A TIME TO BE SWIFT AND A TIME TO BE SLOW
James 1:19-20 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
When I think of the phrase, "There is a time", I immediately recall Ecclesiastes 3. The first verse says, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. If written by Solomon, he had much to say about a time for every thing. Even for things opposed to each other, Solomon says there is a time. A time to be born/die, plant/pluck up, kill/heal, break down/build up, weep/laugh, mourn/dance, cast stones/gather stones, embrace/refrain from embracing, get/lose, keep/cast away, rend/sew, keep silence/speak, love/hate, and war/peace.
From our lesson text, we could add to this list. There is a time to be swift, and a time to be slow. James says that mankind should be swift to hear. To be swift to hear means to be anxious to hear, attentive, as well as receptive, to what is being spoken. There have been times in my life when I wasn't a good listener - times when my mind would wander when someone was speaking to me. The result was, I didn't hear, nor did I understand, what was being said. I received little, if any, benefit from the words being spoken.
Hearing, listening, and understanding what is said are extremely important in life. Without these traits, we may not receive the proper education to prepare us for our jobs and professions. We could fail professionally. Without them, we may also fail to gain knowledge and understanding to prepare us for our service to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ. We could fail, spiritually, and miss out on eternal life in heaven. Paul told the Roman Christians that he was afraid they lacked sufficient knowledge regarding their salvation (Rom. 10:1-2). To be swift to hear means to go immediately to the source where one finds sufficient knowledge. Paul says, to be saved, we need to call upon the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13). In the following verse he wrote: How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher (Vs. 14)? To be swift to hear, we must be eager to hear the word of God, and diligently seek it.
The wise adage says that "We should hear twice as much as we speak, since we have two ears and only one mouth." In various forms, we have all heard this bit of sound advice at some time in our lives. It is good advice. It is similar to the advice James gave us in the lesson text - be swift to hear but slow to speak. The phrase, slow to speak, does not mean "slow of speech" - a term usually applied to a speaker with limited knowledge. Nor does it mean to physically "speak slowly" by drawing out the words of a speech. When James said to be slow to speak, his advice was not to speak rashly, or without forethought. We are to think before we speak. Words spoken can never be retrieved. Many times have I regretted what I said, but rarely have I regretted keeping silent. At times, James' advice, to be slow to speak, includes silence on our part.
James also tells us in this lesson text, to be slow to wrath. Webster describes wrath as intense anger, rage, or fury. In Galatians 5:20, Paul includes wrath among sins that will cause one to be excluded from Heaven. Paul also includes wrath in the list of sins that he warned the Colossians not to commit (Col. 3:8). If wrath is a sin, why does the lesson text tell us to be slow to wrath? Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4:26 has a good explanation. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Will we ever become angry or wrathful? This verse tells us "Yes we will." There will be times when the actions of others, either in the form of words or deeds, will offend us, and cause a wrongful desire to reply in kind. It is at this point that our self-control should cause us to sin not. Slow to wrath, then, is our self-restraint to outwardly demonstrate anger against others when offended. Other than for self- protection, or that of others, we should have no desire to react in an angry or wrathful way to another person because of their actions toward us. Although the offence may cause anger, we should never seek vengeance against the person that brought on the offence. Vengeance belongs only to God. Anger or wrath is not the sin. But sin comes when it leads to revenge, or the outward expressions that desire revenge against another.
In order to learn and gain knowledge, be swift to hear; when replying and answering others, we should be slow to speak; when offended by the actions of others, always be slow to wrath. To each, there is a time.