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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
More From This Series
Take your Bible and turn to James chapter 4. We’re in a series called Off Color: Dealing with Unwelcome Emotions. We have kind of color-coded emotions. We can be white with fear. We can be green with envy. We can be blue with depression, black with guilt, gray with indecision, and red with anger. We’ve already covered white with fear. We’ve covered blue with depression. Last week, we started to look at red with anger, and we chose James 4:1–12 as our text.
Why don’t you stand in honor of God’s Word? It’s not that we worship the Bible, but we believe the Bible to be God’s Word. We see in Nehemiah chapter 8 that the people stood as a recognition of the distinct nature of this book and of God’s law. The Bible tells us that God has exalted His Word above His name and that we ought to treat the Bible with some reverence, as it is God’s Word. In standing, we acknowledge that, and we hope that our hearts are as true to that belief as our feet.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives him more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in this sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”
So reads God’s Word. You may be seated.
Back in the day, when businessmen traveled more by train than they did by airplane, a certain Illinois businessman was heading home after a week on the road. He was tired. He was exhausted. He was spent, and he had booked himself a cabin in one of those sleeper carriages. He was tired and was actually a pretty good sleeper. So, he took the porter aside, and he said, “You know what? I’m a little frightened about oversleeping in the morning and missing my stop. So, would you make sure you’re waking me at 5 a.m.?” He gave the guy a good tip to make sure the job was done, and the porter agreed to do it.
The next morning, the businessman wakens up at 9 a.m. in his bed in the sleeper on the train. He’s about 200 miles past his desired stop at Deer Park in Illinois. As you can imagine, he’s very angry, and he takes it out on the porter. He just tells him, “What?” And he uses some words he hadn’t used since his Navy days, and he stomps off the train.
Another conductor was watching, and he said to the porter, “Boy, was he mad or what?” To which the porter replied, “If you thought he was mad, you should have seen the guy I threw off the train at 5 a.m.”
We smile, but the number of people today who allow anger to get the better of them is no laughing matter. Ours is an age of rage. Ours is a culture that hovers around boiling point. You see it in road rage, domestic violence, street protests, public discourse. Everybody’s angry—at someone, at something, at some time.
It’s not good because, as we said last week, wrath is cruel and anger is a flood (Prov. 27:4). Just think of that image. Floods are devastating. And you know what? Anger is devastating. It invites the anger of God against our unjust anger. It brings about shattered relationships. It starts wars. It disturbs our conscience. It clips the wings of our prayer. It produces folly in a man. It grieves the Holy Spirit. It damages our health and our holiness.
In fact, Jay Adams, in The Christian Counselor’s Manual, said this: “Sinful anger probably is involved in 90 percent of all counseling problems.” People are angry at something, someone. It’s a problem, and we want to address it in our series Off Color: Dealing with Unwelcome Emotions.
We started to look at the issue of anger last week from James 4:1–12. We broke the passage down under three headings: the consequences, the causes, the cures. We did make a distinction that there is such a thing as good anger. We’re dealing with negative anger. We’re dealing with bad anger. But there is such a thing as good anger. You can be angry and sin not, and we looked at the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. But—that qualification made—in a fallen world, the expression of good anger is rare. More than likely, our anger is tinged with selfishness. It’s tinged with judgmentalism. It’s the anger of a man that doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. So, let’s come back and work our way through the text.
In terms of the consequences, we saw in our text that when anger is expressed, it has some terrible and negative effects. It produces fights and quarrels (vs. 1). It perpetrates murder, both physical and metaphorical (vs. 2). It provokes God because it mirrors the world and it’s underwritten by pride (vs. 4). It promotes pride, which God condemns. And it pleases the devil. That’s why we need to resist him. None of that’s good, by the way—if you haven’t come to that conclusion. Unjustified, unjust anger does the work of the devil, not God’s work.
I like the story of the lady who was talking to Billy Sunday, an evangelist, many years ago. She admitted to having a bad temper, and instead of just confessing that and being humble about it, she sought to kind of justify it. She sought to kind of whitewash her sin, to kind of minimize the sin of anger. She said, “You know what? While I’ve got a temper, it doesn’t last very long.” To which Billy Sunday replied, “And neither does a shotgun blast.” I think she got the point. Anger is devastating. Its consequences are lasting although its expressions can be momentary.
So, let’s come to look at what we call the causes. James sets out to answer a fundamental question posed in verse 1: “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” And anger is implicit in that, isn’t it? Because it’s in anger—it’s in frustration—that we get into fights and wars with each other.
I want you to notice, too, the phrase “among you.” In this context, James is focused on church conflict, poor interpersonal relationships between Christians. This is not anger displayed at the street corner or in the stands of a soccer stadium or on the battlefields of life. This is anger expressed and conflict created in the church, “among you.” This was an assembly of God’s people in conflict. You go to the end of 3:18, and they were not enjoying a harvest of righteousness sown in peace. They were making war. There was disharmony bordering on physical violence. They were bitterly divided.
James wants to get to the root. What causes this anger? Where do the wars and the fights come from? And he answers it in verses 1 through 3. They come from selfish, sensual, that is, earthly, fleshly, sinful desires. Do they not come from your desires for pleasure? That is, your desire to have your way, your desire to be satisfied regarding some want that’s become dominant in your heart?
Look at verse 2: “You lust and do not have.” You desire, you want, but you don’t have. That bothers you. That bugs you, and it burns within you. And people get torched because you don’t get your way.
Notice verse 3: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” This whole issue is about you and your kingdom coming and your will being done on earth. That’s the issue. They were dominated within by self-indulgent pleasures that made little room for God’s will, God’s glory, and the concern of others.
The number one issue regarding anger was their desires and the fulfillment of them. That was the number one issue. Everything else and everyone else be damned. That’s why you murder, you covet, and you cannot obtain. You fight and you war.
We’re not sure what they were fighting over. Douglas Moo, a wonderful New Testament commentator, argues they may have been fighting over leadership positions. That’s where the conflict was, the competition. Look at chapter 3:1: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” And the sad thing is, too, their self-will and pleasure-seeking was disrupting not only their fellowship with one another but also their fellowship with God. It was now polluting their very prayer life.
Look what James says in 4:3: “You ask and do not receive”—why—“because you ask amiss.” You’d want to spend it on your pleasures. Selfishness was at the heart of their prayer life. They had forgotten what Jesus had taught in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6—that prayer is not about getting your will done in heaven but about getting God’s will done on earth.
As John Piper would remind us, prayer isn’t some domestic intercom, where you get to ask God to bring you some more pillows so that you feel a little bit more comfortable. Prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, and you are part of the battle for truth on the advancement of God’s kingdom.
I like Adrian Rogers’ statement. He’s always good for a quip. He says, “The prayer that gets to Heaven is the prayer that starts in Heaven.” When you begin with God’s glory, you begin with God’s name, you begin with God’s kingdom, you have a greater chance of getting your prayers answered. But they weren’t. Their prayers were about their pleasure and their will and their desires, that which they lusted after.
So, here’s the big point. James roots their anger on the inside. And that’s significant when we look at the prevailing ideologies and therapies that are available to people today when it comes to anger. Anger is an inside problem. Jesus would remind us back in Matthew 15:19 that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. What does Jesus say definitively? “For out of the heart proceed”—notice—“evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man . . .” (Matt. 15:19–20).
The heart of the problem with regards to anger is that you have a heart that gets overgrown with unruly desires. When it’s not subdued to God’s will, when it’s not controlled by the Holy Spirit, when it’s not governed by God’s Word, your heart gets overgrown with unruly desires. I want. I want. I want. I want it now. If you don’t give me it: war. Anger is sourced in godless self-seeking and self-love.
When it comes to anger, the problem is not environment. The problem is not circumstances or how you’re being treated. The problem is you and me and a wounded self-love, just now fussing and fuming. The Apostle James is not a behaviorist. Anger is a spiritual problem and part of spiritual warfare.
Our brother Dan Nah came to our KTT pastor’s conference in the fall. He said this, and I’m quoting him verbatim : “Secular theory pictures the heart of man as neutral, empty, waiting to be filled, a blank slate, which is written upon by external environmental factors. The source of the problem is that others are not meeting your needs or understanding you or making you feel loved. The problem is that others are not building up your self-esteem.”
According to this theory, therapy, environment is determinative. If you want to change a person’s behavior, you’ve got to change their external factors. What causes quarrels and what causes fights? Well, it’s my wife or my child or my boss or my mother-in-law. If they just acted differently, the conflict would go away.
James will not have that. James will not let you get away with that. He says the source of the problem is not external. It’s internal. It’s desires that are running amok—uncontrolled, unruly, selfish, fleshly, earthly desires. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, and the problem of the heart is unbridled desire, overgrown desires, unruly desires.
In fact, if you look at the kind of language that James uses here—“wars and fights”—it’s a military image, isn’t it? He’s likening our desires to troops that are entrenched, established in our hearts. They’re inordinate desires, desires that rule us, desires that are out of order, desires that dominate. And these desires are waging war on anything or anyone that gets in the way. Like a well-organized army, they’re strategic, they plot, they plan, and they’re aggressive. And James wants to remind us of that fact.
When I pastor and counsel and listen to people who are in conflict—they may not realize it, but if I listen long enough—they’ll tell me what is at the heart of the issue and what they want. “All I want is my wife to respect me.” “All I want is for my husband to be a better spiritual leader.” “All I want is for my adult child to call me such and such.” “All I want is for my boss to appreciate me.” “All I want is for my work to acknowledge me.” “All I want is . . .” Now, let me say, some of those wants can be healthy and desirable. But, when they become inordinate and unruly, and there’s going to be no peace until they’re satisfied, then we’re in trouble.
So, that’s the cause. What’s the cause of anger? You. Me. When I express it, when it’s not holy, when it’s not measured, when it’s not like Jesus—and when it’s directed towards a wife, a husband, a child, a neighbor, a friend, a workmate, a pastor, whoever—James is saying that’s because unruly desires are ruling you. Well, you need to repent. The issue isn’t the external. The issue is internal. And there can be no excuse-making. You need to take ownership. As Jesus says, a man is defiled from the inside out.
Years ago, Paul Harvey, a great radio personality, told the story of how Eskimos would kill a wolf. Very interesting. In fact, I’m just going to let him tell it word for word. He’ll describe it better than me. It’s grizzly. You know, “hide the children” kind of thing here.
“First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the Arctic night. So great becomes his craving for the blood that the wolf does not notice that the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his own warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more—until the dawn finds him dead in the snow.”
Amazing, isn’t it? And what a fearful thing that you and I can become consumed and destroyed and can destroy others by our own lusts and our own desires and our own pleasures.
Okay, let’s get to the cures. Pastor, have you a remedy for that? Quickly, quickly. We get it. Well, we’ve looked at the consequences, the causes, the cures. This is kind of verse 4 right through to verse 12. We’ll kind of move through this. We need to learn to submit our desires to the lordship of Jesus Christ. David Powlison observed something about these verses we’re about to look at. This is his striking statement: “James’s solution to interpersonal conflict is shockingly vertical.” Love that: “shockingly vertical.” Draw near to God, and He’ll draw near to you.
Let’s look at several things. In fact, I want to back up for a couple of moments into James 1:19–20. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Here’s some actions you need to take. Number one: restrain. I’m going to give you several Rs this morning. Restrain. That is, restrain yourself. When anger boils, when frustration bubbles, you need at that moment to consciously restrain yourself. Look at what James says: “So then, my brethren . . . be . . . slow to speak, slow to wrath.” That’s an echo of Proverbs 14:29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9.
And I’ll just read Proverbs 14:29 for you. Here’s what it says: “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding.” This is what wise people do, all right? They’re not trigger happy. Be slow to wrath, and that is great understanding because “he who is impulsive exalts folly.” Really stupid to blow up.
When we are tempted to anger, we need to pause, and we need to think. We need to take a time out. A little time out will help us to get our minds right. We need to step back. We need to hold back. We need to delay any expression of it. Even if it’s righteous, we need to delay it and think it through—and especially when it’s in danger of being unrighteous. There’s merit to the time-honored tradition of counting to 10 or even 100, seriously. Holding back allows us to calm down, to best assess the situation, to clarify the issue, to understand our motives, to pick our fight, and to respond in a measured way.
By the way, you can control your temper. You say, “No, I can’t.” I say, “Yes, you can.” Here’s an example. A husband becomes angry at his wife because of something she says or does. He raises his voice, and he lets loose. The next day at the office, something happens that angers him, but he doesn’t express his anger. When you ask him what the difference is, he goes, “Express my anger at work? Are you kidding? That would be unprofessional. That would jeopardize my career.” So, you’re admitting you controlled your anger on a Monday morning in the office, but you couldn’t control it on a Sunday night in the living room. Interesting.
Imagine a situation, a heated family argument. Faces are getting red. Voices are getting louder. Fingers are getting pointed. The phone rings, and you answer it with the sweetest, happiest voice. “Hello, we’re doing just great, pastor. How are you doing?” You can control your temper. And the Bible encourages us to do it. Now, you can do that, especially with God’s help. The Spirit of God can produce the fruit of self-control—another message for another time.
Number two: recognize. It’s another action you need to take. Restrain. Number two: recognize. Verse 20 of chapter 1, recognize that “the wrath of man . . .” Pause. That is anger that’s not holy, not measured, not Christ-like, not driven by God’s glory—that kind of wrath. Notice that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” You just need to recognize that, that the outcome is not good. The results are bad. In fact, you’re doing the devil’s work. Anger is a traumatic emotion that leaves to path of destruction, broken marriages, estranged children, divided churches, warring societies.
We saw from James chapter 4 that it produces fights. It invites the devil to wreak havoc in our life. It multiplies pride. It has us siding with the world and not with God. It provokes God to jealousy and righteous indignation. None of that’s good.
I could go down another list. Anger produces conflict. A hot-tempered man “stirs up strife” (Prov. 15:18). It produces foolish behavior. “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly” (Prov. 14:17). It produces broken relationships. “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city” (Prov. 18:19). It produces more anger. A man of great anger will bear the penalty of it. If you rescue him, you will only have to do it again (Prov. 19:19). It produces other sins. A hot-tempered man “abounds in transgression” (Prov. 29:22). None of that’s good. Conflict, foolishness, brokenness, and more anger.
So, what we need to do is a cost-benefit analysis of the sin of anger. You know, companies sit down before they commit themselves in dollars to a path to do a cost-benefit analysis. What will it cost us? And what will it benefit us? Is the investment worth it—short term, long term? What are the market forces? You get it. Some of you live there.
James is basically saying you need to do a cost-benefit analysis. Slow down and remind yourself that, if wrongly handled, this thing goes belly up. And the consequences and the costs are high. We need to study the Bible, glance at history, take a quick assessment of contemporary society. We will discover that the cost of unholy anger is high and the benefits are low. Anger increases health retreat . Happiness shrinks. Holiness abates. Harmony decreases.
Number three: repent. Basically, this is verses 4–10, although we’ll double back a couple of times in looking at it. But I want you to especially see verses 8, 9, and 10. Look at the language: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves . . .” That’s the language of repentance.
As it relates to our angry outbursts, to our smoldering resentments, to our seething frustrations, we don’t need an appointment with a therapist. We need to seek a biblical counselor, a pastor, a godly friend, and we need to do some confessing before God. That’s what we need to do. We don’t need to investigate others and find out what contribution they made to our angry state. We need to take a look at ourselves and mourn and lament our selfishness, our self-love, our willingness to hurt people when we don’t get our way. We don’t need to be affirmed. We need to be humbled. And that’s what’s going on in the text.
This isn’t an issue of environment. It’s not because you grew up in the projects that you’re angry. It’s not because you’re a Black man in White America that you’re angry. It has nothing to do with heredity. Don’t give me the Irish thing or the Italian thing or the Latino thing.
Hello, did you hear about the Irishman who was walking down the street? These two guys roll out of a bar fighting each other. He breaks them up and says, “Is this a private fight, or can anybody join in?” I get some of that, all right? I get some of that.
But it’s not an environment issue. It’s not a heredity issue. It’s a heart issue. And it’s a heart that needs to be cleansed from the scum of anger. We need to accept responsibility, stop blaming, stop making excuses, and confess our sin of anger. We don’t need a therapist; we need a Savior. We don’t need psychology; we need the gospel. Because our anger is an expression of our fallenness and rebellion and self-love. It needs to be cleansed by the grace of God.
We need to repent because anger is a result of worldliness and pride. Go back to verse 4. Note he calls them “adulterers,” “adulteresses.” That’s the language of the Old Testament for when Israel wasn’t faithful to God. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? When we are angry, we’re expressing where the world is at, not where the church should be. We are being driven by pride, which God resists (vs. 6, 10).
Ed Welch wrote a wonderful little book, by the way, on anger: A Small Book about a Big Problem. In fact, a man testified to me last week in between services that that book changed his life. It took away—by God’s grace—anger and replaced it with peace and poise.
Here’s what Ed Welch says: “Think of the world as the anti-church. It is separated from God. Its beliefs include, ‘obey your desires.’” You ever hear that? Is that the theme of a movie you’ve watched recently? Is that not the beat and the hook in every advertisement? “Obey your desires.”
Ed Welch continues, “It [the world] thinks in terms of personal rights rather than ‘thank you.’ It runs on the engine of pride.” That’s true. That statement’s true. That’s what’s true of the world, and it’s true of us. We need to repent of worldliness and adultery with a culture that’s Christless. We vent our anger like the world does. That’s so unchristian. Anger—with its unruly, self-indulgent desires—is the child of such worldliness and pride and must be repented of forthwith. We need to repent. We need to confess.
Now, when it comes to anger, there are several kinds of people. Let’s go on a little excursion here for a moment or two. There’s what I call the stuffers, the shouters, the smolderers, and the swervers.
I don’t know where you fit in, but here are the stuffers. They’re the people who repress and suppress their anger. But, here’s the issue, my friend. It doesn’t go away. It just emerges and surfaces somewhere else—in depression, guilt, overeating, overworking, compulsions.
Shouters. These are the people who think it’s their constitutional right to be openly angry. They use anger as a weapon. They scream. They make a scene. They shout their protests.
There are the smolderers. They may or may not express their anger. If they do, they’re often happy for people to listen about their anger and the causes of their anger, but they never get rid of it. It keeps burning for years on a low heat, and it smolders until, one day, some spark will ignite it.
Then there are the swervers. This is kind of the kick-the-dog syndrome, all right? They’re angry, but they don’t direct their anger to what they perceive to be the seat of their anger. No. If something happens in the office, they don’t deal with it there. No, they come home and take it out on their wife or their children, or the dog gets kicked. Somebody else bears the brunt of their frustration.
We don’t want to be stuffers. We don’t want to be shouters. We don’t want to be smolderers, and we don’t want to be swervers. We need to be supplicants who acknowledge we’re sinners, who acknowledge that we’re worldly and proud. We just need to lament and mourn and weep over what we’ve done to the glory of God, what we have done to the harmony of the church, what we have done to hurt our wives, what we have done to provoke our children. We don’t need therapists. We need a Savior. We don’t need psychology. We need the gospel.
Here’s the beautiful part, by the way. If you will accept your anger and own it and confess it . . . That’s what the word “confession” means, by the way, in the Greek—where you agree with God about the issue. There’s no obfuscation. There’s no excuse-making. You just go, “You know what, Lord? You’re right. I broke your law. I broke the law of love. I’ve dishonored Your holiness.” You agree with God. When you and I accept our anger and repent of it, we meet with God’s acceptance of us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Jesus was rejected to secure your acceptance upon your repentance. Jesus bore the wrath of God against your unjustified wrath so that when you repent of your unjustified wrath, God will accept you upon the basis of what His Son has done. How beautiful is that?
In his book Slaying the Giants, David Jeremiah tells of a ministry friend who counseled a woman who was divorced for many years now. After all that time, she was still getting therapy about her divorce. She was still spouting off her rage and her anger and her bitterness toward her husband who left her for another woman. Let me pause and acknowledge the hurt of that. That’s real, and it’s hard. But, the leader asked her, “Why can’t you move on with your life? Why can’t you let go of your anger?” To which she replied, “Because it’s the only story I have.”
And that’s the beauty of the gospel. The gospel changes the narrative. When you become a new creature in Christ, all things pass away, and all things become new. You lay that bitterness and that resentment at the foot of the cross. You know that God accepts you while others reject you. God loves you while others hurt you. And God is wanting to forgive you when you have offended Him by your bad response to how others have offended you. God’s amazing grace will help write a new chapter in an eternal story.
Let God change the narrative this morning. By grace, repent. Restrain. Recognize. Repent. Receive. The fight with anger is not one which you are on unaided in. Look at verse 6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” When we make friends with God and not the world, when we draw near to God in confession and contrition, when we stop willfully and wantonly demanding our way and bow in sweet submission to God’s way—what is the promise? He lifts us up. He draws near, and He supplies the grace necessary to live victoriously. Look at that. Verse 6: He gives grace. Verse 8: He draws near. Verse 10: He lifts us up. God is our strong ally in the battle with anger.
No matter how great the sin of anger, God’s grace is greater.
I love Romans 5:20. I have had to take refuge there. So have you. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. There’s grace greater than all our sin, as the hymn writer said. And what is grace? Grace is God’s favor toward us in Christ. I think Max Lucado kind of simply summarized it: “Grace is everything Jesus.” But what God set out to do in Christ for us, despite us—that’s grace.
But it’s more than just saving grace. It’s enabling and enriching grace. C. L. Chase, in a wonderful book on God’s grace, says this: “Grace is God’s governing determination to do me good in all His dealings with me.” Wow, I want to read that again. This is what grace is; it’s God’s governing determination. This is what God wants to do freely, sovereignly, mercifully. He wants to do us good in all His dealings with us. He wants our good, and He shows us the path to the good.
With regards to anger, there is redeeming grace that forgives us. Then, there is enabling grace that allows us to conquer our moods and our madness, that allows us to be slow to anger, that gives us the intuition spiritually to count the cost, that brings about the grace of repentance and humility, and that strengthens us for the fight.
Listen to these words of J. A. Motyer in his commentary on James: “What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. . . . He always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, He always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first, we cannot forfeit our salvation, for there is always more grace. No matter what we do to Him, He is never beaten. . . . His resources are never at an end, His patience is never exhausted, His initiative never stops, His generosity knows no limit: He gives more grace.” Grace to transform a hard heart and idolatrous desire, to reconcile bitter enemies, to heal broken relationships, to forgive painful adultery.
S. Lewis Johnson, a wonderful teacher out of Dallas Seminary who’s now with the Lord, used to tell the story of a German woman who left Germany after the First World War and made her way to the North Sea for a new life. And, having lived years and months on rations, when she got to the coastline of the North Sea, she said, “Ah, after all, there is something they cannot ration.” My friend, John 1:16 says, “[O]f His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” The image there is grace after grace, grace replacing grace—grace and then more grace. Wave after wave after wave. It can’t be rationed.
All right, let’s get to our last two points quickly. Resist. Verse 7 of James 4: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” We’re to submit to God. We’re to let God rule our lives. We’re not to let our unruly desires set the agenda. We’re to go to God every day and, by His grace, submit to His will and seek to do it for His glory. In fact, this is a military term that means to take one’s rank under one’s commanding officer. Get in the line, all right? And the reason we’re to submit to our commanding officer is because we’re in a war—a war with our flesh, the world, and the devil. We’re told, therefore, to submit to God.
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Do you know that the devil loves anger? He loves anger. He loves to use anger. He loves to create anger. He is an enraged murderer who desires to kill all things good and godly (John 8:44). He is an ancient dragon who despises and hates Israel. According to Revelation 12:17, in the last days, his rage will burn against the woman and the followers of the Lamb. He will become enraged in the last days.
The devil loves anger, and that’s why Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” The word “place” there, as I’d said last time, is “beachhead.”
Again, it’s a military term. In a war, advancing soldiers and armies need to get beachheads. They need to get a foothold somewhere in enemy territory from which they can advance. I’ve been to Normandy, as some of you have. It’s a humbling experience where you see where these brave young men of the Allied Forces fought with treasure and blood to gain a foothold, a beachhead, from which they could advance across Europe and end Nazism. That’s our word.
The devil likes to use anger as a beachhead. We’ve got to resist him. We’ve got to submit to God. We’ve got to walk in the Spirit. We’ve got to obey the Word. We’ve got to watch and pray. And you know what? If we’ll do that, here’s the promise: he will flee. Only God is omnipotent, not the devil. The devil has the power to make evil attractive, but it is a power that we can break by grace in submission to God, as we live for His glory. The idea that “the devil made me do it” is inadmissible in God’s court. You can resist him, and he will flee from you.
And notice the order: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The depths of our surrender to God will determine the breadth of our spiritual victory. That’s the issue: surrender to God. It’s not the fight in you. It’s the surrender you’ve made to God’s purposes and glory and will that will be the determining factor.
When Lord Nelson beat the French, the British commander demanded that the French admiral appear before him to surrender. The vanquished foe turned up, but this French admiral walked with a strut across the deck of the British frigate. He had a smirk on his face. He had a sword dangling from his side, and he stretched out his hand to the stoic figure of Lord Nelson, offering a conciliatory handshake that was refused. Lord Nelson was unmoved, and he retorted to the French commander, “First, your sword, sir.”
I think the Lord would ask us this morning in our fight with anger: Is your sword still hanging by your side, which you use to fight your way through life, to battle the will of God, to maintain your affections, to establish the ground around which the lordship of Christ is off limits? You want to win the battle with anger? First, your sword. First, surrender, submit, mourn, lament.
Finally, resign. What do you mean, pastor? Resign from playing the role of God. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this. I don’t have time, and it’s a simple point I want to make. But, if you look at verses 11 and 12, I think you’ll see where I get my thought. Here are verses about judging your brother. Anger, judgmentalism—it’s all kind of tied together. We’re told when we speak evil of a brother and judge a brother, we’re speaking evil of the law and we’re judging the law. How come? Because what’s the royal law according to the scripture James 2:8? It’s love your neighbor; love your brother.
Now, if you’re judging him, if you’re slandering him, if you’re defaming him, if you’re attacking him, if you’re showing anger towards him, you’re not loving him. That means you’re not loving the law. In fact, you’re speaking evil of the law, and you’re judging the law. How come? Because you’ve decided that your measure of justice is more important than God’s justice.
And so, James says, I have something to remind you of. There’s one lawgiver. Implied in that, there’s one judge who’s able to save and destroy. Who are you to judge your brother? So, the last thing you need to do in the battle with anger is to resign from playing the role of God.
Here’s the scenario, as we finish. See, when you play judge, and when you play angry judge, the scenario is that you’ve decided to legislate required behavior for someone else. Not God’s law, not God’s standards, but yours—regarding how you want your home ordered, how you want your children to respond, how you want others to serve, whatever that case might be. You begin to legislate behavior for the other person, what you expect from them. And you may not necessarily communicate that, but when they violate your law, you write it down in your book. Again, you may not share that with them, but there comes a point when you decide to bring the gavel down, because you’re the star witness against them. You become judge and executioner, and then you begin to punish.
And that’s what James is at. Who died and made you judge? Well, God died, metaphorically speaking, as you don’t think about Him and don’t submit to Him. James wants to remind you that you need to resign from playing God in people’s lives.
Here’s a verse I’ve got to squeeze in: Genesis 50:19. Remember when Joseph’s brothers find out that the father is dead? They’re worried, thinking, “Joseph’s going to wreak havoc on us now, given what we did to him.” Listen to what Joseph says: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph had long since resigned from playing the role of God, judge, and executioner in his brothers’ lives. In fact, he had since God sovereignly used what they had done to bring him to a place where he would save the family that rejected him. Am I in the place of God? No, I’m not. Neither are you, neither am I. And we need to keep that in mind.
You remember the scene in Rudy? I think I’ve made reference to it before. He’s dying to play for Notre Dame. It’s a great movie. He’s kind of tried all that he can to get his grades up and get on to the team. He goes into the chapel, and the priest is there. And he said, “Is there anything else I can do? Can I pray some more? Can you help me?” And what did the priest say? It’s kind of a terrible statement in and of itself. He says, “After 35 years of religious study, I’ve come to these two hard, incontrovertible facts: that there is a God, and that I’m not Him.”
Oh, boy. If it takes you 35 years to get there, you’re on the slow-mo track of learning. But I love just that simple fact. There is a God, and Theology 101 is: I’m not Him. And I’ve got to stop playing Him and thinking I am Him. I’ve got to submit to Him. Now, I’ve got to humble myself before Him. I’ve got to draw near to Him. And He will take care of me. He will lift me up. He will give me the grace to govern my anger and to forgive other’s anger towards me.
Father, we thank You for James 4. What a treatise on anger. It’s as fresh as the day James put his pen to the papyri. Because it’s eternal. It’s Your inspired, inerrant, sufficient Word. And it has scolded us, and it has soothed us. It has resonated with us. We know the excuses we make. We know the projections we put on others. We know the way we try and get around our selfishness, and we project a self-righteousness. It’s awful, and it’s terrible, and people are hurt, and your holiness is tarnished. We repent, O God, today of our anger, and we pray for your grace to be better and do better. We pray for forgiveness. We pray for enablement. We pray for a resistance to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Lord, help us to remember that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God, that wrath is cruel and anger is a flood. Help us to take the building blocks of James 4 and build a dam against that flood. For we pray and ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.