The sacrifice of silence

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth…a time to keep silent, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7 NET).

There is just so much noise. Twenty-four-hour news channels, talk radio, and social media provide a ceaseless surge of sound. Unfortunate news is twisted, amplified, and replayed into an unremitting feedback loop. To add to the noise seems almost like pouring a cup of water into the Pacific. I long for silence.

In the midst of all that noise, there are moments of deafening silence. There are occasions when voices must rise and cut through the clamor, speaking with clarity, conviction, and compassion.

When should we speak and when should we be silent?

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).

People like to talk. We all believe our opinions are correct, else we would have different ones. Furthermore, we generally feel like others should share our opinions. After all, they are the correct ones.

It seems most people only listen to speak, not to understand. We all want to contribute to the conversation, so we either anxiously wait for our time to speak, or we lift our voice and make it our time. Rarely do we actually hear the person. In this regard we are quick to speak.

Our personal experiences are naturally limited. Wisdom demands listening to others to understand.

In this way, silence is a sacrifice of our desire to be heard. It is a sacrifice of our pride. We willingly sacrifice our voice, so that others may be heard, and that we may learn.

Job’s three friends sat with him in silence for seven days and nights. The only sound they shared was weeping as a greeting (Job 2:11-13).

But there is a time to speak.

When told to be silent about Jesus, Peter and John responded, “for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They had a mandate from God to share the objective truth about the Christ.

Speaking the truth will cause some to be offended. Jews accused Stephen of “speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God” (Acts 6:11). Speaking the truth cost Stephen his life. Being silent would have cost him much more.

Paul was compelled to preach the gospel, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (2 Corinthians 9:16). Paul was imprisoned, beaten, and stoned, and still he spoke. He was the target of spiteful slanders, and still he spoke. His life was threatened, and still he spoke.

When it is time to speak, silence is a sacrifice of principle, character, and dignity. Silence, in moments where speech is demanded, costs us far more than we should want to pay.

When should we speak and when should we be silent?

Scripture and wisdom should dictate what our duty is in each situation.¬†As Job’s friends demonstrated, silence is always preferable to speaking foolishly. Keep silent and learn. As our Lord and his servants demonstrated, the truth must be spoken. Speak it with love and grace, but speak it you must.

Perhaps this rule of thumb will help. If it is your opinion or your experience, hold on to it longer than you would like, and listen longer than you desire. If it is a word from the Lord, speak it as you would want to hear it, undiluted and with as much love and grace as you can offer. If you do this, you will neither sacrifice your character, nor the dignity of the one with whom you are speaking.

A man who exemplified this wisdom of silence and speaking was Stan Mitchell. Read his book, Reality Check.

2 Replies to “The sacrifice of silence”

  1. Great thoughts! You expressed them well. I have enjoyed your insights, clarity of expression and writing style.

    I think you meant to write: When should we speak and when should we be silent?

    1. Thank you very much, brother. That is very encouraging. I have appreciated your writings for years.

      Indeed I did. Thank you! Amazing what one’s eyes can pass over multiple times when one knows what it is supposed to say.

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