Why, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:…
The Word of truth being within our reach, as the means of conveying to us the great gift of regeneration, it is most important that we cultivate those dispositions which are most favorable to the realization of its saving power. These three verses accordingly contain four counsels, each of which touches a deeper part of our nature than the one preceding. If we would rightly "receive" the Word, we must have -
I. A QUICK EAR. "Swift to hear." This precept refers to the acquisition of religious knowledge, whether in connection with reading or hearing. We should be careful as to the entire matter of our reading, making the staple of it not fugitive literature, far less frivolous books, but such as are solid and improving. For directly spiritual instruction we should go seldomer to books about the Bible, and oftener straight to the Word of God itself, that we may hear him speaking in it. We should also be "swift to hear" the oral proclamation of the gospel. "Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). His word appeals to the heart more powerfully when spoken by a living earnest man, than when it is read even from the written page of Scripture. We should, therefore, embrace every opportunity of hearing in the sanctuary, and be attentive and teachable, and follow up our hearing with reflection and obedience.
II. A CAUTIOUS TONGUE. "Slow to speak." This exhortation naturally follows the preceding, for the man who is exceedingly fond of hearing himself speak will never be a ready listener. The precept is good for common use in the conduct of our life; but its specific reference in this passage is to caution in the declaration of "the Word of truth." While we are under a sacred obligation to "exhort one another day by day" (Hebrews 3:13), and to "speak often one to another" (Malachi 3:16), we are to be "slow to speak" in the sense of weighing well our words, and of realizing the responsibility which attaches to them. Ministers should preach only what they have carefully thought out; and they should beware of publishing crude speculations on theological subjects. It is right, too, that candidates for the ministry should be required to undergo a lengthened curriculum of training before they are entrusted with the continuous instruction of a congregation (James 3:1, 2; 1 Timothy 3:6).
III. A CALM TEMPER. "Slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (vers. 19, 20). Much speaking tempts to passionate speaking; every one knows what is meant by "the heat of debate." At all times we ought to be "slow to wrath:" to cultivate such a spirit is an important part of the imitation of God. But we should particularly guard against irritation of temper at Church-meetings, and in conversation or conference upon religious subjects. The clergyman must labor to avoid the odium theologicum. The preacher must threaten and warn only in love and tenderness. The hearer must not listen in a captious spirit, or quarrel with the truth when it comes to him in practical form. For an angry heart will destroy edification (ver. 20). Scolding from the pulpit will not "work the righteousness of God" in the hearts of the hearers; and, on the other hand, resentful feelings against the preacher can only hinder regeneration and sanctification.
IV. A PURE HEART. (Ver. 21.) If "the Word of truth" is to sanctify and save, it must be received in a docile, humble, tractable spirit; and this involves the "putting away" of all malice and impurity. Hasty and passionate speech is just a foul overflow from the deep depravity of the heart; and, if we would prevent the overflow, we must cleanse out the dark pool of corruption itself. If we put away the "filthiness" of the heart by a gracious process of earnest renunciation, that filthiness will no longer soil the tongue or spoil the temper. Those who cultivate the quick ear and the cautious tongue and the calm temper, in connection with the purifying of the heart, prepare themselves as good soil for "the implanted Word" (Luke 8:15). The grandest joy of life is to have the scion of the Word so "implanted" that it shall prove itself to be the power of God to the soul's salvation, by working out visibly in the life "the righteousness of God." And the teaching of this passage, is that if a man would attain that blessing, his own will must co-operate with the grace of God and the power of "the Word of truth." - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: