Quiet - Usually Right, But Not Always

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, May 23, 2013 0 comments

If you are familiar with the Bible at all, or even if you happen to like music from the 1960s, you’ve probably heard before that there is a time or a season for everything. The oft-quoted passage of the Bible where this concept is declared is found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The wise teacher, whom many believe was Solomon, wrote that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (v. 1). He went on to join together 14 different couples of opposite activities to demonstrate his point, including “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (v. 7). In addition to the Bible passage, there is also a hit song from 1965 by The Byrds called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The lyrics to the song are almost completely taken from Ecclesiastes 3. So, the idea that different circumstances call for different (and sometimes opposite) actions is a part of both God’s Word and popular culture.

So the question for us this week, relevant to the Ecclesiastes passage and our word of the week, is how in the world do we determine when it is right to speak, and when it is right to be quiet? Well, I can assure you that Scripture has a lot to say about this question. Let me start with pointing out what it has to say about when we should be quiet, which by the way is just about all of the time! I told you that the writer of Ecclesiastes was a wise teacher who many believe was King Solomon. Well, there is another book in the Bible that we know for certain was at least partially-written by Solomon – the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 10:19, he writes that “when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise”. In other words, it’s hard to talk a lot without sinning, so it’s better to keep your mouth shut as much as possible!

James, the brother of Jesus, also recognizes the danger in everyone talking too much. He writes to the early Christians, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). These followers of Christ were facing intense persecution and were struggling to persevere. Like with us anytime we face difficult trials, anger, complaining, and a failure to listen to God’s promises threatened the believers. James urged them to resist the temptation to verbally communicate their anger, and to instead choose to spend time listening. This intentional silence in the face of persecution would model that of their Savior, who was submissive to his oppressors out of obedience to the Father. “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7b). If Jesus, the only One who ever did have a true defense, did not defend himself with words, why do we feel like we should or even can?

Despite the overwhelming evidence showing us that we should mostly be quiet, there is at least one occasion when silence is not the right thing in God’s eyes. I’ve always been drawn to the life and words of Jeremiah, who was also known as the “Weeping Prophet” in the Old Testament. From before he was even formed in his mother’s womb, God had called him to be set apart as a “prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). God assures Jeremiah over and over again that He will protect him and that Jeremiah is the chosen instrument to warn the people of Judah of the coming judgment because of their sins. Imagine if you were in Jeremiah’s shoes. The amount of rejection you would face would make you consider ignoring God’s call on your life and choosing silence instead. But God warned Jeremiah what would happen if he let his fear keep him from speaking all that God would command him. “Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them” (Jeremiah 1:17b).

Jeremiah would grow to be a faithful prophet, but at great personal cost. He was beaten, imprisoned, and thrown into a cistern by his own people. In a moment of reflection on his situation, Jeremiah talks about how he feels the Lord has overpowered him and persuaded him to speak the things he has spoken, and how it has brought him nothing but ridicule, insult, and reproach (Jeremiah 20:7-8). Nevertheless, the rest of his reflection shows that he has understood why he cannot and should not keep quiet. “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (20:9).

So, in testing Scripture with Scripture, it would appear that there is sufficient evidence to believe that there are indeed “a time to be silent and a time to speak”. If you’re still wondering how to tell the two times apart, it’s actually quite simple. If you are speaking words that you know have come from God, which can be done by anyone and not just those who have received a seminary education, DO NOT KEEP SILENT! Speak with boldness, humility, clarity, gentleness, respect, and love. Even asking questions that have to do with God is okay, because God invites us to get to know Him. Other than that, we should pretty much keep our mouths shut until God gives us something worth saying.