Do you know the scene in West Side Story where the 2 rival gang leaders have a final showdown and the switchblades come out? That’s what it felt like years ago when a leader of the children’s ministry went toe to toe with a leader of the men’s discipleship group. It happened in a church gym during a Monday night pickup basketball game. This was Bill’s favorite activity of the week, however that evening Don, the children’s worker, and Eric, the men’s worker, (names have been changed) got tangled up with each other. The friendly game quickly escalated into a name calling match between Don and Eric in the dispute over who fouled who. Whatever the reason, both Don and Eric (the brothers in Christ) were ready to rumble, and came very close to punching each other’s lights out over one orange ball. Evil gained the spotlight because anger was seething under the surface.
The early Christian church had a lot of flareups. They fought over who was the best preacher, what rules should they obey or not obey, who would get the best seat in their celebration of communion (there’s a whole lot of irony in that one), and they were suing each other publicly when they didn’t get their way. Bitterness and nastiness were flowing out of professing believers’ mouths.
That’s why James’ words in chapter one are so helpful to a problem that has been around since the time of Cain & Abel: anger. The audience that James was written to were believers, not unbelievers. James 1:19 Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving].” (Amplified Version)
What is James’s solution? First of all: Listen!!! Great listening means you are not rushing to mentally compose a rebuttal while the other person is still speaking. It means entirely giving your attention to what the other person is saying. It’s carefully asking questions with the goal of discovering what is going on in the other person’s heart. Usually fights over orange balls, especially in pick-up games, originate because other tough stuff is going on in the player’s life.
The next remedy James gives is: slow down!!! Very carefully choose your words, realizing that there may even be a possibility that this isn’t the right time to open your mouth. Listen to the Holy Spirit. The words flowing between Don and Eric were not Holy Spirit words. In fact, some of the guys didn’t know that Don and Eric’s vocabularies included what was spewing out of their mouths.
Both Don and Eric thought they were right. They probably thought, “Why deescalate, since I’m the blameless one?”. James writes: 20 For the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. 21 So get rid of all uncleanness and all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls.” Nurturing attitudes of resentment and deep-seated anger are not going to do one iota of good in displaying the character of God. It just brings to the forefront the evil that has been growing in one’s heart.
If you are a professing believer, there is no room in a heart filled with the Holy Spirit for filth, pride, or wanting to have the last word. You do have the power to actually submit to letting the Word of God take root, grow and blossom in your life, even in the midst of turmoil. God can give you the tools to handle conflict. Business as usual in a Spirit-controlled heart does not brawl, in a pickup game, over one orange ball.