“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
In giving us a tongue-safety course, James does not advocate silence. He’s not looking to disarm us. He wants us to make sure we recognize the power of the tongue and use it for good and not for evil, or as Paul put it in Ephesians 4:29, for constructive purposes rather than destructive.
Toward that end, James calls for restraint and reflection. Knowing our tongues in the hand of anger can have hair triggers, we are urged to caution. That word is consistent with teaching on the tongue in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 18, for example, is filled with counsel on its use. One gem from that chapter speaks to aim and intent: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13).
How many times do we jump to conclusions and spout off an accusation or opinion before we truly understand? It’s like those police training simulations where officers are put in volatile situations and end up shooting the little old lady with the dog. Later, James will speak of the tongue being just as deadly. We need to look before we leap, listen before we speak.
When James says we are to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, he is cautioning us about being reactive. It begins with control and intent to listen, listen with an aim to love, or as Paul expressed it, giving grace.
Giving grace suggests that even if we do read something right and the other person is in the wrong, we must look to love them and not treat them as they may deserve. Jesus gives us our example: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).
“Lord, help me to love others as I do myself.”