Today I am thinking about the whole Christian life from the perspective of slowness to anger.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger …” (James 1:19, ESV).
The context of the command is a chapter about trials and what they’re good for (perfecting and completing us—verse 4). The chapter also warns what happens if trials master us rather than our mastering them (these trials will lead us to sin, which in turn leads to death—verse 15). Finally, in the interest of fully equipping us, the chapter tells us what qualities are needed in trials. That’s where James advises us to be “slow to anger.”
Slowness to anger is a rare, rare quality, perhaps even among believers. Just about everybody you meet is nice up to a certain point, but it is a very short distance indeed. And as Jesus said, it is not much of a feather in your cap if you are nice only for a short distance, since even your average pagan does that:
“If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48, ESV).
So then, we are to “do more than others,” in Jesus’ words. In fact, we are to pursue the perfection of God. Otherwise, we look no better, and are no better, than the average unbeliever. The apostle Paul once rebuked those in the Corinthian church for “behaving only in a human way” and for “being merely human” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, ESV). So then, we are called to conduct ourselves in a better than “merely human” way. Why? In order to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10, ESV).
A man once said to my son, “If you ain’t cool all the time, you ain’t cool.” This is very astute. If you are gracious 95 percent of the time, and nasty 5 percent of the time, the 5 percent is a truer indicator of your character. Why? Because 95 percent of the time you are not being pushed very hard. That’s easy stuff, and not particularly praiseworthy.
It is as the heat is turned up higher under your kettle that character shows. The good news is that there is grace available to be nice and kind and slow to anger on those 5 percent occasions. Since we know these occasions are bound to come, let us be prepared for them. This is how we will keep from spoiling our witness and attract people to the God who makes men better than merely human.