James, a fall bible study
I am not a stranger to anger. I hope the following post will be medicine for myself and for anyone who knows the righteous rage. Lord, have mercy.
This next section of James is one of my favorites because it addresses anger. As I just mentioned, I struggle with anger. When things go wrong, I object. My highest standards are held for technology and whether or not it it is efficient and works when I push the button, and for driving and whether or not a person is driving in a manner that is considerate and does not put other people’s lives in danger. This is not an exhaustive list, but they are the most frequent offenders. I am trying to move to “God bless you” rather than $%!, but I do not always succeed. In fact, I often pray as I drive, and I almost always have to confess swearing midway through the prayer. I used to think that swearing was not a sin because it is just word, but I have decided it is a sin for me because I do not have the spirit of love: I am expressing fear, dislike, a lack of mercy, and a lack of trust in God’s provision; moreover, I am pronouncing a curse instead of a blessing.
Before I address James, and before you condemn me for swearing, I would like to address some considerations when approaching the causes of anger: personality, nutrition and other physiological contributers, emotional baggage, and habit.
Some Underlying Causes of Anger not Addressed by James
Some personality types are more prone to anger. I am a fan of the Enneagram, 1 which has a system of nine basic personality types. I like it because it charts out healthy and unhealthy expressions of each personality, and it shows how each personality can move toward another personality type in either a healthy or unhealthy way. It is an intricate and fascinating system. Hopefully, I will not need to explain it to you to say that every type eventually deals with anger, but there are three types for whom anger is a core issue even when at a relatively healthy state, and there are three more types for whom anger becomes a core issue when they are very unhealthy, and then for the three remaining types, anger is not a central issue.
So, who is free from anger issues? I would say no one, but Individualists (people who sensitive, creative, and unique), Investigators (people who love to learn), and Loyalists (people who are responsible and loyal) are the people for whom anger is likely less of an issue. Guess what. You probably deal with fear or shame instead of anger. (All personality types eventually deal with fear and shame, too, but the focus of the day is anger.) Individualists usually struggle with shame; Investigators usually struggle with fear; and Loyalists often struggle with fear and shame (lucky you). This is not to say these three types do not express anger, but it is not the root emotion.
The top three personality types that deal with anger are the Challenger; the Peacemaker; and the Reformer. The Challenger is someone who likes challenges, tends to take the lead, likes confrontation, is decisive – you know the type. He or she tends to express anger physically through yelling or even hitting. The Peacemaker is a spiritual person who wants to connect with people and God. He or she tends to idealize relationships and ignore feelings of anger. Then there is the Reformer, who is conscientious with a strong sense of right and wrong, the perfectionist who wants to make the world better. He or she admits to having anger and criticism towards others but tries to control or repress it and channel it into better expressions. I might be a Reformer.
Who is left? Well, the people left are those for whom, when healthy, have few anger issues, yet when they are not healthy, anger can surface. These types are the Helper, the Achiever, and the Enthusiast. The Helper, normally so helpful and loving, starts yelling; the Achiever, usually so excellent and driven, grows silently angry without admitting it; and the Enthusiast, so spontaneous and interested in life, becomes condemning of others.
I mention personality because I think it is easy to condemn ourselves for having a propensity for anger, especially if we are of a certain personality type. Instead, I think we should appreciate our unique passions and personalities. But there is more to anger than mere personality. Sometimes there are underlying physiological issues causing emotional imbalances.
(2) Physiological Roots: Nutrition, Low Blood Sugar, Sleep Deprivation, Stress
Cheese makes me angry. Actually, I love cheese. But really, less than twenty-four hours after I eat it, I feel a strange mixture of anger and anxiety, as if my nerves were doing the can-can or sizzling on a hot frying pan. This is a recent discovery. My sister also claims that dairy has adverse affects on her. She told me about the positive effects of eliminating dairy from her diet a few years ago, but I dismissed it as the placebo effect and over-eagerness to join the let’s-not-eat-gluten-dairy-or-anything-delicious bandwagon. From what I can read, the effect of food on the mind is still being debated, but sadly, I see myself headed down the dairy-free road. Since recently eliminating cheese and other dairy and beef products, my anger has dissipated, and I feel so good, calm, and productive.
Maybe you don’t have a food allergy or intolerance, but maybe you have some other reason such as low blood sugar. I sometimes have this as a cause for anger. I get H-angry. Low blood sugar is actually not good for you, so I would argue that it is a quasi-positive force to help you locate food as soon as possible, but just be careful.
Another tricky one is sleep deprivation, whether from infants, grandparents with Alzheimer’s, or homework. Earlier this year, my grandparents were living with me and my parents, and someone had to be up all night to watch for my grandpa, who would wake at least once every two hours, if not more frequently. We would take shifts, but we were sleep deprived. Bad things happen when we do not get enough sleep.
In addition to sleep deprivation, stress also contributes to anger issues. Long-term stresses have physiological effects with elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels. The whole situation of my grandparents moving in with their declining health and difficulties caring for them was a stress for us – we all felt like our nerves were stretched out, and our fuses were shorter. I do not know the answer to this except perhaps grace for times of weakness and try to take care of your body’s needs for rest and peace. Deep breathing, exercise, and some sort of break is helpful. Connecting with friends, listening to music, watching a funny movie, or reading a good book are also beneficial for stress relief. Basically, find a way to breathe, have fun, and let go. I should add prayer to this list. Not just any prayer, but a thankful prayer. Thankfulness transforms stressful situations because it fosters a trust that the threatening situation is in God’s hands.
I should also mention emotional baggage.
(3) Past Stuff and Our Responses
Emotions hang about in our soul, and if we have not dealt with our emotions, they stay there until we do. We carry them with us and bring them into situations that do not call for such strong emotions. If that is the case, please do not underestimate the benefit of a counselor. Somehow, addressing and acknowledging old feelings helps them feel like they have finally received the attention they need and they can return home to New Jersey, and you can chill out.
And then there is the habit of anger…
Proverbs says to not be friends with an angry person or you will learn that person’s ways (Proverbs 23:24-25). This proverb suggests that anger is a way of life and habitual response that can be changed. We are accustomed to thinking of emotions such as unavoidable, needing to be expressed not repressed. But this proverb suggests that anger is sometimes an automatic response that we are not really thinking through. I am trying to leave this camp by examining my ways, such as with James 1:19-27.
Let’s actually look at James 1:19-27.
Thoughts on James 1:19-27
I think that James 1:19-27 is a complete thought unit circling around the idea of anger rather than three disjointed sections. The first unit, James 1:19-21, introduces the topic of anger and its nature; the second unit, James 1:22-25, addresses an underlying cause and issue with anger; and the third unit, James 1:26-27, points passion in a healthier direction.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
James knows we are quick to think we know, but we need to be quick to hear more. The more we know of the other person’s point of view, the easier it is to not be angry. I am not sure how I would apply this to getting impatient with a computer. If I am using personification to get angry with the computer, should I also use it to be understanding of the machine? Or shall I apply the understanding to the person who designed it? Maybe.
20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
This is perhaps one of the most insightful verses about anger – at least for me. I have a righteous anger, upset at people’s lawlessness and things gone awry. But what is the righteousness of God? The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich and love. When I am angry, I am not being gracious. I am not extending forgiveness. I am extending condemnation.
21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
What is the word that has been planted in us? I think that James is referring to the gospel: The word that if we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. The word of forgiveness. The word that will save our souls. In the past, I have focused on terms like “filthiness” and meditated on it being our righteousness as filthy rags. Our attempts to be righteous result in a very dirty, sordid sort of righteous, wholly unlike the gracious righteousness of God, who sacrificially saved us and forgave us.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
So often, I hear this verse read as if it were suddenly about how to be saved. But once again, what is the word that has been planted in us? That word that will bring new life to us? It is a word of forgiveness. This is a part of the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us.”
23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
This is a person who hears the word and sees that he or she is a sinner, and wants to receive grace but not give grace. Not being a doer of the word is being like the servant in Jesus’s parable who was forgiven a huge debt but does not forgive others the little debts they owe him or her.
24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
The unforgiving, angry person forgets that he or she is not perfect and needed to be forgiven, too.
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The law of liberty is not about keeping God’s law or even state driving laws. The law of liberty is the law of our freedom from the law. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” It also says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” And, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The expression of faith, believing that we have been forgiven, is to extend that forgiveness to others in love.
Being forgiving does not mean never rebuking. Some situations call for honest addressing of harmful behaviors. Rather than trying to ignore anger and real offenses, Jesus instructed his disciples to openly share with the person who offended you; he even instructed multiple confrontations if needed, escalating not by yelling but by bringing in other witnesses to confirm that there is a problem. Sometimes it is not possible to address the offender, but in general, Jesus’s instructions indicate that if the person has offended you and you have a relationship with him or her, that rather than ignoring the issue, it is better to communicate how you feel than let resentment build.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
I definitely need to not swear. This idea will loop back again later in James’s letter when he talks about fresh water and salt water. The word “religion” is referring to worship of God. Humans are made in God’s image, and Jesus was a human, so we worship God by honoring and blessing one another rather than cursing (or gossiping). Returning to the idea of rebuking, be sure to not rebuke too harshly. (Guilty here…) Mara, speak the truth in love.
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Here is the best way to focus anger: look to the interests of others. If we want to be righteous and worship God, look out for the helpless. The ESV says “visit” but the term was ἐπισκέπτεσθαι, and it means “to look upon or after, to examine with eyes” or “to care for, provide for.” 2 Investigate, analyze, and provide for those who are truly threatened and in need, whether it is money or a voice. Anger is not always a sin. James, in his wisdom, notes that usually it does not bring about righteousness; however, elsewhere we are told to not sin in our anger. If we are the angry sort of people, we can channel the anger to fight injustice against the weak and poor.
This series is inspired (but not sponsored) by FBC (First Baptist Church of Davis) and their fall focus running from October 4, 2015 through November 28, 2015. When I first heard FBC was doing this series, the lectionary reading and sermon that day at my own church, Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, was from the book of James, and it really spoke to me; James is also the first bible study I completed on my own: I was fourteen, and I wrote with colored markers in a spiral notebook each morning before school, using an observation-reflection-action method similar to the one outlined in FBC’s bible-study guide. I am looking forward to spending more time meditating on this challenging book of the New Testament. I will be using the bible study guide provided by FBC with the accompanying scripture throughout this series; however, my methodology might hop around from anecdotal to more analytical word study. My goal is to do this study daily, or at least a few times a week! A big thanks to FBC for their theme, chosen scriptures, and structure of this study.
Monday – [FBC has James 1:12-18]
Tuesday – [FBC has Genesis 3]
Wednesday – [FBC has Matthew 4]
Thursday – James 1:12-18 [FBC has Galatians 5]
Friday – [FBC has Psalm 63]
Saturday – James 1:19-27
My apologies – I have not followed FBC’s outline very closely this week. You might notice that I am adding extra verses. The Fall Focus at FBC had to cut out some sections of James, which works for their timing, but I absolutely love those passages and am including them.