The Herald Weekly Vol XVI : 20


The children of Israel trembled at the words of the LORD (Isaiah 66:1-2). It would have been just as wise if they trembled at their own words not because of the weight that their words carried, but because of the judgment with which God would mete out to those who spoke rashly, hastily, and hurtfully. Our Lord Jesus warns: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

We live in an age of incessant talk. Never in human history has the noise of human communication been so loud and overflowing. There is no shortage of speaking in our day. Everyone wants to be heard, and little attention is paid to the content of the words as well as the manner of speaking.

It used to be that when a person wanted to be heard, he had to go to a public place, stand on a soapbox and shout at the top of his lungs. Now, anyone can say anything about anyone else anywhere without revealing his identity. The soapbox is any social network platform.

The anonymity (the speaker hides behind a fictitious user name) and accessibility (he can do it in the privacy of his bedroom) means everyone now has a broadcast platform from which they spew forth on any social, cultural, political, economic, or theological issue, any controversy, any scandal regardless of what they know. And the content has become more vile and vulgar than ever before. Proof? Just listen to the pundits on TV expressing their opinions on some of the controversial issues of our day. The words used and the manner of speaking demean the seriousness of the topic.

And even those who do not like to speak are also affected because we receive and resend – retweet – what others say through our own social media platforms. There are some who look at this and hail it as free speech. One writer describes as the “democratization of public communication.” If you have a smart phone you can tweet or retweet.

Solomon writes: “A fool also is full of words” (Ecclesiastes 10:14). And in our day, there is certainly no shortage of words; hence, there is no shortage of fools.

There are some who believe that more speaking means more knowledge and more wisdom. I beg to differ. The inundation of words does not necessarily equate to more wisdom. On the contrary, I believe that more words (especially from those who speak without any background knowledge) merely adds to the cacophony of foolish comments, biased opinions, and careless speaking. Multiplied words lead to multiplied sins and multiplied sorrows.

The Bible says…
. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
. “The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble” (Proverbs 12:13).
. “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health” (Proverbs 12:18).

A Time to Be Silent

Christians would do well to pay attention to what Solomon says about speaking. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die….A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7). James writes: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).

There is a time to speak. And there is a time to keep silence. And the time to keep silence comes more frequent than we would like. James reminds that we are to be slow to speak. Slow to speak implies that there is a time for silence.

Sometimes we need to be silent so that we can listen carefully. Other times, we need to be silent to digest and think about what we have heard. We need to spend an extended period of time in silent contemplation so that we may have an accurate understanding of an issue before we speak. Solomon tells us that the man who “answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13).

There are also times when we need to be silent because we really have nothing wise to say. There are some people who love the sound of their own voice, who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, and so they espouse their words on every topic under the sun. One wise man was asked why he was silent throughout a heated debate, and he replied, “Because I have sometimes had occasion to regret that I have spoken, never that I was silent.”

There are times when we do not need to speak at all. James says that “the tongue is a fire…and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). The social media of our age has created an environment of rapid fire and counter rapid fire. The world is aflame with warring words. And we do not need to add fuel to the fire by our careless speaking.

We really need to keep silence when God has spoken. John Calvin in his commentary on James 1:19 says, “No one can be a true disciple of God, except he hears him in silence…that we may not, as it commonly happens, unseasonably interrupt God, and that as long as He opens His sacred mouth, we may open to Him our hearts and our ears, and not prevent Him to speak.”

A Time to Speak

However, Christians must not always keep silent. There are times when we must speak, and there are things we must speak about. When we do, our words and the manner of our speaking must be right, truthful and honouring to God.

There will be times we really want to speak and we should not; just as there will be times we really do not want to speak but we should. What will help us discern between the two is have God governing our hearts and mind. David prays, “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; Keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). But he precedes that with the best kind of speaking – praying. David writes, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Our speaking will be right when our hearts are right.

Rev Isaac Ong
Calvary B-P Church, Weekly, 11 Mar 2018

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