “the righteousness of God” which is hindered by “the anger of man.” 

Doing this requires self-control and conscious insight into what ultimately is good and right for us and matters in the sight of God.  Thus, applying these directives to our lives and growing to become the kind of “laid back” personality which God wishes all of His followers to have will help us not only become more righteous in His sight, but also grow wiser and more spiritual as well.           

— Jon

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