How does faith work when you are angry?
From the checkout line magazine rack to radio talk shows to the comments section of that last controversial blog and hard-hitting political opinion television, our culture is saturated and obsessed with expressing the latest rage of the moment. Everyone has an argumentative inner lawyer seated on the throne of their hearts. Whether the angry words are spoken or simmer under the surface of a calm countenance, we all have fallen into the trap of a loud-mouthed rant. James has a good word for us: listen up, quiet down, cool your jets, bite your tongue, and walk the talk, which means walk away before you start talking. Otherwise, your religion is worthless.
As someone who has spent a lifetime removing their foot from their mouth, James’ words remind me of a lot of my words that should not have been said. How about you? Any texts, emails, social media posts, voicemails, or conversations that, once you cool down, you wish you could go back in time and erase?
James instructed Christians how to listen, speak, express anger constructively, be pure and undefiled, and practice healthy self-examination, in order to avoid self-deception. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that our first response is usually in the flesh, and to respond in the Spirit takes a little longer.
To be clear, James is not a coward who is afraid to say hard things, or a flatterer who manipulates people by only smiling and quoting motivational greeting cards. James instructs us on how to avoid turning trials into temptations with his wisdom regarding speech and obedience. If we allow our anger to control us, we will not truly listen to people, and we will sin in our anger. As Proverbs 15:1 also tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” God’s goal is not that we win the argument, but that we also win the person with whom we are arguing. To do that, we need to watch what we say, when we say it, and how we say it.
Religion says lots but does little. James flips the script and says that what we truly believe is more clearly revealed by the lives we live than the words we speak. When all is said and done, far more is said than done. Judas serves as a painful example as he helped lead Jesus’ ministry, praying prayers and singing songs, while stealing money.
As Christians, if we say we accept God’s Word, that means we also need to live by it. Otherwise, we become hypocrites pointing out the speck of sawdust in their eye, while overlooking the lumberyard we’ve collected in our own. If we only listen to or read His Word but don’t meditate on it and allow it to change us, James says our “religion is worthless.” Some people need more information – they need to read the Bible more, study more, and learn more. Many, if not most people, need more obedience – they need to act on what they already know before they learn anything else.
We may know a lot about the Bible, but our actions will show what we believe. Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher who was a bit of a sniper in the Spirit, once said, “If your religion does not make you holy, it will damn you. It is simply painted pageantry to go to hell in.”
To make this as practical as possible, consider these examples. Going to the gym does you no good unless you exercise. Buying your vitamins does you no good unless you take them. Having a seatbelt does you no good unless you buckle it. And owning a Bible does you no good unless you obey it.
What do you know that you need to start doing, or stop doing, and you simply need to obey and make it happen?