2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2–3, NKJV)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Proverbs 14:17, NKJV)
Reason and good judgment exit the scene when anger enters the stage. “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly (Prov. 14:29). The short fuse of anger and wrath destroys relationships we claim to be valuable to us – family, friendships, brethren. We have chosen foolishness and evil intentions over discretion and peace when we lose control of our emotions and let anger rule our spirit (Jas. 1:19-20). Anger expresses ill will, even hatred, toward others. Getting angry does not remove being accountable for our words and actions. Cain was very angry and hated his brother Abel, leading to murder (Gen. 4:5-7; 1 Jno. 3:12-15). His anger led to great folly. It is not enough to know we should not lose our temper. Knowing this, we must add self-control to our knowledge to help us master our emotions (2 Pet. 1:6). Even when others hurt us we dare not be quick-tempered and play the fool. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).
The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord. (Proverbs 19:3, NKJV)
Have you ever known someone who is angry at God? They blame God for the problems in their lives. Perhaps they blame God for a tragic event that happened to them or to someone they love. Being angry at God over life’s trials and tragedies is foolishness that overthrows peace and stability. We should not expect God to suspend our freewill and its consequences at the moment using it causes pain, suffering and sorrow (to ourselves and to others). When we “fret (get angry) against the Lord” we invite foolishness to lead us and to eventually overthrow us. The truth is life is full of cause and effect. Sometimes the cause that produces a disastrous effect is purely coincidental, merely “time and chance” taking place (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Others get angry at the Lord because they resent His word. They reject His gospel and its salvation because it exposes their sins (Matthew 12:14). In angry denial they refuse to do what the gospel says. Still others get angry at God when He does not do things the way they want or expect. Jonah reminds us of this brand of foolishness (Jonah 4:5-11). Resolve not to be angry against the Lord. Sinful choices led you away from God into foolishness. Making different choices, righteous choices, will set you on a course toward God and His blessings.
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:19, NKJV)
Murder is the outward display of a heart full of malice and hatred. The first recorded murder sprang from the angry heart of Cain, who hated his brother Abel (Genesis 4:4-8; 1 John 3:11-15). While the outward results of hatred versus murder are usually quite different, the sin of hatred is just as evil. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14-15). Both the slaying of an innocent person (murder) and hatred of a brother produce spiritual death. Cultivating love for one’s neighbor guards against the sin of hatred as well as the ultimate acting out of that hatred – murder. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV)
History is full of conquering heroes who defeated kingdoms, vanquished cities, and ruled empires with great power. Yet, It is better to be slow to anger than it is to rule a city. The person who rules (exercises dominion over) his or her spirit is to be preferred and is due more honor than the mightiest conqueror. There is no honor in being short-fused or quick-tempered. Genuine strength of character includes being “slow to anger” when provoked. Control over one’s spirit requires prudent discretion, therefore, “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). The sinfulness of anger is well documented in Scripture (Matthew 5:21-26; Colossians 3:8; Galatians 5:20). A mark of loving our neighbor as ourselves is refusing to be provoked to anger against him (1 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 5:44). To control one’s spirit by not being angry when wronged shows great strength of faith. Such self-control is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). We must be “slow to wrath” if we wish to produce the righteousness of God in our lives (James 1:19-20). Therefore, rule over your spirit, be calm in your soul, and be honored by the Lord.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32, NKJV)
Bitterness is like acid eating through one’s heart. There is no room for compassion, kindness and merciful forgiveness in the bitter heart. The companions of bitterness are angry, resentful responses, evil words and ill will. Christians must put away all these things from their hearts. This can be done by recalling the kindness of God toward us in Christ. God could have been bitter toward us because of our sins against Him. But, His kind love forgives us in Jesus. There can be no room in our hearts for bitter resentment. Be kind. Be merciful. Forgive. That’s how God has treated you in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Proverbs 21:23, NKJV)
Our words are the expressions of our soul. The deepest recesses of the heart are exposed by the words of our mouth. Truly, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). For example, guard your mouth against speaking corrupt words. There is no place in the Christian’s life for profanity, for it exposes a profane heart. Guard your mouth against speaking lies. Half-truths, misdirection and other forms of deception are not a trait of the pure in heart. “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor” defines the followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:25). Guard your mouth against angry words. These flow out of a heart that is bitter, resentful and unforgiving. Guard your mouth against speaking false doctrine. The Spirit of truth has spoken truth to us through Christ’s apostles (Jno. 16:13). Therefore, speak “as the oracles of God,” not with the wisdom and will of men (1 Pet. 4:11; Col. 2:8). By cleansing your heart of profanity, deceit, anger and error, your soul will be protected from trouble. That’s what repentance is; changing your heart. Rather than opening wide your mouth to pour out evil things, guard your soul from the troublesome results of an uncontrolled tongue. May we recall and live what the children sing, “Be careful little mouths what you say.”
A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. (Proverbs 15:18, NKJV)
It takes at least two to quarrel. When one refuses to be provoked, anger subsides. Let us refuse to give furious rage a place in our hearts. This sin disrupts peace and harmony in every relationship where it manifests itself. Marriage turmoil, for example, is often traceable to a failure to control one’s temper during times of stress and disagreement. Wrath clouds one’s judgment and ignites conflict. Dedicate yourself to being the one who refuses to be provoked, regardless of the agitation and the temptation to plunge into anger’s chaos. Bring down the temperature of aggravation and anger with a calm spirit, and with unfailing kindness. Rule your spirit, and help establish peace (Prov. 16:32).
7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. 8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm. (Psalm 37:7–8, NKJV)
The righteous person remembers to “rest in the Lord” when evil people appear to prevail. The word “rest” in verse 7 means to be motionless, silent, still. This reaction in the face of wicked people and their wicked schemes does not mean we do nothing; it means we continue to rely on the Lord and look forward to His justice. We “wait patiently for Him.” Otherwise, we are susceptible to burning anger that leads to more trouble. Do not turn to vitriol, violence or vengeance when evil people do wicked things. Forsake wrath, do good, and wait on the Lord. He will right every wrong in His time. Overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21).
8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. 9 The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. (Psalm 145:8–9, NKJV)
God embodies the fullness of grace, compassion and mercy. He is longsuffering toward sinners, for He wishes our salvation, not our eternal demise (2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:32; 1 Tim. 2:3-4). The goodness God shows us is evidence of His mercy, and is an incentive to repent of every sin we have committed against Him (Rom. 2:4). Do not take God’s “slowness to anger” as indifference, toleration or acceptance of sin; it is not. Instead, find His merciful grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). His anger is stirred by sin. When God’s righteous judgment comes, there will be no escape (Rom. 2:3-6). Praise God for His compassion and mercy. Honor Him for His goodness. Serve Him with a ready faith.