Even if you’re not into “chick flicks” (present company included), there’s a great scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that sets today’s message up perfectly. Watch here, have a good laugh, then let’s get down to business:
• What irritates you to no end (even if it’s not a big deal to anyone else)?
• How do you normally react when you’re irritated? How long do you hold onto your reactions afterward?
• Now that we’ve discussed things that irritate us, let’s take things up a notch: What’s the one circumstance or behavior that truly angers you the most? How do you react?
• Why do you think that particular circumstance or behavior sets you off?
We all have our hot buttons—things that annoy, upset or anger us. They might be trivial, or they might be so serious that we feel justified in our anger and maybe even in the things we say and do as a result. The Bible has a lot to say about our anger and our reactions to it. It points us to the deeper causes of our anger, and it tells us how anger affects not only us but those around us. Anger usually isn’t pretty, but it’s something we all need to address. So let’s begin.
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (James 3:2-12, NIV).
• What are some ways the tongue is described here? Which description resonates with you the most, and why?
• What are some ways we leave a bitter taste in the mouths of others by the “salty” things we say to them, or by our reactions to them?
Let’s look at another quote, from a decidedly different but nonetheless authoritative source in its own way:
“ar·ro·gant: exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner”—Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
• What’s the connection between being arrogant and being quick-tempered? When have you seen this connection in your own life?
• You may not let loose on others or be overbearing; then again, you might. In any case, what are some ways your temper—and arrogance—do come through?
And with that, let’s circle back to James:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:13-18, NIV)
• What reasons are given in this passage for the negative or hurtful things that come out of our mouths? What are some others you can think of?
• Think about those times you feel “squeezed” or “wrung out.” What “dirt” tends to come out of you that you wish you could take back?
• What alternatives to anger and speaking badly about others does James give us here? How would you do each of these things?
• What things can we put into ourselves—instead of dirt—that would help us to respond better under pressure or stress?
Let’s consider one more passage today:
“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. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 4:26–5:2, NIV).
• Think about a time when anger controlled your relationship with someone else, and gave “a foothold to the devil.” How did you finally get past it—or did you? Explain.
• How would you like to see God change your communication so it becomes more “good and helpful”—so it builds people up rather than tearing them down?
Here’re some ideas to consider as you allow God to deal with your anger:
• Read and pray over this week’s Scriptures. Ask God to reveal how you’ve let bad attitudes come through in your words and actions. Then ask God for forgiveness and direction. What good words and actions can you substitute so you can respond with grace when “squeezed”? How can you build others up instead of tearing them down?
• If you’ve hurt others with your words—or others have hurt you with theirs—seek them out and set things right this week. Be sure to prepare your heart beforehand. Consider whether you need help seeing the other side of the argument and/or creative solutions to the problem. Do you need to own up to a part of the disagreement and receive forgiveness as well? Pray about these things as you prepare to meet.
• Do you know someone who’s “taken a beating” from others recently? Seek that person out this week, and encourage him or her. Set aside time to listen and possibly field some of the hurt and anger they’ve been feeling. And if that happens, don’t react—pray. Invite God into the situation.
• Get formal training to be a peacemaker in your church, workplace, or neighborhood. Perhaps your church, your job, or another organization in the area offers this kind of training. One such organization is Peacemaker Ministries (HisPeace.org). You may know others. In any case, make it happen!
• Is there a divisive situation in your town, neighborhood, or church right now? As a group, plan an event that will help people on both sides to look past their differences and focus on their commonalities. It could be as uncomplicated as a block party or something formal that gets both sides to sit down and talk through their differences.
Good luck, and may God give you the ability to show grace to those people and situations that push your buttons.