This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19
Our nation seems to be teetering on what some call a revolt or revolution. The news is full of rioting, burning, and looting in the streets. Even "peaceful" protests seem fueled by anger. Contesting voices deluge the airways and media. Anger invades our public, and even private, discourse.
And we shake our heads asking, “Why is everyone so angry?”
Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced anger. We may express it outwardly, for example, when someone says or does something we don’t appreciate. Or, when the car won’t start, our spouse is critical, a prodigal makes bad choices, or our candidate loses. We also get anxious and mad when we feel out of control about occurrences (like a pandemic that we can’t change).
Often, anger turns inward at ourselves. Maybe we didn’t get the job promotion. We failed the test, made a bad decision, or didn’t perform up to our own expectations.
Sometimes, we’re even angry with God. Perhaps for the loss of a loved one, a troubled marriage, a devastating health diagnosis, infertility, or God not answering our prayers the way we want.
Anger can range from annoyance and strong displeasure, to actual hostility that could lead to violence and bodily harm. Some people become so upset that it results in physical symptoms such as panic attacks, heart palpitations, sweating, high blood pressure, muscle tension, or tremors. No question, frequent uncontrolled anger can damage your health.
Anxiety weighs down the heart... – Proverbs 12:25
You can’t retrieve actions or words hurled in moments of anger. Uncontrolled raging anger makes us (and everyone around us) miserable. Repressed anger eats away at us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
And yet, anger is a legitimate emotion that desires quick resolution. So let's look at why James warns us to be “slow to anger.”
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What Does Being 'Slow to Anger' Mean Biblically?
Anger can be a root and result of conflict; and left to fester, it opens the door for potential sin. Anger isn’t necessarily a sin, but how we handle it can lead to sin: “in your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).
The world is watching Christians to see how we react to unfavorable situations. Do we have the peace that passes all understanding that helps us express our emotions in a Christlike way? Or do we react in the world’s ways?
Are we able to show restraint and respond with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Or, do we explode with a temper tantrum during adversity?
The Greek word for self-control is sophron meaning, “to be of a sound mind, sane, curbing one's desires and impulses, temperate.” With just one fit of rage, our witness to our family, friends, community, and most importantly unbelievers, that God is in control can be tarnished.
The Context of James 1:19
James addresses his letter in James 1:1-2 “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds.”
Commentators believe he was writing to fellow Jewish Christians from the early Jerusalem church, who were scattered to other areas after the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1) and were encountering hardships as they relocated and sought safety.
James’ theme relates to practical ways to maintain and display faith as a Christian while experiencing trials, temptations, and persecution. He gives us tools and reasons for keeping the lid on anger that could so easily arise: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
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Why Did God Give Us Anger?
Notice that James isn’t telling us never to be angry, but to be slow to anger. Anger shouldn’t be an instant go-to response.
James specifies that “human” anger isn’t a righteous retort for Christians. In the Greek, and in some translations, it says, “a man’s anger.” Human anger usually has a self-centered motivation of how something affects us personally. It’s often accompanied by hurtful (even vicious) words and resorts to inflicting harm.
Conversely, we might be righteously angry that someone we love turns their back on a relationship with Jesus because we know they will be lost for eternity. But our anger should spur us on to persistently pray for their salvation, not berate them.
Mark 3:5 shows Jesus’ anger and grief because the Pharisees did not believe he was the Messiah. He was concerned over their lack of faith and their example to others. “He looked around at them [the Pharisees] in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts..."
When Jesus cleared the temple of the moneychangers and animal sellers (Matt. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:14-17), his anger stemmed from the lack of respect for God and his holy temple. He also reprimanded sinful behavior from those who were taking advantage and gouging people who had come to Passover and needed an animal to sacrifice. And it was taking place on God’s holy ground!
He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves! – Matthew 21:13 (NLT)
Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.” – John 2:17 NLT
Jesus became angry for the right reasons but was never malicious, hurtful, or hateful about it.
We can and should have righteous anger over evil like abortion, child trafficking, and injustice. But just being angry serves no purpose other than a display of emotion. We can let our anger lead us to asking God what he wants us to do to stop evil. Then obey and do it.
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Scriptures to Help Manage Anger
God knew that in our humanness, we would experience anger and so he gave us a number of ways to restrain from acting inappropriately. Here are just a few Scriptures addressing managing anger.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. – Psalm 37:8
People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness. – Proverbs 14:29 NLT
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. – Proverbs 15:18
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. – Proverbs 22:24-25
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. – Proverbs 29:11
An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins. – Proverbs 29:22
Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool. – Ecclesiastes 7:9 NLT
As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger! – Proverbs 25:23 NLT
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT
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The Benefits of Being Slow to Anger
Unbridled anger unleashes an offensive attitude that often expresses itself in a barrage of vile words and/or aggressive behavior. While there may be a quick release of angry emotion, others may become victims of the residual fallout.
If we internalize and bury anger without dealing with the root cause, bitterness festers and our heart hardens.
Learning how to follow the smart advice of James to listen carefully before speaking and respond slowly while controlling our emotions could be the answer to many of our physical, social, and relational concerns.
6 Ways Christians Can Respond to Anger Today
1. Turn off the News
Did you know the media outlets design the news to raise your blood pressure, anxiety level, and anger meter? The media wants you to engage angrily with the person or situation they're reporting on—they want you mad. Occasionally, they’ll throw in a feel-good story, but usually it’s a series of “breaking news” that’s not substantiated or factual...just hearsay, opinions, or “maybes”...and you walk away...angry.
The media purposely creates headlines to generate a negative response and the more salacious the title, the more people read the article. Even as Christians, we’re being conditioned right along with everyone else.
Keep current but not conflicted.
2. Refrain from Heated Discussions
We’re all guilty of saying to someone, “You make me so angry!” Maybe that person does typically irritate us, but it’s our choice whether or not we give in to our anger.
If you find yourself raising your voice, change the subject. If you can’t debate without being disagreeable, don’t forge on trying to win the argument. It’s not worth it.
3. Don’t Engage on Social Media Over “Hot topics”
Social media is a place where people feel free to express their anger with words they probably would never use in person. I’ve experienced angry, vulgar, mean, vicious lashing out comments on my blogs, Facebook, and Twitter posts. It’s alarming that people live with such angry, bitter thoughts in their minds and hearts and use hurtful, X-rated words in their daily lives.
Ignore them. Engaging online with someone you may not even know isn’t a good use of time or energy. Avoid following people whose posts and comments tend to annoy you.
4. When Possible Take Positive Action
We may think that we can’t make a difference or change circumstances that upset us, but often we can. When you’re doing something about a situation and you feel a sense of hope and purpose...your anger subsides.
5. Recognize Your Angry Signs
Next time you’re starting to feel angry, notice what triggers reactions in your body and mind. Acknowledge that you’re getting angry. Stop, take a deep breath, and if possible step away from the source of anger. If you’re in the midst of a heated discussion, let the other person know you’re not walking away in a huff; you just need to take a break.
6. Release Your Anger to God
Pray and ask God what you should do regarding the source of anger. Defuse and release your anger to God. You’ll feel a sense of peace.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
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Let’s Pray to Be Slow to Anger
Father, I know I grieve you when I respond harshly in anger. It seems I do this most often with those close to me where I feel comfortable letting my emotions show unchecked. I need your help to make me aware of the trigger signs that my anger is rising to a level where I’m going to verbally attack someone instead of taking the time to consider what I’m about to say and how it will be received.
I want to be a good example of Christian love to my family and those in my sphere of influence. I know that angry words and a mean demeanor is not the Christian image I want to portray. I can’t speak of the love of Jesus and later act unkindly towards someone.
Please help me develop patience and learn how to channel my emotions in directions that are pleasing to you. When presented with ways I can rectify injustice or evil so prevalent in our world today, give me the courage and boldness to take actions that are helpful but not hurtful.
Lord please remove any unrighteous thoughts from me and use me to your glory.
In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
We live in a fallen world. This isn’t paradise yet. So there will always be something or someone in the world that could be a source of our anger. But remember: Jesus didn’t display “man’s anger” but the righteous indignation of God. Let us go and do likewise.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. – Psalm 30:4-5
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Originally published Friday, 06 November 2020.