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Swift to Hear
Some people are known to be good listeners. These people understand how to lend an ear in time of need. Friends always flock to these "good listeners," but there never seems to be enough of their ears to go around. They know just when to listen carefully, bridle their tongue and provide a sounding board, while another person unloads problems or just talks. Are you a good listener? Are you quick to counter with objections, speedy with your retort? Does your tongue fly with lightening speed in your own personal defense? In short, is your tongue or your ear in charge of your personal communications? "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 11:15).

by Jerry Gentry

"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell" (Jam 3:6).

"For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind" (v. 7).

"But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (v. 8).

How we speak and how we hear, together, measure the depth of our Christian life message. What we say and how we listen rate even above our actions. When we sin against a brother or sister, do we say, "I am sorry. Please forgive me?" Or do we justify ourselves? Where the rubber meets the road in the walk and talk of every day Christian life is found in what we say and how we listen. Do we support or criticize others? The Bible commands, "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" (Jam 1:19-20).

"Swift to hear, slow to speak."

Christian, is your tongue or your ear in charge of your oral communications? If your tongue is in charge, then you are not a good listener. Have you ever been party to a tongue "set on fire of hell?" When you have learned to listen well in the heat of personal confrontation, and bridle your own tongue, only then have you become swift to hear.

Are you a person who is always "right in his own eyes" (Prov. 12:15), ready to defend yourself and your ideas, at the drop of a hat? Yes? Then you are "a fool." (v. 15). Do you always know for sure whereof you speak? Do you never lose an argument? Do you think you would have made a good lawyer? Can you argue with the best in adversarial verbal combat? Then is your tongue in charge of your personal communications? If so, then your personal "tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity," the Bible says.

What will you say? How will you hear and give answer?

The Psalmist says: "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue" (Ps. 39:3). Note that the Psalmist quiets himself and "muses," or thinks during the heated situation, before saying a word. Why? Because "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me" (v. 1). Only after quiet meditation does he then speak and give the following evidence of his converted heart:

"LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am" (v. 4). Note his focus is not on proving he is right, and his adversary wrong, but on understanding his personal frailty. When you get into a heated discussion, even an argument, what is your frame of mind? Do you usually conclude that the other person is wrong and you are right? Then your unruly tongue is in charge. Your hearing is defective. Otherwise, you will conclude, with the Psalmist:

"Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah" (v. 5). Yes, brother and sister, you and I personally are even at best "altogether vanity." It is a sad fact that many Christians never realize, never confess. Though they go to church and do many good works, their talk betrays their heart of unconversion and self justification.

The Bible says, "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips" (Prov. 27:2).

We are taught, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (1Cor. 10:24). Did you ever consider that every time you win an argument, someone else loses? Have you failed to "seek. . . every man another's wealth," and not just your own? Have you failed to be sensitive to the needs and shortcomings of others? How can you possibly win an argument, while seeking "every man another's wealth?" It would be impossible.

The Bible instructs: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Phil. 2:4).

How do we do this? We must become sensitive to the spiritual and physical well being of others. We must learn the lesson of meekness. We must learn how to restore. Our adversarial sin nature must be ruled over. Will you confess that your own precious tongue is out of control, "a world of iniquity," "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison," so bad that "no man [can] tame?" Then you will confess personal yieldedness to God and His work in you as the only way to put out the fire of your raging, unruly tongue.

"He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Prov. 25:28). What is the state of your defenses? Are your walls crumbled and broken down? How do you build up your walls of personal preservation?

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal 6:1).

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (v. 2).

"For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (v. 3).

Are you something? Or are you really nothing? Remember,"Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity" (Ps. 39:5).

If you will be honest, you will admit how true it is that "They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12). And how is it that we usually are "gone out of the way" and "are together become unprofitable?" It is through how we hear and how we speak.

Yes, "the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! " (James 3:5).

Are you personally "swift to hear, slow to speak?"

Then you are a good listener. Do you answer back in personal repartee when confronted with your faults? Then your tongue is a raging "fire, a world of iniquity" and "full of deadly poison." How can you bridle your tongue and learn to be swift to hear?

Let's say there is one person on earth whom you cherish above all others. You would lay down your life for this person in a minute, you love him or her so much. How do you speak to such a person, whether child or adult? Above all you hold this special person's well being to heart. How you listen and speak to such a person is the way you should treat everyone, even those who would test you. It is only by such converted treatment that we learn to "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). The Bible says, "But speaking the truth in love, [that we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:15).

"Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity" (Isa. 58:9).

How do you speak vanity? Simple. Vain words are everywhere spoken. They come forth from the tongue, when men and women propose answers not grounded in the word of God. We are warned against paying much attention to such words.

"Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6).

You see, "vain words" bring on "the wrath of God." "Vain words" are the product of an unbridled, disobedient tongue, of "speaking vanity," which shows up together with the long, pointing finger of accusation.

One fact is sure. "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain" (James 1:26). Until you have learned to rule over your tongue, and be swift to hear, you are living in a state of self deception, no matter your other religious good works. Think about it.

In the early days of Job's great trial, he had not yet learned to be swift to hear. His own tongue was still in charge. To his counselors, he argued: "Ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value. . . Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears" (Job 13:4, 17). He yet had to learn the principle: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him" (Prov. 26:4). He continued for many chapters with multiplied words of self justification.

"Hear diligently my speech," he says, "and let this be your consolations" (Job 21:2).

Yet the Bible warns, "For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God" (Eccl. 5:7), and "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise" (Prov. 10:19).

Yes, the wise servant of God "refraineth his lips " and is swift to hear.

Elihu was correct in his advice to Job on at least one major point: "Hear attentively the noise of his [God's] voice, and the sound that goeth out of his mouth" (Job 37:2).

When we have learned how to be "swift to hear, slow to speak," then a third great lesson follows naturally, which is the greatest lesson of all in bridling our tongue.

What is that third lesson? It is the great lesson of becoming "slow to wrath," which is possible only after the first two lessons&emdash;"swift to hear, slow to speak"&emdash;are firmly in place.

Have you noticed that tempers flare when words are out of control? Have you witnessed that out of control words always spring forth from the tonguel of wrath and anger? Someone has mussed up your comfort zone, tousled with your temper, and rumpled your feathers.

"But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another" (Gal. 5:15). Words of vanity pour forth in a torrent, unless you have bridled your tongue, and learned to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." Only then have you applied the principle: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov. 15:1).

"Swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."

Will you be wise and of an understanding heart? Then you will remember: "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly" (Prov. 14:29).

Yes, brother and sister, learn this lesson today and be swift to hear. You will be amazed at what you will learn through the art of being a good listener, even during the heat of personal confrontation, when you come under personal attack. You will learn just how blind you really are. You will learn of your own personal frailty. You will learn the insignificance of human life, how that "all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away" (1Pet. 1:24).

You will learn how empty you are without God, how that "if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1Cor. 8:2 ). There is always time after the smoke has settled to rejoice, or even answer your critics, if you have been falsely accused and "persecuted for righteousness sake."

Will you work the "the righteousness of God?" Then you will rule your spirit well. You will be "slow to speak, slow to wrath." Once those words of anger and self defense are poured out, they can never be taken back. Will you say with the Psalmist, "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned." If you will bridle your tongue until the heat is past, you will have learned the lesson of being swift to hear.

Christian, learn a lesson in self control and attentiveness. No man can tame an unruly tongue, not even yours. Learn to yield your tongue to God, through quiet self control, through the heat of personal confrontation and attack. Ask God to tame your unruly tongue, lest that tongue be "set on fire of hell" and destroy the very "course of nature." Only God Almighty, through the work of the Holy Spirit, can tame the "unruly evil, full of deadly poison" in every child of God.

Christian, submit your tongue in quiet meditation to God, who alone can tame that unruly evil. Only then will you become swift to hear.

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