I am my worst critic. I lie in bed at night annoyed with myself that I didn’t accomplish everything I should have. Or I’m aggravated at myself for not speaking up when I could have. I react with self-loathing as I play back the events of the day… as the “I should have, I could have, I would have’s” run in a loop through my mind. What’s so sad is… most times, I’m beating myself up over things no one else even knows about. They’re things that are only important to me…so why am I so perturbed? In a word…it’s guilt. Self-directed anger is fueled by guilt…and it doesn’t need to be guilt heaped on us from someone else…for we can do that all by ourselves! But this guilt-ridden self-anger can be changed by the last few words of this verse…for it says to “search your hearts and be silent. Selah” That means we listen and not speak, allowing the Holy Spirit to whisper truth into our heart and mind. It means then we pause and ponder these truths not allowing our mind to race negatively. It’s positive reinforcement, Holy Spirit style.
So what exactly were the apostles doing that would land them in jail? It tells us that they were performing many miraculous signs and wonders…healing the sick and tormented…and that many were coming to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were doing good stuff, but they were also persecuted for it. Contention within the Body can degenerate into negative emotions that desire to make war against the good they see others doing…simply because it’s not them performing it. They feel threatened, so they attempt to discount and belittle rather than praising God for what He’s doing. Doing good regardless…it tells us in I Peter 3:17 that we may have to suffer in doing good…and that we shouldn’t become weary in doing it. (Galatians 6:9) I pray we all may have the boldness to continue doing good no matter the cost.
Say someone you’re close to is going through a major health crisis…so as a good person off you go to their house. But soon this visit becomes very awkward, for the more you talk and ask questions, the more frustrated and angry the person becomes. Abruptly the visit ends with you walking out wondering why you feel discouraged and angry when all you wanted to do was to encourage and comfort that person. Aristotle referred to anger as desire with grief. And this verse in James should be a guide as we deal with those going through critical times. Listening should be the only goal we have…not preaching…not pumping the person for details…nor personalizing the visit with every awful thing we’ve gone through. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent.” I remember hearing a story about Mother Teresa, that when she visited the dying she rarely spoke…instead she just held them, stroking their face, and listening. When your only agenda is to listen…you are validating that person and giving consideration to what they’re going through without bias or opinion. They are then free to explore and verbalize their internal dialogue as they work through their emotions. Just listening can then become the greatest gift you can give that person.
To move towards loving one another…we must move away from hate, anger, and bitterness. Here in Ephesians we are told to get rid of these negative traits and emotions. Interestingly enough, the Greek word for “get rid of” in this verse actually means to put away vices. Vices, a word you don’t hear often…a word that according to the Dictionary means habitual faults or undesirable behavior patterns. Sadly, too many children take into adulthood bad behaviors that were first modeled for them by their parents. They watch as their family inappropriately handles conflict and confrontation, and listen as others are slandered and vilified around the dining-room table. We learn what we see and hear, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put off our old fleshly nature and move away from adverse behaviors that are causing us pain and resentment.
The next time you’re in a heated debate, take notice of your body language. Are your arms tightly crossed over your chest? You’re being defensive and resistive to the person and words that are being spoken to you. Are you shaking your head ” No “as someone is speaking to you? You’re not listening, but rather formulating what you want to say in response as soon as that person takes their next breath. This scripture shows that the art of communication is listening deliberately, speaking carefully, and not allowing knee-jerk reactionary anger to prevail.
Every once in a while I come across a person who enjoys holding onto bitterness. They recount to me impressive dates and details of past hurts and offenses. They wear these perceived insults as badges, ever brooding over them…playing them over and over in their minds. Pathetically, their vindictiveness and obsession has literally taken over their entire life. This root of bitterness has taken ahold, and grown into an ugly creature that no one can hardly recognize.
Raca was an Aramaic term of contempt meaning stupid. But Jesus was more concerned here with the term Moros – You fool – being thrown around. Moros was actually a more serious reproach than Raca as it conveyed a person being morally worthless… a scorning of the person’s very heart and character. The Lord was warning of the dangers of character assassination…of killing the very spirit of a person with angry words.
The longer we’re irritated with someone, the angrier and more exasperated we become. Much like a minor skin irritation gets worse the more we scratch and dig at it…a minor annoyance if allowed to fester and grow, will morph from irritation, to anger, to bitterness.
When we allow the flesh to take over, a simple irritation can quickly snowball into a raging outburst that can cause irreparable damage to all parties involved. When an unwise person allows their anger out in inappropriate ways, it can escalate and lead to major problems. A wise man keeps himself under control…he keeps himself still and restrained…and at all times, in command of his flesh.