When You Do Not Know When To Keep Silent

Harold Sala

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven
Ecclesiastes 3:1

The air was hot and heavy as the temperature and the humidity hovered around the 100° mark. A young politician, longer on rhetoric than good sense, droned on and on, wiping beads of perspiration from his forehead as he jabbed the air with his handkerchief to accent his point.

Finally he raised his voice to an unprecedented pitch and said, “I speak not for this generation but for generations to come.” Taking it no longer, an expectant mother jumped to her feet and headed for the door replying, “Yes, and if you do not finish your speech real soon, the next generation will be here before you’re done.”

There is something to be said for brevity. In 136 Hebrew words, God gave the 10 commandments. In fewer than 1,000 words you can have the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Hippocratic oath, a sonnet by Shakespeare, the Preamble to the United States Constitution, the Boy Scout Oath, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Quite a contrast to the fact that the average person lets more than 18,000 words fall from his lips every day.

In my file is a brief poem sent to me by an anonymous friend who wrote the words of a prayer that could perhaps well be prayed by a great many. Yes, men and women alike. The friend penned these words, “O Lord, keep me from being too talkative. Spare me from thinking I have to express my opinion on every topic that comes up. Help me not to think I can solve everyone else’s problems. Let me be helpful, not bossy. I have so much wisdom and experience it seems a shame not to share it-‑but you know, Lord, I need a few friends left too. Amen and Amen.”

“There is…a time to keep silence and a time to speak,” wrote the author of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, and knowing the difference distinguishes one who possesses real wisdom from one who does not. Knowing when to offer advice and counsel and when to keep your mouth shut is a talent that could well be sought after by more people. God gave us the gift of listening as well as the gift of speaking. There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.

A letter that was penned by a friend who spoke for so many when she wrote, “I am one of those who cannot control myself when it comes to saying what is true to a person. There are times that I am brutally frank. I know the truth is bitter, but my greatest defect is to tell the person what wrong he has done which he ought not to do. Is it unchristian?”

If you find that it is easy to give unsolicited advice, ask yourself a few questions. Do you know when you are wrong? Or do you have to be told by others? Do you appreciate advice or counsel when you do not ask for it? How do you respond when others tell you what you already know? And you have answered your own questions.

To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “Speak the truth in love,” and it is the last phrase, “in love,” that demands we learn when to remain silent. All that you say may be true, but when it is not spoken in love, save your breath and the feelings of another. Remember before you speak, you are the master of your words; but once you have spoken, they become master of you. “By your words,” said Christ, “you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Yes, Lord, help us to learn that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent, and to know when to do each.