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James 1:20-21 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 6 mins 20 secs

Power for Spiritual Growth; James 1:20-21

It is interesting that when we get to verse 20 anger is singled out for further attention.

James 1:20 NASB "for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." That begins in the English with the word "for" which is a translation of the Greek word GAR [gar]. It comes second in the sentence in Greek because of Greek syntax and it is called a postpositive particle. GAR is an explanatory particle. Every time we see this word we know we are going to get an explanation, and James is going to explain why he says that we should be slow to anger. There is something significant about anger that he wants to emphasize and wants us to realize that in contrast to being quick to hear and slow to speak we are to be slow to anger because this is a devastating problem in the spiritual life. We could translate GAR, "because." It is for a specific reason: it does not achieve the righteousness of God.

There are two words in the Greek that are translated "anger." The first is THUMOS [qumoj] and the second is ORGE [o)rgh]. There is a lot of similarity between the two words. In many cases they are virtually synonymous. But in some passages they are both used and if there is going to be a distinction then THUMOS is stated as having to do more with a quick, heated, emotional response, whereas ORGE has to do with a steady mental attitude. What we have in this passage is the word ORGE. Usually this word is translated "wrath" as opposed to anger and it is not always a sin. We see how Jesus manifested this type of anger in Mark 3:5 NASB "After looking around at them with anger [ORGE], grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored."

The hypostatic union describes the union of two natures, divine and human, in the one person of Jesus Christ. He is undiminished deity and true humanity united together in one person forever. These two natures are inseparably united without loss or mixture of separate identity, without loss or transfer of properties or attributes, the union being personal and eternal. Because Jesus Christ was born of virgin conception and virgin birth He did not inherit the genetic sin nature passed on through the male. So He was born without a sin nature, and because He did not have a sin nature there was no home for the imputation of Adam's original sin, so Jesus Christ was born sinless, minus the sin nature, and he had no personal sin during His life—doctrine of the impeccability of Christ. In His deity Jesus Christ was not able to sin (doctrine of immutability). Deity cannot sin, never could sin, and never will sin, so in His deity Jesus Christ never could sin; yet, in His humanity he had that possibility. So in His deity He was not able to sin; in His humanity He was able not to sin. So when we look at Jesus Christ in terms of the hypostatic union and we see that he had anger, then we have to analyse that to see what we can learn about the nature of anger from that passage.

Jesus' anger in Mark 3:5 is what we would called a righteous indignation. We have to be very careful with this word and how we define the term because a lot of times we can convince ourselves that our anger is righteous indignation when it is in fact nothing more than self-righteous indignation; it is our sense of what is right or wrong that is offended and not God's sense. When we talk about righteous indignation we must drive ourselves back to the perfect righteousness of God. When we talk about righteous indignation we start off by having a correct understanding of what righteousness is. The standard is God's perfection, not human concepts of standards. We become righteously indignant when we see the standard of God being offended. We have to be careful there because the focus is on God, not us. When we begin to identify so closely with God's standards that we make this a self-oriented indignation then we are slipping into a false application of righteous indignation. Righteous indignation is when the standards of God are being violated and that is the cause of our anger. Most of the time when we are angry it is the result of self-absorption; we are not getting our own way. In Ephesians 4:24 we have the verb ORGIZOMAI [o)rgizomai], and the we have the command, "Be angry and do not sin." The point there is that there is a certain type of anger. This is not a selfish anger, not an anger that is the result of not getting our own way, but an anger that is oriented to the character of God and His righteous standards.

ORGE is used as a technical term for the judgment of God against individuals and nations in time. It is also used for the judgment of God which we call the Tribulation which comes after the Rapture of the church and prior to the Millennium. Wrath is also used as a technical term for the eternal judgment of God on unbelievers in the lake of fire.

ORGE is used in conjunction with other mental attitude and emotional sins and sins of the tongue in two important passages: Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8. We will see this again in James 1:21 NASB "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and {all} that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." "Putting aside" there is the Greek word APOTITHEMI [a)potiqhmi], an aorist passive participle. Ephesians 4:31, NASB "Let all bitterness and wrath [ORGE] and anger [THUMOS] and clamor and slander [sins of the tongue] be put away from you, along with all malice." In order to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit [30] we are to do something positive [31]. In contrast, [32] "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." We have the command to "put away." 1 John 1:9 is only a starting point. We have to make decisions from a negative perspective not to engage in certain things, to avoid certain behaviour patterns and mental attitude patterns, and from a positive perspective to engage in certain behaviour patterns. Colossians 3:8 NASB "But now you also, put them all aside: anger [THUMOS], wrath [ORGE], malice, slander, {and} abusive speech from your mouth." There we see the connection again between mental attitude sins and sins of the tongue.

James 1:20 NASB "for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." We have here a figure of speech. A figure of speech is any form or expression in language that is not to be taken literally but is used in order to convey a broader meaning through the use of symbolism or comparison. There are many types of figures of speech used in the Bible. We have here the kind of figure of speech where there is an exchange of one idea for another associated idea, specifically where one example is given which stands for a broader category. So here we have the one word that is used as anger but it stands for the entire complex of mental attitude sins and emotional sins.

There are various sub categories to the emotional complex of sins. There is the hysteria category which includes fear, worry, anxiety, panic, consternation, and irrationality in a state of fear. Emotional sins are reactions. This is when you hit your trial, the test, the adversity in your life, and you immediately react emotionally. That is why we are commanded to be slow to anger, not to react, but to slow down and to focus on what the Word of God says, to take our time and not to push the panic button. The second category of emotional complex of sins is the revenge category. This includes malice, the lust to inflict injury or suffering on others, revenge motivation and revenge modus operandi. The third category is the hatred category, which includes anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, loathing, animosity, implacability. Fourth is the irrational category, which includes tantrums, vulnerability to imagine insults of snubs, self-pity, whining, denial, and projecting blame on other people. Denial is when you deny the reality of the situation, your own responsibilities, and projection is when you place the responsibility for your own problems on someone else. Fifth, there is the guilt category. This includes remorse for real imagined sins, morbid self-reproach, emotional feelings of culpability, self-righteous arrogance, and arrogant preoccupation with your own feelings and impulses. This is always associated with and goes into some form of legalism.

The passage reads "for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God," but that is not a clear translation. The verb here is the present middle indicative of ERGAZOMAI [e)rgazomai], from the ERGO [e)rgw], and the root meaning is to work or to produce, so it describes production. Production in the spiritual life is related to the fruit of the Spirit and that which God produces in our lives. In the spiritual life we can produce either divine good or human good. The issue in the spiritual life is capacity. Capacity is developed through the production of righteousness. As we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ we go from spiritual infancy toward spiritual maturity. As we advance spiritually we develop the capacity to appreciate and to use the blessings that God has for us. Gods knows that he has many blessings that He has for us but if we do not advance to a certain point spiritually where we can use those responsibly that they will indeed destroy us because in our spiritual immaturity we will misuse and abuse them. So blessing comes as a result of our spiritual growth. As we grow spiritually we produce righteousness. A synonym for this is divine good—production righteousness, not to be confused with imputed righteousness. Imputed righteousness has to do with our position in Christ. What we are talking about is the righteousness that takes place under the filling of the Holy Spirit, which is production righteousness.

1)  The goal of the Christian life is the character of Christ. We are not to be conformed to this life but conformed to the image of Jesus Christ—Romans 12:2. That comes about through the renovation of our thinking. This is exemplified in the production of the Holy Spirit in Galatians chapter five. The fruit of the Spirit means production. The spiritual life when we are under the control of the filling of the Holy Spirit and applying doctrine results in beginning to transform our character into the character of Jesus Christ. The image of Christ is formed in us. That is the direction of spiritual maturity.

2)  This is one of the reasons Christ died as a substitute for us on the cross. He did not die for you and for me so that we could live life on our terms. He died for us so that we could be transformed into His character eventually so that we could be successful witnesses in the angelic conflict. 1 Peter 2:24 NASB "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness [application righteousness, production righteousness]; for by His wounds you were healed."

3)    Production righteousness is spelled out as the goal of divine discipline and the purpose of passing testing in Hebrews 12:11. "All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness." The same thought is reiterated in Ephesians 5:8-10 NASB "or you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light {consists} in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord."

4)  The mandate, therefore, is to produce righteousness. 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Timothy 6:11. "But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance {and} gentleness." These are to be the priorities in the spiritual life, the goal of a transformed life, manifesting the character of Christ under the filling of God the Holy Spirit.

5)  Production righteousness is the result of the renovation of the thinking based on Bible doctrine. Don't get the cart before the horse, so don't go out and try to morally try to renovate your life. The goal is to renovate your thinking; it is change from the inside out. It is not moral renovation through the energy of the flesh. 2 Timothy 3:16 gives us the mechanics. NASB "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness."