Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3
There’s a third “light on the dashboard” that lets me know something’s not right under the hood of my life. Anger is a glaring indicator that I’m not seeking Jesus, His kingdom, and His righteousness because as James reminds us “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
Who me? Angry? No, of course not. After all, I’m a pastor…right? I wish I could say that being a man of the cloth precluded me from being a man of wrath, but it’s just not true. I can get down right mad sometimes.
Once I got mad at my wife for asking me to vacuum because she was keeping me from reading my Bible. I’m not kidding. I had been looking forward to spending some time in my favorite chair, reading my Bible and spending some time with God. I had been on my way to that chair and prayer several times that evening but had been prevented for various reasons. Those reasons happen to have the same names as my children. Just as I was about to settle in for some sweet time with Jesus, believing that all my other duties were done, Christine reminded me that I had agreed to vacuum the downstairs. So I huffed and I puffed and I vacuumed the house down. Anger provides amazing energy for house cleaning, doesn’t it? As I pushed that machine back and forth with furious force, I began to think about why I was so angry and the Spirit began to melt me. “This is ridiculous. What goal is she blocking that makes me so mad right now,” I asked internally. “You wanted to read your Bible and spend some time with God,” the Spirit seemed to say with sanctified sarcasm. “Oops. That’s embarrassing,” I chuckled nervously to myself. I wanted to crawl under a rock, but instead I went to Christine and confessed the double foolishness of raging at her for making me do something I said I would do and hindering me from wanting to pursue righteousness. My anger was not producing the righteousness I thought I wanted, but was produced by a self-righteous sense of entitlement. And woe be to anyone who tried to interrupt my pursuit of God with a need to be served. Of all the nerve!
James says that the reason I get mad, fight, and quarrel is because I want something that I’m not getting. Whether my desire is for something shallow like some down time in my favorite chair or a deeper craving for respect, you’d best not get in my way. I’ll even try to use God to get what I really want, asking Him for good things that I can spend on my own pleasure. James follows this discussion with these words: “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (vs. 4)? My anger is a red flag that tells me I’ve traded God for a lesser lover. I get angry when my idols disappoint me. There it is. Anger is the flashing light that tells me that I’ve got idols under the hood.
Only the Spirit can produce the righteousness of God in me. And He’ll do that when I take my anger and its idols to the cross, gaze at the One who bore the righteous wrath of His Father for my idolatry and irritability and with repentant faith believe again the Message that I’ve heard about Him (Galatians 3:1-5).