Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to get angry. What would our relationships look like if we obeyed this teaching? What would the world look like if Christians obeyed this teaching? Behaving this way doesn’t come naturally to me. Rather, it’s something I need to practice with intentionality.
But it’s important to note the difference between being slow to speak and slow to get angry, and never doing these things. James is not calling us to be passive mutes, nor is he calling us to be “nice.”
I have to admit, I’m tired of nice Christians and I’d love to see a few more angry ones. Sometimes anger is the proper emotion. When we’re confronted with injustice – when we hear about child prostitution, poverty, or slave labour – we should be angry. When we hear about war, famine, greed, or unjust practices within our churches, we should be angry.
Righteous anger flows when we allow our hearts to break at the same things that break God’s heart. This type of anger leads to action, as we seek to right the wrong and root out injustice. It’s the same type of anger Jesus displayed when he cleared out the temple. It is good and right, and we need more of it.
This world needs fewer nice Christians and more Christians who are good and mad.
Careful not to sin
Good and mad, but not bad and mad. Anger and sin are never far apart. In the heat of the moment, the line between righteous anger and self-righteous anger can be difficult to distinguish. So, in James’ words, we must be slow to become angry.
Self-righteous anger or – as the New Living Translation describes it – “human anger” doesn’t come from God but from us. Self-righteous anger is never justifiable or excusable. When we indulge in self-righteous anger, we are, in effect, snatching the judge’s gavel from God’s hands and ripping the judge’s gown from his shoulders. Self-righteous anger makes us judge, jury, and oftentimes, executioner. This, as James 1:20 rightly states, “does not produce the righteousness God desires.”
Being quick to listen and slow to speak can help us discern between righteous and self-righteous anger. Slowing down allows us to weigh not only our emotions but also our words.
So, if we do determine we are good and mad, we can express that anger in an appropriate manner. We need to speak the truth but, as Ephesians 4:15 says, we need to do so in love. It’s not just what we have to say that matters, but how we say it.
Expressions of righteous anger
Several months ago, I had the privilege of helping a member of our community move from a rooming house into our House Blend Ministries community home. It was more complicated than a traditional move, not because my friend has so many belongings (he doesn’t), but because those belongings had been in contact with bedbugs. It was necessary to ensure we moved my friend – and only my friend!
A local exterminator came by to lend his expertise. Another community member offered her truck for transportation. A group of us loaded and unloaded my friend’s possessions in a safe way, and then treated his clothing and bedding at a local laundromat.
I was pulsating with rage, knowing that a person I loved could have been asked to live in such a place. I felt powerless, realizing someone else would soon be asked to live in that same room. But those feelings of anger were transformed, as God’s people banded together to dream and pray and act.
Being good and mad could mean travelling to another country, taking up a leadership position in your church, knitting socks for people who are homeless, or starting a prayer group. Being good and mad about injustice in your own city might mean writing notes of thanks and encouragement to people you know doing good work to combat it. Often, those people work tirelessly without ever hearing anyone say, “Well done.”
When God makes you good and mad, he will also show you how he wants you to respond. As long as you’re quick to listen to him.