July 2, 1996
The husband comes home complaining, “There are people on my committee that never say anything. When we are supposed to brainstorm ideas, they never talk. It drives me crazy.”
His wife replies, “I have the opposite problem. My new boss is a nice person, but I can’t get even a ‘Yes, Sir’ in sideways. Talk! He must have once been an auctioneer.”
The Bible says, “There is a time to speak and a time to be silent....” Don’t we all sometimes find ourselves confused about which is which?
Sometimes people think actions have greater power than words or silence yet when a father tells his children, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” they don’t copy his words but his actions.
Learning how to behave properly includes learning how to keep one’s tongue. Simple silence can prevent many problems. Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.” Another proverb adds, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Proverbs 17:27-28).
A wise person is one who says the right thing at the right time. As one lady put it, “My grandfather was one of those people who did not talk very much, but when he did, everyone turned their head to listen.
Certainly Jesus Christ was not a person to mince words yet whatever He said showed His great wisdom. When He spoke, people not only turned to listen but came in droves to hear Him.
Jesus was also the only person with perfect knowledge of when to speak and when to be quiet. During the last days of His life on earth, as He was taken before the men who would eventually order Him crucified, He choose silence. As Isaiah 53 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth.”
The silence of Jesus was not a sign of ignorance or weakness. Because He was the Son of God, He could have opened His mouth and ordered legions of angels to rescue Him. He could have defended both His character and His innocence with great eloquence. Instead, He said nothing, perhaps because He considered His life purpose. As God’s Son, He came, “not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
In that case, what would be the point of self-defense? His accusers had seen Him do miracle after miracle and still didn’t believe He was anything but an ordinary man. One more sermon would not convince them nor would any effort to verbally justify Himself. Even if speaking would change their minds, in light of what He came to do, the only option He had was silence. Because He choose this, sinners can choose life.
For those who do, silence is often more powerful than words. Peter wrote that Christians needed to trust God and submit to the rules of people in power. He explained in 2:15, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” Later on, he adds a note to wives of husbands that are in rebellion against God. He exhorts them to live such gracious, trusting lives that their husbands may be won over, without a word!” (Italics mine)
Learning when to speak and when to be quiet is one of life’s toughest lessons. My father loves to talk but also knows when to keep his tongue. It seems he learned this lesson from eighty-seven years of experience but then again, maybe he also read the Bible — his favorite expression mirrors Proverbs 17:28, “Better to be quiet and thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”