The Apostle James wrote this warning, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) The Bible is clear that anger is a valid response to many circumstances in life. Even Jesus became angry. I believe there are two keys to a proper understanding of this issue. The first is knowing the right time to become angry, and the other is knowing exactly what to do with our anger.
I guess I have just come across too many people who are either angry all the time or seem to be angry about things that do not really matter too much in the first place. I still remember a speech class that I took back in college. We had to prepare several types of speeches and then be willing to “stand and deliver” those gems in front of the other students. I will never forget one particular man’s informative speech. He talked about his marriage, which had recently dissolved. As you can imagine, it was a very sad speech detailing the issues that led to the break-up of the relationship. You would think that there would have been some major issues, such as financial decisions, religious differences, or trust issues. These may have been true, but the issues that angered this man the most were ones that we would consider very petty. His wife had left her clothes lying around and (wait for it….) squeezed the toothpaste from the middle of the tube instead of from the end. I was floored at the time (and still today) that these little trivial issues could not be overcome within the context of their marriage. They were just simply constantly angry about the wrong things!
As I thought about this, a Biblical example came to mind. There are probably several, but certainly Jonah stands out as one who was angry at a time when God wanted him to be loving and compassionate. God called Jonah to go to the Ninevites and share His message with them. God’s message was simple. They needed to repent from their sinful ways or face dire consequences. As you well know, Jonah wanted to do anything but deliver that message. He went in the complete opposite direction from Nineveh. God certainly got Jonah’s attention by allowing him to be thrown overboard and then swallowed up by a huge fish! Suffice it to say, Jonah did eventually answer God’s call, whether he liked it or not. Jonah delivered God’s message to the Ninevites. And, perhaps the most amazing part of the story is that these people actually listened to him. They changed their ways and, for the moment, postponed God’s wrath.
As you might recall, Jonah went to a hillside overlooking the city to see what would happen to the people. God allowed a plant to grow very quickly and provide shade to Jonah on an incredibly hot day. God also allowed that same plant to go away just as quickly as it had sprung up. And, what was Jonah’s reaction to this plant’s demise? He was hot with anger. This is the conclusion of that story…
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9-11)
You see, the problem was not that Jonah was angry necessarily. It was that he was concerned about the wrong things. He was angry at these people because they had repented and turned to God. He had his own special prejudices against the Ninevites and the fact that they responded positively made him very upset. God used the plant as an illustration. And again, Jonah became very angry about the plant. His great concern was over a plant that he had just met! God showed Jonah that he should have been more concerned about souls that needed to turn toward God.
And, of course, my point is that sometimes we can be the same way. We get angry about things that are not all that important, while we overlook issues that need our attention. Just because someone does something different than the way we would do it, does not make it wrong. And, even more important, God did not set us up as the judge of what is right and wrong in the first place.
There are certainly appropriate times to get angry. These are going to, by and large, be times when we are defending the weak and most vulnerable in our society. And, these times will most certainly not be times when we are squabbling over petty issues that do not really amount to much. For the most part, God’s people are to be beacon’s of light and love. It is my contention that this means that we will be a pretty positive group of people most of the time. And, this is why we should be very slow to anger.
When the time of appropriate anger comes, we can look to some advice from the Apostle Paul to help us in knowing how we should handle our emotions.
In Ephesians 4:26, he tells us, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
If our anger is truly from God, it will quickly turn into positive action that can effect change. This is so much different than silly arguments about trivial issues. Being upset about someone else’s hurt can be a catalyst that inspires us to get involved, find answers, and work toward real solutions.
There are a lot of times in this world when you do not want to be slow. You do not want to be slow to dinner, slow in sports, or slow to fall in love. But, being slow to become angry is a good thing. And, in the end, we will find that doing so consistently helps both our relationship with God and our ministry to people!