There are some characters in the Bible who probably should have kept quiet, as their words made claims that they ended up having to pay for.
- Joseph had a couple of prophetic dreams about his brothers (including one that also included the prophecy that his parents would bow down to him). Whether he didn’t understand these dreams, was too young to know better, or was just a brat, he ended up getting the rest of his family angry with him by talking about these dreams. (See Genesis 37:5-11.)
- Peter correctly identified who Jesus was (Matthew 16:15-19), but then struck out on what Jesus’ mission was (Matthew 16:21-23).
- Jephthah promised to sacrifice the first thing that came out of the door of his house, if he received a military victory. He promised this without thinking, and didn’t anticipate that this would end up being his daughter. (See Judges 11:30-35.)
The author of Proverbs 10:19 sums up the kind of wisdom that was not demonstrated in each of these cases:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Proverbs 10:19 NASB
And, like the wisdom throughout Proverbs (see also Proverbs 29:20), that is good advice for us, too. A mentor at work once told me how he would line up M&M’s on the conference table in a meeting, and eat one every time he could have said something, but held his tongue.
Thanks to that advice, I have since learned to recognize (in those rare clearheaded moments) when to not immediately say the first thing that pops in my mind. While I’m still an amateur at this, I think that I’m better at it when I’m at work, compared to when I’m with my kids. (Call this room for improvement.)
Instead of blurting out (without thinking) whatever comes to mind , we are called upon to live a life of more listening and relative calm. See what James said in the first part of his letter:
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
James 1:19-20 NASB
Flying off the handle before we hear all of the facts leads to alienating others and often results in our looking foolish, too.
In the book of Job, three of his friends have been much maligned for their accusations against Job. However, in Job 2:11-13, they start out with a kind act: they came to visit Job and sat with him in silence for seven days. (Perhaps they should have stopped there?)
A friend who is hurting doesn’t always need us to tell them that, “everything will be OK”, or that, “it will all work out”. Sometimes, we just need to provide some silent company. I admire the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, where friends will visit the family of a recently deceased person, and may not even talk unless the person in mourning initiates a conversation. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_(Judaism).)
As one who personally likes to talk a lot, and usually wants to explain away or fix problems, this isn’t easy for me. But, in light of both the bad examples and the good examples that we find in the Bible (and around us, since people are still people), sometimes one more word will ruin the moment. I encourage each of us to support those around us by appropriately-timed silence (and an extra share of listening) today.
However, just to be clear, this is not an excuse to keep silent when it is incumbent upon us to speak up. We must still be bold to speak the truth. In addition to being willing, we should be ready, in the manner that Peter described:
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
1 Peter 3:14-16 NASB
Note Peter’s instructions: that when we do speak, we must be kind. The value of our words diminishes if we are speaking them with unrighteous anger. Just as silence and listening is considerate, what we choose to say should come from the same kindness and respect for the other person.
So, be prepared to tell your story – your testimony – about what Jesus means to you, but don’t bludgeon people with it. Sometimes, the best help we can provide is to listen for a while, think before we speak, and then – in some cases – still remain silent.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
7 thoughts on “The Most Excellent Ministry of Knowing When to Keep Our Mouths Shut”
Through I only got a glimpse of it while driving west on John Deere Expressway today, I saw a church sign that said something like, “There are 2 parts to wisdom, 1) having lots of good things to say, and 2) not saying them.”
As for Joseph telling his family of his dreams, if he hadn’t, it would not have been in their memories when he revealed himself to them as 2nd man in Egypt. Though not specified in the Bible, I’m sure at least some of them remembered him telling his dreams those decades before. Also, the power of their prophetic nature and God’s faithfulness, would have been lost or greatly diminished for his family, and for us.
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Thank you for your insights. I think that church sign made its point well. I like that this point was made where it was visible to the public, because we all need reminders, especially when we’re tempted to say something about other drivers!
As for Joseph, I agree that God used his dreams prophetically. Without more context in Genesis, I’m not certain whether or not it was wise of Joseph to share those dreams with siblings who were already unhappy with him; however, in any case, God can certainly use both good choices and bad for His plan. May we listen to God’s guidance to make the correct choice each time – whether to speak, or whether to remain silent.