"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).
It's hard to miss the ever-increasing level of rancor and hostility in our world today. The internet seethes with it, and cable news shows have turned it into big money. It bothers me. A lot. And it probably bothers you.
There are several obvious culprits. Cable television has fragmented and polarized the news-reporting business. Social media and internet blogs have made it possible to isolate ourselves into ideological echo-chambers where we hear only what we want. The internet, in general, has so swamped us with information that we rely on our favorite spin-meister rather than weigh the facts for ourselves. On top of all this, "conversations" carried on by keyboard and backlit screens make it easy to forget the humanity of the person on the other end. We yell at the screen and type words that we would never, ever, say if we were speaking face-to-face.
We could go on forever about all these explanations, but that would miss the bigger picture. It sees only the temptations; but fails to recognize the Tempter. "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). The ghosts and goblins running around on Halloween are not real. But Satan's presence in our everyday conversations is very real.
Satan is less interested in the position you fight for than in the fact that you're fighting. He loses when you are willing to die for something; but he wins when you are willing to kill for it. The anger and the rancor that swirls all around you -- and oftentimes pulls you in -- is not just a by-product of disagreements. It is Satan's primary intention.
Satan is all about tearing apart relationships. He wants to turn children against parents, husbands against wives, voters against elected officials, workers against employers, citizens against police, brother against brother and, most of all, creatures against their Creator.
The apostle Paul saw this clearly. So he teaches, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32). This is not merely about ettiquette. This is spiritual warfare.
When we resist the spirit of the world, when we refuse to become angry with those who oppose us, we are standing with Christ against Satan. This does not mean that we simply surrender the field and let the blasphemies of Satan go unopposed. But it does mean that we speak the truth in love. It means that we defend Christ, and not ourselves. It means that we live in peace -- even when the world rages against us.
There are worse things than losing an argument. Losing your humanity is the real danger. What is worse than being insulted? Insulting. What is worse than being deceived? Deceiving. What is worse than dying? Murdering.
So take a break from social media. Turn off the cable news show. Seek out those who disagree with you and have a face-to-face conversation over a glass of lemonade. Nobody has ever been won over by an internet meme. Nasty emails do not create unity or foster love.
When anger is directed at you, remember who the real enemy is: not your neighbor who is angry, but Satan who angers him and wants to anger you. Always remember that we do not battle flesh and blood but principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age.
Most of all, take comfort in the fact that real battle has already been won. Jesus rose from the dead to defeat Satan. You are not responsible to save the world. Jesus does that for you. You are only given to live in that victory by forgiving others as God in Christ forgives you. You are blessed to be tenderhearted toward those who oppose you, just as the Father tenderly gave His only-begotten Son to a world that opposes Him.
The Son of God has absorbed the wrath of the world. There is no more need to respond in wrath. Jesus lives and reigns to all eternity. He is still in charge. His Word will not and cannot lose. But His victories are hidden and unnoticed. They happen one heart at a time. They happen every time the peace of Christ rules in the hearts of those who trust in Him.