“A Time to Keep Quiet and a Time to Speak”
HOW many times have you lamented, “I wish I had not said that”? Yet, you may remember other occasions when you failed to speak out. In retrospect, you may have thought, ‘I wish I had said something.’
The Bible says that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Here, then, lies the problem—deciding when to speak and when to keep quiet. Our imperfect human nature frequently impels us to do and say things at the wrong time. (Romans 7:19) How can we control our unruly tongue?—James 3:2.
Ways to Tame the Tongue
To help us decide when to speak and when to remain silent, we do not need a long list designed to cover every possible situation. Rather, we need to be guided by qualities that are an intrinsic part of the Christian personality. What are these qualities?
Jesus Christ explained that love is the principal quality motivating his disciples. “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves,” he said. (John 13:35) The more we display such brotherly love, the better we will control our tongue.
Two related qualities will also help enormously. One of these is humility. It enables us to ‘consider others superior to ourselves.’ (Philippians 2:3) The other is mildness, which keeps us “restrained under evil.” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25) In Jesus Christ we have a perfect example of how these qualities should be exercised.
Since it is more difficult to control our tongue when we are under pressure, let us consider the night before Jesus’ death—a time when he was “sorely troubled.” (Matthew 26:37, 38) It is not surprising that Jesus felt this way, since the eternal future of all mankind depended on his remaining faithful to God.—Romans 5:19-21.
This certainly was a time for Jesus to speak to his heavenly Father. He therefore went off to pray, asking three of his disciples to keep on the watch. After some time he came and found them sleeping. At that he said to Peter: “Could you men not so much as watch one hour with me?” This loving reproof was accompanied by words that showed an understanding of their weaknesses. He said: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.” Later, Jesus again came and found the disciples asleep. He spoke to them kindly and “went off and prayed for the third time.”—Matthew 26:36-44.
When Jesus found the disciples sleeping a third time, he was not harsh but said: “At such a time as this you are sleeping and taking your rest! Look! The hour has drawn near for the Son of man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Matthew 26:45) Only someone with a heart full of love, with a truly mild and humble disposition, could have used the tongue in that way at such a difficult time.—Matthew 11:29; John 13:1.
Soon thereafter, Jesus was arrested and put on trial. Here we learn that at times it is best to keep quiet, even when engaging in our Christian ministry. Intent on framing Jesus, the chief priests had no interest whatsoever in learning the truth. So in this volatile atmosphere, Jesus remained silent.—Compare Matthew 7:6.
Jesus did not remain silent, however, when the high priest demanded: “By the living God I put you under oath to tell us whether you are the Christ the Son of God!” (Matthew 26:63) Since Jesus had been put under oath, it was time for him to speak. He therefore replied: “You yourself said it. Yet I say to you men, From henceforth you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”—Matthew 26:64.
During that momentous day, Jesus exercised perfect control of his tongue. In his case, love, mildness, and humility were innate parts of his personality. How can we use these qualities to control our tongue when we are under pressure?
Controlling the Tongue When Angry
When we get angry, we often lose control of our tongue. For example, Paul and Barnabas once had a difference of opinion. “Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark. But Paul did not think it proper to be taking this one along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other.”—Acts 15:37-39.
Michael,* who for some years has worked on construction projects, relates: “There was a person on the building site whom I knew well and respected. But he seemed to be constantly finding fault with my work. I felt hurt and irritated but kept my feelings to myself. One day things came to a head when he criticized a job I had just done.
“I gave vent to all my pent-up feelings. In the heat of the moment, I was oblivious to the bad impression this must have made on all those around us. For the rest of the day, I did not want to talk to him or even see him. I realize now that I didn’t handle the problem properly. It would have been much better to have kept quiet and spoken when I had cooled down.”
Happily, Christian love prompted these two individuals to resolve their differences. Michael explains: “After some frank communication, we understood each other better, and we now have a strong friendship.”
As Michael learned, if we find ourselves angry, it is sometimes wise to keep quiet. “A man of discernment is cool of spirit,” says Proverbs 17:27. Discernment and brotherly love will help us control our urge to blurt out what is hurtful. If we have been offended, let us speak to the other person alone in a mild and humble spirit, with a view to restoring peace. What if an outburst of anger has already occurred? Then love will move us to swallow our pride and humbly seek to make amends. This is a time to speak, to express regret and heal hurt feelings through sincere communication.—Matthew 5:23, 24.
When Silence Is Not a Solution
Anger or irritation could cause us to give the person who annoys us the silent treatment. This can be very damaging. “During the first year of our marriage, there were occasions when I wouldn’t speak to my husband for several days at a time,” confesses María.* “Usually, it wasn’t due to big problems but, rather, because of an accumulation of small irritations. I kept brooding about all these annoyances until they became a mountainlike obstacle. Then came the moment when I could stand it no longer, and I just stopped talking to my husband until my frustration would pass.”
María adds: “A particular Bible text—‘let the sun not set with you in a provoked state’—helped me readjust my thinking. My husband and I worked hard at improving communication so that problems didn’t build up. It has not been easy, but after ten years of married life, I am happy to say that these periods of stony silence are much rarer. However, I must admit I am still working to control this tendency.”—Ephesians 4:26.
As María discovered, when tensions exist between two people, a breakdown in communication is not a solution. Under those circumstances, resentment is likely to grow, and the relationship may be damaged. Jesus said that we should be ‘quick about settling matters.’ (Matthew 5:25) “A word spoken at the right time” can help us to ‘pursue peace.’—Proverbs 25:11; 1 Peter 3:11.
We also need to speak out when we need help. If we are suffering because of some spiritual problem, we may feel reluctant to burden others. But if we keep quiet, the problem may well get worse. Appointed Christian elders care for us and, if we will let them, are doubtless eager to help. This is a time when we should speak.—James 5:13-16.
“A Time to Speak” About God’s Kingdom
The Christian ministry is a divine commission that must be fulfilled before the end comes. As never before, it is therefore vital that Jehovah’s servants declare the good news of the Kingdom. (Mark 13:10) Like the apostles, true Christians just ‘cannot stop speaking about the things they have seen and heard.’—Acts 4:20.
Of course, not everyone wants to hear the good news. In fact, when sending his disciples out to preach, Jesus advised them to ‘search out those who were deserving.’ Inasmuch as Jehovah never forces anyone to worship him, we would not stubbornly keep on speaking to someone who adamantly rejects the Kingdom message. (Matthew 10:11-14) But we are delighted to speak about Jehovah’s kingship to those “rightly disposed for everlasting life.”—Acts 13:48; Psalm 145:10-13.
Love, mildness, and humility are qualities that can help us to control our imperfect inclination to speak rashly or to lapse into a tense silence. As we grow in these qualities, we will be better equipped to distinguish between the right time and the wrong time to speak.
Not his real name.
Not her real name.
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Problems can be resolved through good communication