A time to keep silent and a time to speak

Ecclesiastes 3:1-7 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak”

One of the greatest needs for wisdom that any human being faces regards the issue stated in the passage above.  In these words of wisdom from the pen of Solomon we are told that there is both a time to keep silence and a time to speak.  Throughout the Scriptures we are given examples of both.  During Job’s great times of suffering, he had three friends that came to show him sympathy and comfort him.  We are told that “when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:12-13).”  This was a good thing. Then they opened their mouths and things quickly went downhill.  They thought they knew things that they did not and, unfortunately, they were all too happy to talk about it, to Job’s detriment. 

What a lesson for us when we have friends that face great difficulty.  Often, it’s a time to just be there for them.  Sometimes words are not necessary. Our presence is enough.  It’s at such times, when we just don’t know what to say, that that is perfectly ok and probably better than if we should speak. 

But then there are times when we need to speak, when we can be tempted to keep silent, when we should not.  Again, we have a wonderful example from the Scriptures. In the account of Esther, a Jew who had, by God’s providence, become queen in the Persian empire.  It was during this time that Esther became aware of a sinister plot by a high government official named Haman to deceive King Ahasuerus into destroying the Jews who lived in exile in his kingdom.  When Esther’s cousin, Mordecai (who had adopted Esther and raised her as his own daughter) learned of this plot, he went to Esther and asked that she go to the king and expose the plot. However, to do so required great courage, for in that society, if someone were to go into the king’s inner court without being invited by him, they could be put to death.  Despite this threat, Mordecai knew that Esther was the only one who had the potential ability to turn the king’s heart.  Thus, Mordecai pleaded with Esther with these words: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this (Esther 4:13-14).”  So, Esther did go to the king, at the risk of her own life, and the Jews were spared because of her actions. 

So, with each and every one of us, there is a great need for wisdom in knowing when to keep silent and when to speak.  So often we can be tempted to speak foolishly with angry words in a reaction to an offense. We can be quick to speak when it would be much better to refrain. Sometimes we can be tempted to share our opinions about politics, as one example, and in so doing damage relationships rather than build others up in love as our Lord so clearly taught. 

But then we can be negligent in speaking words of encouragement when the opportunities come, or sharing the gospel with a friend or neighbor when God has clearly put us in the position to speak words that, like in the case of Esther, can be critical in saving their lives (but in our case, it’s a salvation for all eternity).

May God help us to recognize that there is a time to keep silent as well as a time to speak, and may He give us the wisdom to know the difference.

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