by Julia Bruce
CEO, Author, and Conference Speaker
Think before you speak
Doesn’t this verse just punch right in the gut? I mean, my natural tendency is if it pops in my brain, it’s out of my mouth in the same second! I can remember in my late teens my mom saying that she never knew what was going to come out of my mouth when I opened it….and more often than not, I ended up regretting what was said. The Message Bible puts it this way: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.”
There are many reasons that we get angry. Lack of patience, being under a lots of stress, worry about paying the bills, marriage problems, rebellious children….and THAT driver that cut us off this morning. Sometimes it’s as simple as we didn’t get our way about something.
One important thing to point out is that not all anger is bad. Anger is an emotion that God gave us. Jesus even displayed a righteous anger in the temple when the money changers were cheating the people. James understood that there will be times where we get angry, but his words of caution to be “slow to anger” are wise words to follow.
This doesn’t mean that we allow anger to build and fester, letting it slowly rise up. That will only lead to an uncontrollable explosion later on. I believe that James’ words of wisdom are meant for us to stop, step back, evaluate the situation and form a proper response before we let our words and actions cause us sin.
Let your words be few
Proverbs 10:19 teaches, When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Most of us have heard the saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we could listen twice as much as we speak.” In studying these verses, the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible took this a little further and said, “the ears are open and exposed, whereas the tongue is walled in behind the teeth.” Our teeth and lips are like two gates to our words and there are times when those gates should be locked.
Why is it important for us to be “slow to speak” and “slow to anger”?
As a Christian, every word we say is a reflection of Christ. If we speak as a reaction to things and circumstances, do those words honor and glorify our Savior? We know this concept as a head-knowledge, but do we practice it? A few verses down (verse 22) James says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
So if it’s important enough that God put this teaching throughout the Bible from several different authors, how can we be sure that we are putting it into practice? So often the words that come out of our mouth will either put out an argument or give it fuel to burn hotter.
Here are five questions you can ask in any situation to help you decide if you need to unlock the gates to your words or just be “quick to hear.”
S – Does it glorify my Savior?
P – Does it lead me to Pray for others or circumstance?
E – Does it Edify and Encourage others?
A – Does it Affirm the truth?
K – Does it advance the Kingdom of God?
Does it glorify my Savior?
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.” Because we put off the old way of life and put on the new self of God’s likeness, when the world looks at us as Christians, they should see God through our lives – every word we say, every action, every facial expression. They should see God in our work ethics and habits, in our home life, in our recreational activities, and every other aspect of our lives. They should see God in how we treat other people and they should see us love all people as Christ loves them.
But let’s get real…we are not always going to agree and there are going to be times that we get angry. Anger is one of the emotions that God gave us when He created mankind. So when these times come, how do we then glorify Christ? We can find the answer in 1 Peter 3:15-16 – “but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.” (Emphasis added)
Even in our anger, we need to approach people with both gentleness and respect. Sometimes that might mean we take some time and separate ourselves from the circumstance or person and seek wisdom and guidance from God…which leads us to the P in SPEAK.
Does it lead me to Pray for others or circumstance?
Every day people all around us need for us to be intercessors and go to God on their behalf in prayer. It’s what being a prayer warrior is all about. As we are “quick to hear,” we can take the concerns and problems other people are facing and pray for them and their circumstances. Mountains are moved and God does amazing things when we come before him and lay our concerns for ourselves and others at His feet.
Being “slow to anger” also means that we are taking time to pray about why we are angry. We can ask God to show us if there is justification to our anger or is pride the underlying motivation to why we are angry? We can ask God to forgive us if He shows us that in that circumstance, anger is not justifiable. If there is just cause for anger, than we can ask him for wisdom on how we should handle the situation and ask Him to help us be forgiving towards the person that caused it.
Does it Edify and Encourage others?
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing Over in Proverbs (15:1), we read, “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Kindness, gentleness, and a soft answer often lowers the intenseness of a situation while responding with your own hot words of anger will make the whole situation worse. Look for ways that you can build the other person up and encourage them. Let them know you understand their side and be sure your words are calm, gentle and not accusing. Be sure your words also edify Christ.
Does it Affirm the truth?
When we are angry, we often see things skewed or slanted the way we want to see them. Evaluate the situation honestly and trying to see things from both viewpoints will help us make sure that the words we say truly reflect the whole situation…the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But even in speaking truth, we need to do so in gentleness and love. (Ephesians 4:15)
Does it advance the Kingdom of God?
In any situation we find ourselves in, we need to be sure that the words we say lead people to Christ and not away from Him. This also includes HOW we say the words. Our tone of voice and body language are even more important than the words we say.
Why is anger such a big deal?
Weather our anger is justified or not, there are many consequences to anger. Often anger leads to thoughts and actions that are not in line with God’s expectations….which then become sin. Anger is an emotion that triggers our “fight or flight” response which floods the adrenal glands with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. As a result, our heart rate and blood pressure rises, our respirations increase, and body temperatures rise. When there is a constant flood of these stress chemicals and anger goes unmanaged, both short and long-term health problems appear, including headache, digestion issues and abdominal pain, insomnia, increased anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, skin problems, heart attack, and/or stroke.9 Other consequences to anger can also include: hurting our relationships with others, guilt, physically hurting others or property, and legal problems. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
What to do when anger rolls in
Whenever you find yourself with anger boiling up inside, reflect on James 1:19-20 and take the time to stop, step back, evaluate the situation and form a proper response before you let your words and actions cause you to sin.
Is this anger helping or hurting?
Stop and ask: “Is this anger helping or hurting?” Almost always the answer will be loud and clear…HURTING. However, to be able to answer honestly, we also need to step back and evaluate the situation. In the heat of the moment, all we can see is the reason making us angry. So it’s helpful if we can remove ourselves for even just a few moments. In those moments, take a deep breath and hold to the count of three. Slowly let the breath out and repeat a few times. At the same time, silently pray for God to give you wisdom for the situation and to help you not say anything that would bring further harm to the situation or escalate feelings. Ask him to reveal to you any way you may have contributed to the situation and then ask His forgiveness. When other people are involved, you will also need to be able to return to them and ask their forgiveness for any part you played in the situation.
Work on a proper response
Once you have stopped, stepped back and evaluated the situation, we need to work on a proper response. This is where the “quick to hear” becomes valuable. Hearing how other people are feeling is important. Their side of the story is just as justified as our own. So commit to setting aside your own feelings and take the time to be “quick to hear.” Listening….true listening…takes skill and is a learning process.
To be a good listener, start by facing the person you are talking to and make eye contact with them. Be attentive, but take on a relaxed stance. Your tone of voice and body language speaks much louder than your words and even if what you are saying is true your tone of voice and body language can still cause the argument to escalate. Listen to the words the person is saying and try to picture in your mind what the person is conveying to you. See their side. Stand in their shoes. Avoid interrupting them and throwing out solutions. Wait for the other person to pause or end what they are saying and then ask clarifying questions so that you are sure you understand them. Begin by saying something like, “What I think you are trying to say is….” Once you have a clear understanding of their side, calmly and with gentleness explain what made you angry. Then work together towards a solution, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Overcome the urge to blurt in a moment of anger
Overcoming the urge to blurt out words the moment they pop in our brain takes effort and when our natural tendency or habit is to blurt out our thoughts, we can often end up regretting what we say or we can start an argument that breaks down our relationships and leads to anger. When we take James’ advice to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, we are able to keep our words behind the gates of our teeth and lips until we have a moment to think about what we say and how we say it. If you are ever unsure if you should say something, remember this: Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity (Colossian 3:14) because hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses (Proverbs 10:12) and we should maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
 Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Jas 1:19–20). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Pr 10:19). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Ec 5:2). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 485). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Eph 4:22–24). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (1 Pe 3:15–16). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (1 Th 5:11). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Pr 15:1). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
 Better Health Channel (2017). Anger – how it affects people. Online article.
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