This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 23, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 1G.
Context: As these Jewish Christians moved into new situations they were dealing with a lot of anger. They were angry (1) because of things that had happened to them in the past (the loss of homes and businesses and friends), (2) because they were not accepted (ostracized and rejected by their new communities and the Roman world because of their faith), and (3) because they were mistreated and persecuted. James writes to them to tell them that their anger is not going to bring about the thing that God wants to do through them, in these communities – but will only lead to further alienation. Rather, he calls them to be slow to anger – just as God is slow to anger.
God is Slow to Become Angry.
God is not mindlessly angry, nor is His anger a blind and out of control hatred (as it is often characterized by men). Of course God does judge sin and injustice and he sometimes does so in serious, deadly ways. But this is at the end of a long process of patience. God is long-suffering and slow to become angry, despite provocation.
Despite Man’s Corruption: God made man and woman as the pinnacle, the height of creation – and yet we have corrupted what we were meant to be. We harm one another with violence, theft, hateful acts and words, perversions. We have harmed and misused the Creation, our own bodies. We have worshipped sex and power and money and nations and people. We have spread harm and despair and hatred and fear and pride and envy and lies and selfishness all over the good Creation. We have poured the toxic waste of our sin into the world that God made.
This is what Paul says, in essence, in Romans 3:10-18 (NASV) – “‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.’ 13 ‘Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,‘ ‘The poison of asps is under their lips’; 14 ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness’; 15 ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace they have not known.’ 18 ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” Human beings are corrupted. And Paul’s particular point here, to the Romans, is that this is true both of the Gentiles who refused to worship God even though the Creation clearly revealed him – and of the Jews, to whom God had revealed himself (both the religious and the non-religious). Our hearts produce corrupt desires and thoughts and we carry them out and speak and act in corrupt ways – Yet God is slow to become angry.
Despite Man’s Rebellion: Psalm 2 spells out the attitude of human beings towards God – “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, 3 ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’”
From the time of the Fall of man, we have distrusted and rebelled against God. The history of God’s own people, Israel, is a history of rebellion and sin and ultimate failure to trust God. And we, who have the Spirit of God within us, distrust and rebel against God on a daily basis – Yet God is slow to become angry.
God is Gracious in His Anger: Psalm 103:8-14 tells us what God is like in the face of our rebellion and corruption – “8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
The Scriptures do not say that God is not angry – but that, in his anger, he does not treat us as we deserve. Rather God’s response to being angry is to show compassion and to offer forgiveness and to redeem us from our sin.
Human Anger is Corrupt and Inflames Evil.
We are Corrupt in Our Anger: “… the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Our anger does not bring about the kinds of situations or blessing or good final product that God wants to bring about. Why? Because there is a fundamental difference between human anger and what God is like in his anger…
- God is compassionate and gracious when he is offended – but we are vengeful.
- God is slow to anger – but we are easily and quickly offended.
- God is abounding in love and kindness – but we are selfish and our love is often about what we can get from others.
- God does not want to give us what our sins have deserved – but we often react to pay back in greater measure than the offense.
- God wants to remove our transgressions from us – but we want to nail people’s transgressions on to them for all to see.
- God is mindful that we are dust – but we have little or no regard for the weaknesses of those who have offended us – unless it would be that we could expose them.
At every turn human anger is the opposite of God’s anger. Our anger makes situations worse! Our anger is corrupt. We are corrupt. What can we do?
Be Slow to Become Angry.
Put Off the Quick, Evil Response: “… for the indignation of man is not producing the justice of God. Therefore put off all filthiness and the superabundance of evil, and in humility…” (James 1: 20-21 — Greek Interlinear).
The filthiness and the superabundance of evil that James is referring back to is the anger, or indignation, of man. James tells us to put it off.
Many of you have been sinned against very blatantly, and in such situations, anger is not an unreasonable response – but our anger is quick, reactive and vengeful, and therefore corrupt.
James tells us to slow down in our anger – and doing that is painful. However, when we put to death the angry reaction – when we refuse to be seduced by indignation, we give ourselves time to consider how God has responded to us in anger. Then the choice that we make to be vengeful or wise and compassionate becomes clear to us. This is what James means when he tells us to slow down in our anger. Quick reactive anger is blind and thoughtless and ruinous and evil.
Put On Slow Humility: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
James brings this section of his letter to a close by returning to this idea that we have been stained by the filthiness of the world. In the context of his words, the stain and the filthiness he is talking about seems to be the reaction of human anger. And just as, in vs. 21 he tells them to receive the word with humility – so now in vs.27, he points them towards humility again. Humility and the angry reaction of human anger are at odds with one another. So James calls his readers to turn from anger and to practice compassion towards the helpless and the weak (widows and orphans).
This is pure and undefiled practice of faith – humbling ourselves and becoming servants of those who are weak and helpless. This is the imitation of what Jesus Christ was like – as Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 – “5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (NAS ). In other words, if anger feeds into our desire for power and vengeance, then humility, and the willingness to become a servant to others – especially those who are needy and unimpressive – has a purifying effect on us, because it is like what Jesus did.
This morning God is calling us to slow down and to consider how gracious he has been – how our anger is different from his anger – to put off what is corrupt and filthy and to put on humility.