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A Time to Keep Silence And a Time to Speak
Gipsy Smith's name will be familiar to the older generation.
To younger ones, let me just say that he was an illustrious and powerful British evangelist.
When Gipsy was first saved he became anxious for the conversion of his uncle.
He was reluctant, however, to witness to him because it was not considered proper, among gypsies, for children to address their elders on the subject of religion.
So the boy just prayed and waited for God to open the way.
One day his uncle noticed a hole in the lad's trousers and asked, "Rodney, how is it that you have worn out the knees of your trousers more quickly than the other boys?"
"I have worn them out praying that the Lord would make you a Christian, Uncle," he replied—and then burst into tears.
His uncle uttered not a word, but put his arm around his nephew and drew him to him.
It was not very long after that that both were found bending their knees in prayer to the Savior (Bosch 1976).
You know, that simple story beautifully illuminates our text.
Solomon says, "There is ... a time to keep silence, and a time to speak."
More than 75% of communication between one person and another is "talk."
So speaking is a large part of living.
It is true that we have heard some people described as "all talk and no action."
What is often overlooked is that for many of us, doing is actually speaking.
An executive is "doing" when he is issuing orders.
So the importance of speech cannot be overestimated.
But as we are going to see in this chapter, the disciplined man of God is someone who observes that "there is ... a time to keep silence, and a time to speak."
"If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body" (James 3:2); and again, "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless" (James 1:26).
With such weighty words in mind, we need to think seriously about:
!! The Mastery of the Tongue
Oswald Chambers points out that:
Sometimes it is cowardly to speak, and sometimes it is cowardly to keep silence.
In the Bible the great test of man's character is his tongue (see James 1:26).
The tongue came to its right place only within the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, because He never spoke from ... Himself.
He who was the Wisdom of God Incarnate said, 'The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself ... but from My relationship with the Father.'
We are either too hasty or too slow: either we won't speak at all, or we speak too much, or we speak in the wrong mood.
The thing that makes us speak is the lust to vindicate ourselves.
How different it was with our Lord "who did no sin neither was guile found in his mouth."
You see, "guile has the ingredient of self-vindication in it."
It is the spirit which makes you say, "I'll make him smart for saying that about me!" [but] that spirit was never [found] in Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest achievements of Christian discipline is to know when to keep silent and when to speak, and this involves /the power of controlled speech./
This power is not found in ourselves.
This is why the Bible speaks of the tongue as an untamed member.
Beasts, birds, and reptiles can be tamed, but not the tongue.
Indeed, the Scriptures state categorically that "no man can tame the tongue" (James 3:8).
It goes without saying, then, that the power of controlled speech must be supernatural; and thank God, the Christian can know the secret.
When Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, He can control our tongues by first of all controlling our thoughts and tempers.
The apostle Paul speaks of controlled thoughts when he says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, /bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ/" (2 Cor.
This means, of course, that Jesus must have sovereign control of all that feeds our thought life—what we inculcate in terms of reading and watching, and what we contemplate in terms of speaking and acting.
But the Lord Jesus must also have sovereign control of our tempers.
Thoughts out of control are usually fired by undisciplined tempers.
But thank God, there is an answer to this problem.
When Christ is crowned as undisputed Lord, the Holy Spirit fills our lives, and the Bible tells us that "the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control" (Gal.
I can testify to this power of controlled speech after many years in the Christian ministry.
Time and again, I could have erupted like a volcano, but warned of this imminent danger by the inward radar of the Holy Spirit, I have claimed the self-control of the Spirit—to the glory of God and the good of my fellow man.
So once again I affirm that there is a power of controlled speech; but, day by day, we need to pray, "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips" (Ps.
But this leads us to examine /the purpose of controlled speech./
A moment of reflection will convince any thoughtful person that there are times in life when "silence is golden."
Indeed, speaking for myself, I can say without reservation that some of the most precious experiences of my life have been times when external voices have been stilled by "the silence of eternity, interpreted by love."
Paul S. Rees writes (1963, 23): "Let no man think [that silence is] useless!
Give it a larger and more meaningful place in your soul."
As I see it, there is a twofold purpose in silence.
There is /the reverential silence that we must preserve./
God says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps.
And Habakkuk reminds us, "The Lord is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Hab.
In this connection, Dr. Rees (1963, 23) says that silence is "an aid to /memory./
When we are still, the past comes back to haunt, perhaps to humble, or to make us happy."
David says: "Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still" (Ps.
The Psalmist here "looks back on troubles at the time seemingly unbearable, but troubles that have left him a bigger man, with a richer soul and a finer faith.
Yes, silence is the setting in which memory has its best chance, and does its noblest work" (Rees 1963, 23).
But again, silence is:
a response to /mystery./
Before any mystery [we are to] "stand in awe, and sin not."
Among the mysteries [we should] consider the holiness of God.
Do we stand in awe of his holiness?
"As he who has called you is holy," cries Peter, "so be ye holy in all matters of conduct" [1 Pet.
There is a hushed response that should be evoked by the unsullied holiness that our poor eyes behold in God.
This response is a part of worship, of penitence, of sensitive discipleship.
In the presence of such mysteries how [we need] to be silent!
When no other response is ready, "in silence reflect."
(Rees 1963, 23)
Samuel Chadwick (1934, 25) once said, "The soul needs its silent spaces."
In the rough and tumble of our noisy world, we need to welcome reverential silence to perfect "holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor.
I know this conflicts with the flippant testimonies, empty songs, and sloppy behavior that prevails in the religious world of our day, but we have only to reflect upon the life of our wonderful Lord to see heaven's pattern of reverence and godly fear.
But, then again, there is /the preferential silence that we must observe./
Reverential silence is our response to supernatural encounters, whereas preferential silence is our response to Situational encounters.
No one can read the Scriptures, with any sense of discernment, without noting that there are situations in the church, in the home, and in the world where we need to be silent.
There are times in the church when we need to be silent.
Solomon says, "Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.
Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few" (Eccl.
No doubt James had these words in mind when he exhorted his readers to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19).
We are living in a day of emphasized publicity in matters religious.
Young and old alike are pressured to express themselves and to do their own thing.
Not all of this is bad, but much of it can lead to "the sacrifice of fools."
Before we know it, we have been rash with our mouths and have committed ourselves to vows that we do not intend to keep.
All this points out the need to exercise restraint until we have truly counted the cost and claimed the power to go through with the demands of discipleship.
Then there are times in the home when we need to be silent.
We have all lived long enough to know that often relationships that are /strained/ call for silence.
The Bible says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Prov.
Alas, without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world, many a home has witnessed tragedy because of the violation of this biblical counsel.
Angry words have led to flying bullets or to inevitable divorce.
It is amazing how a "gentle" answer can cool the tempers, clarify the thoughts, and restore common sense.
Paul tells us that "a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all" (2 Tim.
Relationships that are /sad/ call for silence.
When Job passed through his valley of sorrow we read that his friends "sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great" (Job 2:13).
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