Be Swift to Hear, Slow About Speaking
“Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.”—Jas. 1:19.
1. What is the prime purpose of the human tongue, and how are many tongues being so used today?
THE prime purpose of the human tongue is to glorify man’s grand Creator, Jehovah the Almighty God. As an instrument to bring praise to God, the tongue is being used world-wide today to announce the established kingdom of the heavens. This is good news that Jesus said “will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations.” How precious is the tongue that is speaking this gladsome message! “The tongue of the righteous one is choice silver.” The righteous will of God is that true Christians ever be ready to speak this Kingdom good news to others: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season.”—Matt. 24:14; Prov. 10:20; 2 Tim. 4:2.
2, 3. What did the disciple James basically mean when he counseled about being “slow about speaking”?
2 It may strike some as strange that, in view of the urgency of speaking the Kingdom message, the disciple James wrote this inspired counsel: “Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” It is not concerning the preaching of the Kingdom that Christians must be “slow about speaking.” The disciple James had other thoughts in mind.—Jas. 1:19.
3 The import of the divine counsel at James 1:19 is that by being “swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath,” we guard against spoiling pure worship and guard against bringing ruin upon ourselves especially by the wrong use of the tongue. If any Christian thinks there is little need to bridle his tongue, he should give heed to the divine warning: “If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship is futile.” If the Christian is to avoid rendering his worship futile in God’s sight, he must not only praise God by announcing his glorious kingdom but also cause his tongue to be a blessing to mankind as well. As an aid to bridling the tongue, James recommends being “swift about hearing, slow about speaking.”—Jas. 1:26.
4. How does James describe the tongue and the effect it can produce, and so what is the course of wisdom?
4 When we realize the mighty effect of the tongue, we see the great value in James’ counsel. True, the tongue is a small member; but a horse’s bridle and the rudder of a ship are comparatively small things, yet their effect is tremendous: “If we put bridles in the mouths of horses for them to obey us, we manage also their whole body. Look! even boats, although they are so big and are driven by hard winds, are steered by a very small rudder to where the inclination of the man at the helm wishes. So, too, the tongue is a little member and yet makes great brags. Look! how little a fire it takes to set so great a woodland on fire! Well, the tongue is a fire. The tongue is constituted a world of unrighteousness among our members, for it spots up all the body and sets the wheel of natural life aflame and it is set aflame by Gehenna. For every kind of wild beast as well as bird and creeping thing and sea creature is to be tamed and has been tamed by humankind. But the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed.” Since the way the Christian uses his tongue means life or death and since no man today has perfect control over his tongue, it is the part of wisdom that one’s speech should not be hasty.—Jas. 3:3-8.
TOO MUCH TALKING
5. What is a serious danger in talking too much, and what is the relationship between listening and learning?
5 Being quick about speaking words that are not improper in themselves can even be to a Christian’s detriment. A person can talk too much of the time and thus not be “swift about hearing.” There needs to be a balance between speaking and hearing. Since it is primarily in regard to God’s Word of truth that we should be swift to hear, some persons do not advance to spiritual maturity because they are not good listeners. They spend more time than they should talking. Ministers of Jehovah’s witnesses have sometimes conducted home Bible studies with persons who are loquacious, or very talkative. These persons often make little advancement spiritually because of their time-consuming talking. Such persons need to realize that “a wise person will listen and take in more instruction.” So how one listens has a direct bearing on what he learns. Talk has its place, but it should not be allowed to crowd out listening, especially when one is being instructed in the Word of God. When Mary, the sister of Martha, “sat down at the feet of the Master,” it was time for her to learn. So she “kept listening to his word.”—Prov. 1:5; Luke 10:39.
6. Why are some persons poor listeners? With what result?
6 It is noticed in conversations today that many persons are not good listeners. They want to do most of the talking. When it is time for listening and they persist in talking, they deprive themselves of what may be important instruction. One who should be listening all too often has his thoughts elsewhere, perhaps rehearsing in his mind the words he will effuse when he can grab a conversational opening. It sometimes seems hopeless to teach these persons, since the Bible rule is: “Have you beheld a man hasty with his words? There is more hope for someone stupid than for him.” “The foolish one speaks many words.” Small wonder that many persons unnecessarily ask “What was that?” right after someone has spoken to them! If they were not overly concerned about talking, they probably would not have to ask the speaker to repeat his words. Paying attention is something that we must continually improve upon, for so much of our learning depends upon it.—Prov. 29:20; Eccl. 10:14.
7. When is it the time for being especially swift about listening, and why?
7 When one is being instructed in God’s Word, such as at a congregational meeting or a large assembly of Jehovah’s people, it is not the time for visiting and talking. Counsels Jehovah’s Word: “Guard your feet whenever you go to the house of The true God; and let there be a drawing near to hear, rather than to give a sacrifice as the stupid ones do, for they are not aware of doing what is bad. Do not hurry yourself as regards your mouth.” Sometimes at a large assembly persons will be speaking to one another unnecessarily, visiting with those they have not seen for a long time, and so forth—doing this at the very time important Bible truths are being spoken from the platform. This shows disrespect for God’s Word and his organization. There should be “a drawing near to hear” during meetings and sessions at assemblies. Afterward is the time for visiting.—Eccl. 5:1, 2.
8. Why is it so important to pay attention, and what will help in this regard?
8 Being swift to hear means paying attention to what we hear, letting God’s truths sink deeply into our heart and mind. One can be listening but not really paying attention. The mind should not be allowed to wander. This matter of paying attention to teaching from God’s Word is so important that an apostle of Christ counseled: “It is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” So the Christian needs to be alert when he is receiving Bible instruction. Realizing the need for being awake mentally, a person does not eat too heavily just before meetings, knowing that it is difficult to listen well with a drowsy mind. Good listening can also be heightened by the right kind of ventilation in places of assembly and by maintaining a proper temperature when possible, one neither too cool nor too warm. So do what is reasonable that you may “pay more than the usual attention” to God’s Word of truth. “Happy is the man that is listening to me by keeping awake.”—Heb. 2:1; Prov. 8:34.
REASONABLENESS AND REPROOF
9. Why is being swift about hearing an aid to being reasonable, and why is this especially vital for overseers?
9 Being swift to hear, as a general rule, aids one in being reasonable. God’s Word says: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” How can you do that well if you do not listen? Often it is necessary to listen patiently to both sides of a matter, instead of putting in one’s words hastily. If one does not listen enough, he may not draw the right conclusions. Overseers of Christian congregations, Paul says, must be “reasonable.” (1 Tim. 3:2, 3) Hence, in their dealings with their Christian brothers, overseers must be ‘swift to hear.’—Phil. 4:5.
10, 11. (a) What is a danger in not being swift about hearing, and so how does God’s Word show our ears should be trained? (b) What about when overseers speak or give counsel?
10 A grave danger in not being swift to hear is that such behavior puts up a barrier to benefiting from counsel and reproof. Ears do not naturally like to hear reproof. But the Christian must train his ears to be swift about hearing in this regard. “Give a reproof to a wise person and he will love you.” “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.” “A rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.” To be wise and understanding, one’s ears must be trained to be swift about hearing counsel and reproof, not becoming offended or angry because of it. “The ear that is listening to the reproof of life lodges right in among wise people.”—Prov. 9:8; 19:20; 17:10; 15:31.
11 When overseers speak in this regard, giving reproof and correction, then we must be especially swift to hear. Jesus’ apostles had to be swift about hearing. Once James and John became swift about wrath and wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the inhabitants of an inhospitable Samaritan village. Luke 9:55 says that Jesus “turned and reproved them.” They did not become offended. They had to be swift about hearing to benefit from Jesus’ reproof. “He that is holding to discipline is a path to life, but he that is leaving reproof is causing to wander.”—Prov. 10:17.
THE MILD ANSWER
12. When misguided persons reproach the Kingdom minister, how will he respond?
12 Those who are swift to hear God’s Word, counsel and instruction are the ones most inclined to be “slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” Being slow about speaking means that one will not be quick to talk back huffily when he is counseled or even when he is treated unkindly. When one is confronted with a stimulus toward anger, he must especially be slow about speaking or returning wrathful words. When bringing the Kingdom message to others, the minister of God may at times be upbraided and become the target of hard words of denunciation. But the Kingdom minister will graciously overlook such affronts; he knows that no good comes from returning evil with evil. He knows, too, that “a mild tongue itself can break a bone.” A person may be as hard as a bone, but this hard outer covering can be softened up by mild speech. “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.” Returning wrathful words for wrathful words would only make it difficult for the next Kingdom minister coming along. So the tongue of the Kingdom minister answers in a gentle, mild and friendly way: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up. The tongue of wise ones does good with knowledge, but the mouth of the stupid ones bubbles forth with foolishness.”—Prov. 25:15; 16:24; 15:1, 2.
BEING SLOW TO SPEAK COMPLAININGLY
13. What guards against being quick to voice foolishness and complaints, and what counsel did Paul give regarding speech?
13 We will not bubble forth with foolish complaining or fault-finding if we are slow about speaking. If we have our minds filled with Kingdom truths and are busy expressing these truths, busy speaking the Kingdom good news, busy encouraging one another with Kingdom ministry experiences, busy expanding our own ministry, busy encouraging others in expanding their ministry, we will be less tempted to allow the tongue to spew forth a flood of idle talk, foolish speech and complaining words. Such talk is not upbuilding. Counseled Paul: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.”—Eph. 4:29.
14. Why is quickness about speaking complainingly unwise, and so what should we recognize?
14 Being quick to express fault is not imparting “what is favorable to the hearers.” A complaining spirit is a tremendous obstacle that must be overcome, for the sake of bridling one’s tongue. Admittedly, none have perfectly tamed the tongue, and your brothers make mistakes, but so do you. Do not expect perfection from them and Jehovah will not require it from you. Recognize that there will be mistakes made with the tongue; but at the same time recognize them for what they are, small things of little importance beside the great truths of the Kingdom.
15. If one is quick to speak complainingly, how might he act, and why is such course wrong?
15 If anyone is quick to speak words of complaint, he might question some of the decisions of the congregation service committee. He might even talk to others, being swift to pass words of complaint to as many as possible. Such one does not appreciate the theocratic organization that Jehovah has here on earth, and such action is really against God. Jehovah, through his holy spirit, has appointed these servants; and they have the responsibility of caring for the congregation and must keep it clean and spiritually healthy. If these servants are not properly caring for Kingdom interests, then Jehovah will remove them in the same way they were assigned, through his visible organization. Do not, then, be swift to speak words that tear down. This is the time to “keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today’.”—Heb. 3:13.
“SPEAK INJURIOUSLY OF NO ONE”
16. When talking about personalities what is an ever-present danger, and what is the Bible counsel in this regard?
16 Being slow about speaking means that we will be careful not to speak injuriously of anyone. When discussing personalities there is always the danger of injuring someone’s good name. Since no man measures up to perfection, it would be easy to dig up faults about anyone; yes, even oneself. So Paul counseled: “Continue reminding them . . . to speak injuriously of no one.” The good name of others is to be respected, not injured by someone’s purposeful or thoughtless distorting of the facts, thus creating the wrong impression in the minds of hearers. The fact that someone’s words were thoughtless does not lessen the damage done to one’s good name. Even if not distorted or magnified, digging up the faults of others makes them objects of open shame, makes it difficult for them to keep friends: “A good-for-nothing man is digging up what is bad, and upon his lips there is, as it were, a scorching fire. A man of intrigues keeps sending forth strife, and a slanderer is separating those familiar with one another.” If one has true Christian love, he will not make common knowledge of his brother’s faults, for love “does not behave indecently.” “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.” Do not make it difficult for others to keep friends.—Titus 3:1, 2; Prov. 16:27, 28; 1 Cor. 13:5; Prov. 17:9.
17, 18. How was Paul spoken of injuriously, and what reproof did he give to those who used their tongues improperly?
17 In the days of the apostle Paul there were some professed Christians who used their tongues unprofitably. Paul himself became a victim of wagging tongues, of tongues that were quick to speak injurious things. Such talk aroused Paul’s indignation, just as the scripture says: “The wind from the north brings forth as with labor pains a downpour; and a tongue giving away a secret, a face stirred with indignation.” So he wrote: “You look at things according to their face value. . . . even if we should boast a bit too much about the authority which the Lord gave us to build you up and not to tear you down, I would not be put to shame, that I may not seem to want to terrify you by my letters. For, say they, ‘his letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence in person is weak and his speech contemptible.’ Let such a man take this into account, that what we are in our word by letters when absent, such we shall also be in action when present.” “But even if I am unskilled in speech, I certainly am not in knowledge, but in every way we manifested it to you in all things.” “For I am afraid that somehow, when I arrive, I may find you not as I could wish and I may prove to be to you not as you could wish, but, instead, there should somehow be strife, jealousy, cases of anger, contentions, backbitings, whisperings, cases of being puffed up, disorders.” “I have said previously and . . . I say in advance to those who have sinned before and to all the rest, that if ever I come again I will not spare, since you are seeking a proof of Christ speaking in me.”—Prov. 25:23; 2 Cor. 10:7-11; 11:6; 12:20; 13:2, 3.
18 Because of being swift about speaking what they should not, members of that Corinthian congregation needed reproof. Paul was courageous enough to give that righteous reproof. Though it might hurt their feelings for a while, it would do them good, and in time they would appreciate that reproof. “He that is reproving a man will afterward find more favor than he will that is flattering with his tongue.”—Prov. 28:23.
19. If one wants to do a great deal of talking, what should he consider?
19 Those who want to use their tongues in a great deal of talking should remind themselves that they must eat the fruitage of their tongues: “From the fruitage of a man’s mouth his belly will get its fill; he will get his fill even of the produce of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and he that is loving it will eat its fruitage.” If the fruitage is Kingdom fruitage, the preaching of the good news, such leads to everlasting life in God’s new world. But if one is quick to speak what is rotten, injurious and foolish, then it will be as Jesus warned the Pharisees: “I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.” How true it is: “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is injurious and his lips from speaking deceitfully”!—Prov. 18:20, 21; Matt. 12:36, 37; 1 Pet. 3:10.
“PUTTING UP WITH ONE ANOTHER”
20. What is the trend in the world today, and why must Christians not be like this?
20 Whether it be in the congregation or in the family circle, there are many small things that do not really matter whether they are done one way or the other. To be quick in expressing fault in these unweighty matters shows unbalance. It shows a lack of love because love “does not look for its own interests.” The trend in the world today is to be swift about insisting on one’s own way by being quick to speak fault-finding, nagging, carping words. There are verbal tyrants in small things. Little wonder that a worldly wit has said: “My wife is too beautiful for words—but not for arguments!” Such carping must not exist among Christians. Follow God’s will as expressed at Philippians 2:14: “Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments.” Really do as the apostle admonished: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another.” Following such counsel will make for pleasantness and unity both within the family circle and the congregation. “Look! how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”—1 Cor. 13:5; Col. 3:13; Ps. 133:1.
AVOIDING RASH WORDS WHEN ANGERED
21. Why be “slow about speaking,” especially when provoked to anger, and what example shows the folly of speaking quickly in anger?
21 Especially when incited to anger must the Christian be “slow about speaking.” Otherwise foolish, regrettable, rash speech may result; for especially when provoked to anger is it true: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” Showing how easy it is to sin with the tongue when angered is the example of Moses. The murmuring Israelites “caused provocation at the waters of Meribah, so that it went badly with Moses by reason of them. For they embittered his spirit and he began to speak rashly with his lips.” When the Israelites needed water, Jehovah commanded Moses to take his rod and bring forth water from a crag. Moses did it, but because of his anger at the complaining Israelites he was swift to speak: “Hear, now, you rebels! Is it from this crag that we shall bring out water for you?” Later Jehovah said to Moses: “Because you did not show faith in me to sanctify me before the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land that I shall certainly give them.” It was a big price to pay for rash speech.—Prov. 10:19; Ps. 106:32, 33; Num. 20:10, 12.
22. Why were Moses’ rash words not caused by a rebellious or proud heart, and so what lesson do we learn?
22 It was not that Moses was rebellious in his heart. Rather, in a moment of anger, he was swift about speaking. What came out was not to the glory of God. Moses’ words left the impression that he and Aaron were the providers of the people, whereas it was Jehovah who had provided for them all those years in the wilderness. Nor was it that Moses was proud and arrogant. “The man Moses was by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” Yet he sinned with his tongue. Even for the most humble servant of God there is a need to guard one’s mouth: “The one guarding his mouth is keeping his soul. The one opening wide his lips—he will have ruin.”—Num. 12:3; Prov. 13:3.
23. How will James’ counsel aid us?
23 So take to heart James’ counsel: “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” It will aid you to bring forth fruitage acceptable to God. It will aid you to use your tongue to the glory of the Creator. It will aid you in carrying out the divine will as expressed at Romans 14:19: “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”