“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).
James is saying that sometimes we need to listen more and speak less or say nothing. King Solomon says in Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
There are times when we speak instead of listening and later regret it because our words lead to bitter quarrels and fights. Feelings can get hurt and relationships can be jeopardized or destroyed because of words spoken in a fit of anger. There are times when we ought to just listen and other times when we ought to speak. We have to have the wisdom to know when to do which.
Problems arise when we stop listening to God and to each other. Whether in the home, at work, or in the church, arguments ensue when listening stops. When that happens, talking begins to accelerate and anger builds. This slippery slope of sinful communication, like the uncontrolled inward desires of James 1:14, 15, can never produce the righteousness of God. That is why James juxtaposes God’s righteousness with human wrath. As long as we rely on what bubbles up naturally from our sinful nature, the creative power of God’s Word is blocked, and our own unhelpful or even hurtful words arise instead (The Book of James Sabbath School Quarterly, p. 26)
Notice James advises us to be “swift to hear”. We must be quick to hear what the other person has to say first before we have our say. In doing so, we might learn something and diffuse an otherwise volatile situation. How many times have we been quick to speak and slow to listen and gotten ourselves in trouble? It takes wisdom to hold our tongue. It takes maturity to listen.
We have to be careful of what we say. If we have nothing good or helpful to say in a situation , it is best to keep quiet.
Proverbs 15:1 says, “a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger. When we respond to something someone says in a quiet, non-combative way, it will diffuse the situation or prevent it from getting worse. Once when my husband, Dave made a request, he didn’t like the tone of his co-worker’s reply but he responded in an agreeable manner. The co-worker, initially surprised, responded positively. Dave chose a gentle answer instead of a harsh one and turned what could have led to a bad situation into a peaceful resolution. Both men benefitted from Dave’s wise handling of the problem.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that we should know how to speak and when to speak (Isaiah 50:4). Paul encourages us to speak only words that will encourage and benefit others. Our words must not be corrupt or harmful (Ephesians 4:29). Our words should not be filthy, foolish or coarse. They should be fitting and full of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). Our words should always be filled with grace, seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer people appropriately (Colossians 4:6).
Be a good listener. Hear what the other person has to say. The same rule applies to God. Too often when we spend time with Him, we have our say but don’t wait to hear what He has to say. Be still and listen for that small, still voice.
He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction (Proverbs 13:3)