19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works—this person will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James, the brother of Jesus, takes on the issue of the tongue. He encourages us to be good listeners, not blabbermouths. He also tells us, in the same context in which he speaks about the tongue, that pure religion is looking after orphans and widows. Pure religion isn’t merely spoken. It’s lived. Lip service is worthless. In fact, it’s our tongues that often get us into trouble.
Did you know it is physically impossible to listen and speak at the same time? Oh, you can hear the other person’s voice, but you won’t be able to focus on what they are saying, and you will miss most of it. You can either speak, or you can listen intently, but you can’t do both at the same time. James recognized this, and he advised believers to choose to be quick to listen, instead of quick to speak. He understood the value of listening intently, instead of talking profusely.
The value of choosing to listen is immense. While you can’t take back those words you carelessly spoke, when you quietly listen you can prayerfully and thoughtfully produce a God-honoring, sensitive response. You might not even jump into the conversation at all, but instead choose to pray while others talk.
When we stop short of speaking and instead choose to listen, this takes discipline. It takes practice and focus. James considered this skill vital. In fact, he boldly stated that if we can’t control our tongues, our religion is worthless.
Think about a time when you overheard someone you considered to be a spiritual giant gossip, perhaps cuss, complain, or speak cruelly. How did this change your view of the person? How easily does our tongue destroy our witness? Can you see why James emphasized its importance?
A few days ago, I was talking with a friend. Our conversation was encouraging and positive. Then, without even thinking, I uttered a single, ugly statement. I quickly got back on track, but it was too late. An impressionable girl standing nearby had obviously heard my unkind statement. I apologized, but the damage was done. The way that girl sees me has been changed forever by one thoughtless statement.
If left unchecked, our tongues will wreck us! It is essential that we are practicing the discipline of controlling our speech and asking the Holy Spirit to supernaturally guide our words. There is more at stake than we realize.
Not only do we need to control our tongue around other people, we also need to control it in prayer! Remember that a person cannot actively listen and talk at the same time, yet most of us spend the majority of our prayer time talking to God. When we do this, we can’t possibly also listen to the things He wants to tell us.
Today, ask God to help you control your tongue around other people, but also ask His help in becoming a prayer warrior who recognizes prayer as a conversation and actively listens for God’s still, small voice during times of prayer and solitude.