Updated: Jun 19, 2020
We see it all the time these days:
Is it, though?
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything, including "a time to be silent and a time to speak" (vs. 7). It has come to my mind recently that Proverbs instructs us to, at times, remain silent. Here is just a small handful of 'wisdom cookies,' as my oldest son calls them:
"He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding." (Proverbs 17:27)
"Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent." (Proverbs 17:28)
"He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps silent." (Proverbs 11:12)
"Whoever watches his mouth and tongue keeps himself from trouble." (Proverbs 21:23)
If Proverbs has any merit (and as the inspired Word of God, it does), then we probably ought to take care to "watch" our mouths and tongues. Silence is not always violence; sometimes, it's the wise thing to do.
"But how do I know when to speak and when to remain silent?" We can (and should) seek the Lord for His wisdom when it comes to making the decision on what to say, how, to whom, in what tone, and when.
James 1:5 is one of my all-time favorite verses because of the hope it gives that even I, with all my very human passions and impulses, can walk in the pure wisdom that comes from God.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."
What is this pure wisdom? James 3:17 gives us the answer:
"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."
Thankfully, this definition comes with a promise for those who bring peace by this wisdom.
"Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:18)
That's what I want: a harvest of righteousness.
There are many these days who claim that if one is righteous, they must speak. There's a strong force in the marketplace of ideas pressing each and every person -- especially every leader -- to make a statement. "Let us all know you agree with us!" the culture demands.
The question it begs: who is the "us" making these demands? As it turns out, there are many "us's," each one sure their narrative is true and their demands the most just.
There is a time when the way one lives is enough to show what one believes. Paul said this,
"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance..." (2 Timothy 3:10)
Why didn't Paul have to make an official statement here in his letter to Timothy? Why no position paper? Why didn't he have to make clear what he really believed and prove himself? Because he already had. His life had already shown who he was and what he was about. He shows us that a statement isn't always necessary, but a life consistent with belief is.
James gives encouragement to not just speak (or not speak) wisdom, but to live it.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." (James 3:13)
When I read this, I am struck by one thing and reminded by another:
What struck me?
That the wise life here is a quiet life. "Deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."
This is interesting to me in a day when the pressure of the culture shouts, "You're not enough unless you do something and do it for all to see!" (We could call that virtue signaling.) Apparently, scripture shows us virtue signaling is not wise. Doing the right thing in humility is.
What am I reminded of?
Jesus' words in Matthew 11.
"But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19b)
The context of the statement is worth noting. Jesus said this on the heels of the recognition of a very serious problem both he and John the Baptist faced which, to be honest, I've identified with lately: the sense that you just can't win.
Here is Jesus' complaint:
"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’" -Jesus (Matthew 11:16-19a)
Have you felt that way? Have you felt that no matter what you do, your intentions are mistaken, your words misconstrued, and your character maligned? It's a terrible feeling -- almost as if you're drowning in a sea of impossibility.
There are so many opinions flying around, so many agendas on the march, and so many voices screaming for attention that the inability to please everybody is inevitable. I've heard complaints from every "side" (of which there happen to be more than two): "I have family members that won't even talked to me! I've lost friends!" Maybe you've said it too.
That's because much of the wisdom flying around these days isn't actually wisdom. Jesus taught this:
"A good man says good things. These come from the good that is stored up in his heart. An evil man says evil things. These come from the evil that is stored up in his heart. A person’s mouth says everything that is in their heart." (Luke 6:45)
Sometimes to speak is to commit violence. James warns us about what happens when we speak that which is not wisdom:
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." (James 3:13-16)
The consequences are real, and the stakes are high. Earthly wisdom leads to "disorder and every evil practice." It is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic."
Oh, be careful little mouth what you say. The tongue can be the most violent weapon in your arsenal.
"the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." (James 3:5)
In this time of inflamed passions, abundant opinions, seemingly irreconcilable division, and downright chaos, let us be the giants who join the psalmist in this prayer:
"May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)
To God be the glory!