Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 6

Know this, my beloved brothers, and let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 1:19-20, mjlt)

Have you ever had that feeling during an intensely heated argument or disagreement when your vision starts to narrow, and you begin to actually feel the inside of your ears start to close up, and you start getting super hot in your face and body, and you have this sensation of being surrounded—closed-in, trapped—while the pressure inside of you keeps mounting and swelling and building and magnifying until you feel like your head is about to implode?

Yeah. Me neither.

For those of us fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with this experience, that lovely feeling is what’s known in certain circles as anger—that strong, volatile emotion some of us get when we feel that we’ve been seriously wronged.

It’s interesting that, as our anger escalates, it can manifest itself in such a physical, palpable way. That closing up of the ears is more than just a telltale sign that we’re filling with rage—it’s just plain ironic. When we become angry, the one thing that would be most helpful in defusing the situation is often the first thing to go: our hearing. It’s not that we lose the ability to distinguish sounds, but we become deaf to what the other person is saying. We stop listening, or worse, start filtering everything the other person says through our anger, and we begin to mishear, or misinterpret things in a way that they aren’t actually said or meant. This is why, when we begin to get angry, we first need to force ourselves to become “swift to hear.” Only with this first step will love, patience, and sometimes even reality, begin to prevail.

But that is only the beginning of Ya’aqov’s practical instruction, because unless we are also “slow to speak,” we will be unable to stop the death spiral of anger from continuing. Being “slow to speak,” then, allows us to take full advantage of our ears while they are still open. By giving the other person a chance to talk and express themselves, we have the opportunity to quietly and calmly listen to their words and weigh their thoughts—to truly listen to the heart of what is being communicated. When we are “slow to speak,” we aren’t calculating our next scathing point in our heads as we wait impatiently for the other person to make the stupid mistake of… pausing. Rather, we should be purposely holding our tongues and stilling our minds until the other person has finished their thought, and then when it is appropriate to respond, we do so deliberately, carefully and compassionately.

These two sides of anger management—being “swift to hear” and “slow to speak”—will always result in one being “slow to anger.” It is important to recognize, however, that it does not say, “do not ever get angry.” We should be reminded of our Master Yeshua, and how He reacted when some people challenged His teaching as an excuse to make accusations against Him. The Scriptures say that He looked upon them with anger (see Mark 3:1-5). This shows us that even the perfect One can have a normal, natural anger response to a wrong being done. But the issue is not so much whether or not we get angry in the first place, but rather what we are angry about, and what we will do with that anger once it begins to percolate. Do we restrain it, even channel it constructively, and allow it to be tempered by the Spirit? Or do we let it flail out of control—our wrath unleashed in a violent fury? For what it’s worth, the Scriptures say that the Master’s anger was mixed with grief. One would think that had an effect.

In the end, every time our anger is selfish, self-oriented, and sustained by rage, it “does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” When we start to get those physical cues that the anger is rolling in, “the righteousness of God” says we are to calm down, count the other person higher than ourselves, unclog our ears, and stop up our mouths. God’s righteousness doesn’t care how badly we’ve been wronged—it only minds how justly we respond.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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