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Why Does Human Anger "Not Produce the Righteousness of God?”

Why Does Human Anger "Not Produce the Righteousness of God?”

The book of James is found in the New Testament and is only five chapters long with a total of 108 verses. Within this book, we find great truth on hardships, temptations we face, the danger of showing favoritism, taming the tongue, surrendering and being obedient to God, and warnings to not let riches keep us from faith in Jesus. Within this letter written to Jewish Christians, we come across a verse about human anger.

“Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

Anger is an emotion that humans feel, and sometimes struggle to process and cope with. What we learn from this letter written by James is that anger rooted in human pride, logic, or evil intentions will not produce righteousness because it is not in line with God’s love, goodness, or justice. God does not want our anger, or any emotions, to get in the way of doing what is good and right in His eyes. This wicked type of anger could never result in righteousness because it is not in sync with God’s good and perfect ways.

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What Does This Verse Mean?

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To understand what this verse means, it is important to look at the surrounding passage to make sense of what James was teaching. This will help us better comprehend what James was referring to and how we can apply this to our own hearts and lives.

“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. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:19-21).

How Christians act toward one another and toward any human being matters to God. Jesus said that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love others as ourselves (see Matthew 22:36-40). James’ message is very similar to what Jesus taught and what we find elsewhere in Scripture. We are warned that is foolish to let anger overpower us or take root in our hearts (see Ecclesiastes 7:9). God desires that His followers be wise and live like Christ. Anger by human standards is driven by revenge, pride, selfishness, and injustice. This type of anger is not honoring to God and is in direct contradiction to how God wants His children to live. We are therefore instructed to rid ourselves of moral filth and to be humble and obedient to God’s word.

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What Is the Context of James 1?

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The early church and ongoing tradition holds that the author of this letter is James, the brother of Jesus. Jesus’ brother James is mentioned in places like Mark 6:3 and Galatians 1:19. In the first verse of the Book of James, it states that James wrote this to the twelve tribes scattered around the nations. We can assume that James is writing primarily to Jewish converts to Christianity, however, this letter is most assuredly for the teaching of all believers.

The first chapter of this letter is broken into two discussions: the first is about finding joy in the hardships and temptations we face because they produce perseverance, and the second is about not just listening to the word of God but doing the word of God. This verse about human anger is found in the discussion of being doers of the word, not only hearers of the word. James uses a powerful analogy to demonstrate the severity of only hearing the word of God but not living it out.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:22-24).

Therefore, if we are going to be doers of the word of God and rid ourselves of wickedness, that means we must be not forget what God’s word says. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. This is part of what it means to do God’s will and live like Jesus lived.

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What Does James Mean by "Human Anger?"

Angry woman yelling loudly

It can be easy to read this verse and conclude that Christians must never be angry. In fact, some people do their best to deny their anger or stuff it down. This is an unhealthy and unbiblical view on anger. We find in Scripture examples of what has been termed, “righteous anger” which is anger that is OK to feel because it is not sinful.

In Mark’s Gospel, we find a verse about Jesus being angry with the Pharisees who had stubborn hearts.

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).

Moses was angry when Pharoah refused to listen to God and let His people go.

“Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh” (Exodus 11:8).

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus affirmed that we can be angry, but he cautioned believers to not sin in their anger because that will give the devil a foothold in their life.

“In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26).

We can be angry, but don’t let that anger cause us to sin. When we are told to be slow to anger, it is a reminder that we should not be prone to get angry because it can lead us into sin. Human anger from a place of pride and judgement is sinful and will not result in the righteous ways that God wants us to live by. Righteous anger, on the other hand, is anger that does not lead us to sin.

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What Is the Righteousness That God Desires?

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Being righteous means to live, think, and act in line with God’s character. This is different than self-righteousness because we know that we cannot earn our own redemption or ever pay the debt of sin, which is why Jesus went to the cross. God makes us righteous. From the context of this verse, we know that righteousness includes being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. It means putting off all evil and immoral things so that we can humbly live by the word of God. The righteousness that God desires is about being hearers and doers of the word, not merely listening and forgetting what God has instructed.

“The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Scripture instructs believers to live as Christ lived. We are encouraged to bear the fruit of the Spirit and abandon wickedness. When we pursue righteousness, our faith is strengthened and what God desires in us comes to fruition.

How Can We Grow in This Righteousness?

The Bible teaches that we should grow in our faith and over time become mature in our walk with the Lord (see Hebrews 6:1). We can grow in our faith by investing in our relationship with God on a daily basis. It is important to meditate on and read God’s word each day, spend time in prayer and talk to the Lord, worship and give thanks, and follow God’s commands to love God and love others. Later in this letter, James wrote about how to grow in righteousness.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:7-10).

When we submit ourselves to God and resist the enemy, we will grow in righteousness. When we come to near to God with pure hearts, we will grow in righteousness. When we take our faith seriously and endure hardships and afflictions, we will grow in righteousness. Finally, when we humble ourselves before the Lord and He delivers us, we will grow in righteousness. God gives us opportunities each day and in every season of life to grow in righteousness and to develop a spiritual maturity because that is what He desires for His children.

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Live Like Christ

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When we let our anger go unchecked, it will consume our hearts and guide our thoughts, reactions, and decisions to sinful behaviors. We will surely miss out on the goodness God has for us. Sinning in our anger keeps out righteousness and delays our spiritual growth. Human anger can lead to all sorts of problems – bitterness, estrangement, unforgiveness, and eventually, a disconnection from God. God wants better for His beloved children.

Instead of entertaining and fueling evil things like human anger, we should be concerned about living like Christ to produce the righteousness of God.

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Pamela Palmer 1200x1200Pamela Palmer is a writer, speaker, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces devotionals and faith resources to inspire keeping faith at the center of life. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of others. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is the author of Living a Deeper Faith: Nurture Your Relationship with God and Live a Faith-Fueled Life. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com, and you can follow her at upheldlife.com or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.