Life App - Anger
James 4:1 - 10
This week I read an article in Psychology Today about a man who was arrested for allegedly firing a gun at another vehicle and killing a four-year-old girl. Now let’s hit the rewind button for a moment to see how we got to the point that one man would open fire on another vehicle. According to eye witness reports, there was a man who sitting at a red light, who seemed to be just another person on the road, minding his own business. Then the light turned green and the car in the left lane, sped up and cut the first driver off, who was in the right lane. That one action engaged these two drivers in a game of move and counter move with each action causing a more aggressive action. Before long, the first driver is overcome by rage and fires his gun at the other vehicle. What could cause such behavior? Lawrence R. James of Georgia Tech, who has done extensive research on hyper-aggression, says it was caused by a justification mechanism, you would probably call it road rage, and James would call it anger.
It’s interesting that our anger can take something as small as a traffic light going from red to green and escalate it until now someone’s pulling out a gun? Cops are involved. People are going to prison, a life is lost. Yet it happens all the time. It happens in families, in homes, in work relationships, anywhere anger gets involved, it erupts and causes all kinds of damage.
Over the last three weeks James has been talking about faith in action and while Chapter 3 was rough, James takes it up a notch in chapter 4. Let’s read our text together.
James starts by asking the question, What causes fights and quarrels among you? What a great question! It seems that every relationship, our marriages, families, friendships, communities, and even our churches are plagued with fights and quarrels. You could probably give a whole laundry list of reasons why we fight. We want to get our way, we feel that someone did us wrong, or we are frustrated.
But James is going to answer his own question. We fight because of the evil desires at war within you? You want something but you don’t get it. You argue and you fight. All because of what comes from the heart, and no matter how much we love someone, our hyper aggression, or anger, reveals the truth that we love ourselves most of all.
You know what James is talking about, let’s say you are in line at the church fellowship meal and the person in front of you takes the last two devil eggs. You get a bit irritated. Why? You feel like you have been slighted, they could at least have let you had one of those. Or maybe you are trying to get to work and the traffic is backed up. You know you are going to be late and your boss is going to yell at you again. You start telling the other drivers, who can’t her you, what you really think about them and you start banging the steering wheel. Why? Because you are frustrated. Or it’s the fourth quarter and your team is up by 4 points,. All they have to do is run the ball, watch the clock count down to zero, and you’ll win the game. But for some reason the quarterback drops back, and gets hit. He fumbles the ball, which is picked up by the cornerback and run back 47 yards for a score. You instinctively throw the remote control, and it crashes through the window. Why? Because you are angry.
Ten cent counselors, would tell you that your best option when you are faced with the anger and conflict that creeps into our lives, is to find a constructive way to vent that anger. You should periodically throw things, hit stuff, yell or scream, and get it all out so it doesn’t build up and you explode like a volcano. The problem is that more you engage in that kind of behavior the more you actually like it.
Psychologist Brad Bushman writes: Maybe you have heard of the joke, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer is: Practice! Practice! Practice! My question to you is: How do you become an angry, aggressive person? The answer is the same: Practice! Practice! Practice! Venting is just practicing how to behave more aggressively. The teacher writes in Proverbs 29:11: A fool gives full vent to anger but a wise person quietly holds it back.
One of the biggest sellers on Amazon right now are, stress gadgets. There are these spinners, or these floppy chains, or a fidget boxes, with six different button configurations on every size, as a way to work out your frustration. Maybe these are new to you, but you have definitely seen and probably have a stress ball. The whole idea is that when you get frustrated or mad you use these items and they are supposed to help you relax. According to the internet, they are small enough for you to take anywhere; in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, or to work. The idea is that when you find a way to constructively get rid of your frustration, you will be a happier and better person. So you tried to record your favorite show and your DVR didn’t work? 5 clicks. You walk into the kitchen in the morning to get your morning coffee and all you have is decaf? 10 clicks. The neighbor’s dog barks all night, keeping you and the baby awake? 120 clicks.
I can see the usefulness of these to help you with nervous energy, but I really doubt their ability to help out with issues that are really significant in life. What about when you are in the parking lot and someone hits your car? When you get out of the car to asses the damage, you realize that the person who hit you has no insurance and can’t speak English. how many clicks is that? What about when your computer crashes and all of your photos are gone? What about when your kid decides to color your brand new sofa with a permanent marker? All the stress gadgets in the world aren’t going to do it. James is saying that our outbursts and fits of anger are not because of what has happened to us, they are on account of what lives inside of us.
James goes on to say, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” Any desire, even a desire for something that is good, can become a bad thing. When my heart begins to be ruled by a desire for something that was created instead of the one who is the creator, it alters our vision. We quit seeing one another as created in the image of God and begin to see one another as the means to get what I want or obstacle that stands in my way. You want something, but you can’t get it, so you kill and you covet.
James needs you to know that this selfish desire not only changes my relationship with you, it affects my relationship with God as well. When God doesn't give me what I think I have earned or deserve, then He becomes the object of my anger. As long as we view God as some sort of cosmic vending machine who must dispense whatever we ask for, we will only ask for the things that give us pleasure or joy. The result is that “You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions.”
David Henderson, writes in his book Culture Shift: We have turned the Christian faith from a relationship with Christ into an arrangement with a God who … is there to meet our every need. Unhappy? Unattractive? Unsuccessful? Unmarried? Unfulfilled? Come to Christ and He will give you everything you ask for. We forget God is not in the business of granting our wishes. When we make Him out to be, we squeeze Him out of His rightful place at the center of our lives, and we put ourselves in His place. God is in the business of being God. Christianity cannot be reduced to simply a means to meet people’s needs. When God doesn’t do what we tell Him to do we get angry; all because we have confused the relationship God has called us to be a part of.
James continues in verse 4, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James uses the word adulterer and that’s not a pretty word, and definitely not a word we want applied to us. And yet it is a word that James applies to Christians who are friends of the world. The universal truth of what James is saying is that sinful, human conflict is rooted in spiritual adultery. Our problem with one another is not that we don’t love one another enough. Our problem is that we don’t love God enough. Any time I allow my brokenness and evil desires to make my decisions I stand as an enemy of the Kingdom of God. That’s pretty harsh language!
But James doesn’t leave us there. Instead of saying, How dare you? He reminds us that there is hope for those of us who struggle with our anger and selfishness. While God may oppose the proud, He is willing and actively pouring out His grace to the humble.
God loves His children with a love that is so pure and so faithful; it’s hard for me to wrap words around it. The grace He pours out into our lives is not just the grace of past forgiveness, or the grace of a future in eternity. It is a grace for this war we are in the middle of right now. The question James wants us to delve into this morning is how do we receive that grace?
James says we must humble ourselves.
Humble yourself under God and His power and authority. In our text James gives ten different commands between verses 6 and 10; but he bookends those commands with two verses about humility. While you might think this whole passage is about anger, it’s actually about humility. He says in 4:6, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. In verse 10, Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.
We humble ourselves when we acknowledge that God is greater than we are and that we need Him. It is an understanding that this is His world. If we are honest, too often we start to think that the world is all about us. I have this tendency, to think the world is all about me. I mean all of life is a movie about me. I am in every scene of this movie and everyone else is just supporting actors.
You understand this because you do the same thing. Let me show you what I mean, When someone wants to take a group picture, whose picture do you look at first? …… I know, I do it as well. If you look good in the picture, then you think it is a good picture; but if your eyes are closed, or you were in the middle of a yawn then it’s a bad photo.
If babies have taught me anything, they have taught me that our base nature is centered on the fact that life is all about me. That’s why babies cry at 3:00 in the morning when they are hungry, or uncomfortable. They only think about their needs, which is a tendency that can remain prevalent in our lives. That tendency leads to anger and frustration.
But a life of humility is different. A humble life knows life is about God. There is a movie going on and God is the star, while I’m a supporting character. It’s always been about Him, I mean the very first words of the Bible, In the beginning, God. It’s all about God Life is about God, and being in a relationship with God.
James says if we want to receive grace we must Submit to God and resist the devil. (Verse 7)
The devil isn’t a character on Saturday morning cartoons with a pitchfork, horns, and a pointed tail. When you look throughout the Bible in the teachings of Jesus we understand that he’s a very real spiritual power. He can wreak havoc in our lives. The Bible says one of his greatest tools is to convince us that we don’t need to forgive, or that we have been hurt too deeply to forgive.
The theme of the book of 2 Corinthians is how do we react when people attack us. While your first reaction, might be to attack the people who attack. Paul says there is a better way; the better option is to meet attacks with love and compassion. That’s why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:10, I have forgiven on the side of Christ for your sake in order that Satan might not outwit us. Then: For we are not unaware of his schemes. One of the ways Satan wants to get a foothold on our heart is to keep us angry and bitter and bent out of shape at someone who has wronged or hurt us.
When we submit to God then we act on our belief that He is always right and calls us to righteousness. We understand that what we need the most is what we are called to share. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14)
Lastly, We need to be single minded on the fact that God is in control. Submit yourself to God. (7)
We need to yield to Him and allow Him to be in control. This goes back to what James has already said, outward conflict happens because of our inward conflict. You don't get along with other people because you've got a civil war in your life. Before you can have peace outside, you have to deal with the conflict inside.
If you're in charge, then anytime something comes along that doesn't go the way you want to go, then you get uptight. You get irritable. You get upset. You want things to go just the way you want them to go and when they don't go that way, it makes you mad. But if God's in charge of your life, it doesn't irritate you as much.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart. When we have the peace of Christ in our heart then we'll be at peace with other people. If we don't have this in our life, God's peace in our hearts, then we try to manipulate others, try to control them and try to move them around to get what we want out of life. But there is a better way to deal with one another. One more story:
Right after Trafton was born Trista and I were in a continual conflict. We fought over everything. While we loved each other deeply and I knew that God had placed this wonderful woman in my life, we just didn't get along. We fought over everything. We were tired, angry, and headed for a divorce.
Trista would admit that it was terrible. We constantly fought, because we each had this inner desire to have our own way, and that was causing conflict in our partnership. In every marriage there is some kind of power struggle. We tried everything to make it work and we just didn't get along. The turning point came one day when I stormed out of the house after a fight. I got in the car and drove away, and sitting at a red light I looked to my left and saw that sign on a Chick-Fil-A, A Family Is Worth Fighting For. I thought, What are you doing? I turned the car around and went back to the house. Trista was on the couch crying holding Trafton, and I took Trafton from her, grabbed both of her hands and looked her in the eyes and said I love you, and I give up. I give up trying to be in control and I give up trying to change you. I admit that I can’t save this marriage, but God can.
I made a decision that I had to quit praying, Lord, change Trista; because what I really needed to pray was Lord, change me. That was the turning point in our marriage, the moment we really started getting along. But there was another benefit as well, you see not only did I learn to get along with Trista I learned to get along with others. If you want to avoid arguments, and find peace in your life, then the first thing you need to do is start praying Lord change me. When you give in to God, when you allow Christ to take control, you learn to say Thy will be done instead of saying Me first. That makes all the difference.