James gives us some great advice to help improve the quality of all of our relationships. He highlights three essential keys to improving relationships: being a good listener, thinking before speaking and controlling your anger.
James 1:19-20. My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
After telling us to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak”, James tells us to be ‘slow to become angry’. If we are not careful anger can do great damage in our relationships.
Observations about Anger
Anger is a common emotion. Just as every relationship involves ‘listening’ and ‘speaking’ (communication), James acknowledges that ‘anger’ is also a potential threat to every relationship. Every person has times when they experience feelings of annoyance, irritation, resentment and anger. Feelings of anger usually come from frustration or hurt.
Anger can cause great damage. Anger is a major destroyer of relationships. It has been causing damage in relationships for a long time, ever since sin entered the world. In fact, the first family conflict was between two brothers, Cain and Abel, and it resulted in Cain killing his brother in an act of violent anger. Anger creates ‘distance’ between people, it pushes us into ‘darkness’ (1 John 2:9-11) and it ties us up in ‘knots’ on the inside. Ultimately, anger hurts the one who is angry. It is like a boomerang. We throw it at others but we are the one who suffers. We also give the devil a ‘foothold’ in our own life (Eph.4:26-27).
Anger management is essential for healthy relationships. It is essential that we get our anger under control. It is a critical area. It is also a developmental task that takes time and intentional focus on our part (Prov.14:29; 16:32. Ecc.7:9). If any relationship is to function healthily then the emotion of anger has to be under control (Eph.4:31-32).
There is a difference between angry ‘feelings’ and angry ‘behaviour’. We need to differentiate between anger as a feeling and anger as a behavior (aggression). Paul tells us, “In your anger do not sin” (Eph.4:26). We do this by distinguishing between the feeling of anger and the behavior. Anger is not the problem. It is what we do with it. If you are angry (you will be at some time), do not it let it lead you into sin. We can manage our anger in a constructive, Christ-like manner. The sin lies in what we do with our anger, not the angry feeling itself. Believing that we should never be angry is impossible and not very helpful.
There is a place for ‘righteous anger’. Does God get angry? Clearly, the answer is yes! However, his anger is never irrational or out of impatience. He is ‘slow to anger’ and ‘long suffering’. His anger lasts only for a moment and is always an expression of his goodness and concern. We too can move in a sense of ‘righteous anger’ where God stirs us to stand out against things that offend God or damage people. In fact, one of the criticisms of the western church is that we have lost our sense of ‘outrage’. It is easy for us to become so focused on being ‘balanced’, ‘tolerant’, ‘politically correct’ and even ‘relevant’ that we can stick our head in the sand and remain silent about the injustices of our world. However, we must be sure to differentiate between this kind of righteous anger and our own selfish irritations.
Tips for Controlling Your Anger
Think about your ‘anger triggers’. Have you ever analysed why you get angry? Is it at things or people? What are some of the situations where anger is most often aroused in you? What are your common sources of anger? With whom do you get most angry? We all have developed what we could call ‘hot buttons’. These are people or situations that seem to cause us to become angry without us even stopping to think about it. It becomes a difficult task to stop this but it can be done. Behavior can be modified! That’s what ‘sanctification’ is all about.
Embrace realistic expectations about life and people. The truth about life is that irritations, frustrations and hurts are going to happen! We might as well go ahead and prepare for the irritations that will inevitably come our way. With some things we just need to choose to be ‘fore-bearing’ (Eph.4:2. Col.3:13). Be patient and put up with things that aren’t really a big deal. Choose to not be easily offended. Remember, anger is a choice. When irritations come your way, make a choice not to lose your joy.
Choose to be a forgiving person. Forgiveness is God’s antidote to all hurt. Ask God to help you to forgive those who offend you quickly and from the heart (Matt.6:14-15; 18:21-35. Eph.4:26-32). Release them from the debt they owe you. Forgive as Christ has forgiven you – completely and repeatedly. Forgiveness is based on a choice, not a feeling. Make every effort to protect the unity of your relationships (Eph.4:3). It must be a priority in our daily lives. We are constantly urged to be “peacemakers” (Mt.5:9) and to do everything possible to keep unity in all of our relationships.
Talk opening and honestly about your feelings. Once the emotion of anger has settled down it is important to talk about your feelings with others. Try to learn from the situation and do things to avoid it happening again. Speak the truth in a loving manner with the aim of strengthening your relationships. Don’t allow emotional distance to remain. Make every effort to reconnect your hearts.
Be quick to apologise. All of us do things that offend other people from time to time, whether with our words or our actions. We must take responsibility for the wrongs we do. We must acknowledge our wrong and ask for forgiveness. Jesus tells us to take care of offences as quickly as possible (Matt. 5:21-26). Pride causes us to refuse to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions. Instead we blame the other person and point the finger at them while justifying ourselves. Humility leads us to take care of our own mistakes, oversights and lack of sensitivity. Hurry up and apologise when you blow it. Learn to say “I’m sorry” and “Would you please forgive me?”