Through the pen of James the Holy Spirit wrote these important imperatives:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
For our consideration at the present time, I want us to concentrate on James’ instruction to be “slow to speak.”
James is not having reference to speaking slowly; instead he is speaking about being slow to begin speaking. His instruction to be “swift to hear” also plays a part in this instruction. Far too many of us don’t listen; we are too busy thinking about our response or too busy formulating our response.
James’ instruction on the tongue in this epistle indicates that the Christian who would aim for perfection in his life often has a real problem with his tongue. His instruction to be “slow to speak” introduces the subject of the tongue and he will deal extensively with this subject in chapter three.
In the book of Proverbs Solomon has a great deal of instruction on this same subject. Listen and learn: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (10:19). “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (13:3). “He who has knowledge spares his words, And a man of understanding is of a calm spirit” (17:27). “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (29:20). And also in the book of Ecclesiastes he adds, “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few” (5:2).
The Psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). This concluding prayer at the end of this Psalm has been a favorite memory verse for thousands through the ages. It is a beautiful gem of spirituality in its own right.
Paul’s instruction for the “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” is, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:21, 29). He also instructs us to “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6). Both of these requirements would necessitate not being hasty with our words, but to be “slow to speak.”
By all means, let’s not forget what Jesus said on this subject: “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:34-37).
May each one of us make a renewed and dedicated effort to be careful what we say. Let all be “slow to speak.”
Paul M. Wilmoth