Anger can come on fast and quickly take hold. What we do with it can make or break a relationship–especially our marriage.
“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.” – James 1:19-20
I received a long letter last week full of bitter criticism. It was from someone I do not know well. It accused me and several other people (that I do know well) of things that were vicious and untrue. As I read it, I felt my blood boil. I thought of things to say in reply that I’m glad stayed in my head. I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit saying to me: “Calm down, David, and practice what you preach. Remember My words.”
For years I have been preaching, teaching, and counseling about anger. And every bit of it comes from God’s Word. When I follow His teaching, it has always turned out well—not always immediately or as I thought it would, but always well.
This is true in all our relationships. When we follow God’s teaching about how to relate to one another, God will bless it. This is especially true in our closest relationship—our marriage.
Our spouse is the only person we become one with (Genesis 2:24). And sadly, because we are closer to them than anyone else, our husband or wife is the perfect target to unleash our anger on. When we get upset, our angry thoughts may come pouring out our mouths right onto them.
Of course, this should not be.
God has a way of teaching us clearly about how to live a godly life. And He has a lot to say about anger. Let’s look at some Scripture that reveals God’s own anger management plan to help us know what to do when anger begins to take hold.
The first passage is found in James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
The other instruction is found in Ephesians 4:26-27: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.”
God gives us the reason that we should avoid anger in James 1:20. He doesn’t say it is always wrong to become angry. But He says when we become angry, we will never be able to accomplish the purpose He has in the situation—to produce righteousness.
It is right for us to become angry if we see God’s Word being purposely ignored, misused, or broken. And it should make us angry to observe something or someone harming our loved ones, including our spouse. God gave us all of our emotions—and that includes anger.
The problem with anger, though, is that because of our sinful nature, we are not able to respond in a God-like, holy way. Therefore, we will not “produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). Instead, we will “give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).
Our sinful anger allows Satan to have control of the situation. And the results will be disastrous. When we become angry with our spouse, sin will enter our marriage and with it, more anger and harm will result. This is exactly what Satan wants to happen.
This is what God wants us to avoid. So He provides clear steps to deal with anger.
First, He says “be quick to listen” (James 1:19). Many problems in marriage come because we do not really listen to and understand each other. We allow our minds to focus on what we already think is true.
We have a tendency to think about what we’re going to say next, not what our spouse is saying to us. We are so self-centered and self-absorbed that there is no room to hear what our spouse is saying. We often think we already know best and have our minds made up. When that is the case, we don’t bother to listen.
Because of this, when we have a conflict, our response is more than likely going to be harmful and bring about more anger from both of us. God warns us about this in no uncertain terms. Proverbs 18:13 says: “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”
In the verse immediately before, God also tells us the reason that we don’t listen: “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).
Bottom line, we are so consumed with our own selves that we don’t care what the other person says. God’s Word tell us the solution to this is humility. We must not think that we alone have all the answers.
The second command God gives us is to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). If we will concentrate on what our spouse is saying, we will find it easy not to speak until we have heard all that they have to say. It will help us respond to what they actually tell us, not to what we presume they are going to say.
Only God is omniscient. He alone knows everything. We may think at times we do, but we do not and cannot. When we acknowledge this truth and choose humility, it will keep us from falling into this trap.
Being slow to speak does not mean that we never speak. Holding something in until it explodes is not good either. In fact, we are told in Ephesians 4:26: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
We need to take time to pray and make certain what we are upset about is something we need to address. But unless God shows us clearly otherwise, we do need to discuss it with our spouse in a kind and gentle manner. We must not let it go unsettled, thinking it will just blow over. The chances are good that it will not.
The situation I described at the beginning of this post is a good example. In reading this person’s words, I was angry at first. But the Holy Spirit brought God’s Word to my mind. I took time to pray and study the Scriptures. I didn’t ignore the letter and fail to respond to it, but when I did, I had the confidence that what I said was not from sinful anger.
I want the same to be true every time I deal with a difficult situation. And I especially want it to be true when I relate to my wife. But it will only be true if I am faithful to follow God’s Word.
These two commands God gives us—to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak”—will bring about His desired result. They will result in His final word to us in James 1:19: to be “slow to become angry.”
When we humble ourselves and seek to love each other with careful attention, God will help us overcome our tendency to let anger get the best of us. He will bless our marriage with greater love and keep the devil from having his way.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
♦ Read this week’s teaching and talk together about what God has taught you.
♦ Which of the three commands from God about dealing with anger speak the most to where you are right now? Which do you struggle with the most? Commit to help each other work on the area where you need the most assistance. Discuss ways that you can lovingly do this.
♦ We discussed how important humility is to dealing with anger. It is very important to God. Here are some Scripture verses to make that point. All bolded words are mine.
Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Ephesians 4:1-3: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
1 Peter 5:5-6: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
♦ Close your time together in prayer. Pray that God will help you only to become angry when it is appropriate, and that you will respond to it according to His Word. Pray that you will have the humility to listen to Him, really listen to each other, and not think you have all the answers. Pray that you will act in a way that glorifies Him and helps each other.
May God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.