A Time to Keep Silence
Sometimes, silence is golden.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven... a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7)
Over the past few years, I've become very passionate about how silence can be complicity. It depends on the situation, but silence can be complicity in the face of injustice that we could speak out against or act against. This is definitely a time to speak. It's surprising, then, that I find myself writing about the flip side of the coin today: there is a time to keep silence.
When Regarded by People
Being regarded by people can be tricky. While it is not our aim to please them (Galatians 1:10), it's not necessarily bad when they are pleased with us. Sometimes it's a good sign if we lack honor among them (Mark 6:4) while other times God honors us through them (1 Peter 5:6). We don't seek to court or flaunt the honor of people, but sometimes it's okay to accept the honor they express toward us. A simple "thank you" will usually suffice. This praise also tests us (Proverbs 27:21). With all gentleness and respect, we reserve the highest honor in our hearts for Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
When we are dishonored, accused, or mocked--especially publicly--we can look to Jesus as a beautiful example of silence in the face of these words (Isaiah 53:7). We can silently entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19).
When Regarding People
Some of my favorite times to remain silent are when people criticize or unrighteously judge others, expecting me to agree with them and reinforce their sense of superiority. They want me to join them in throwing stones (John 8:7), to collude with them in the blind notion that they are different from those they condemn. There but for the grace of God go all of us. I want to have the same "face" behind someone's back that I have when they are in front of me - including when others talk to me about them. How do we love the people who are not in the room with us? This probably speaks much more about our character than how we treat people to their face.
Let me seek to understand someone else before I seek to be understood (Proverbs 11:12), even if it means I am never understood. Let me build others up in love (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11) without laying a trap of flattery (Proverbs 29:5). Humility leads us to regard others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4), whereas pride leads us to one-up them or put them down, to our own shame.
When Indignant Every Day
On the surface of things, it doesn't seem very spiritual to be angry. However, righteous anger is a very important part of God's heart. Because He is perfect and we are not, He feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11). Notice that I'm referring to righteous indignation, not unrighteous or self-righteous indignation. Think about it: if someone runs over your foot with their car on purpose, and your friend pays witness to it, wouldn't some part of you want your friend to be angry about it? Wouldn't it be messed up for your friend to be unmoved by that? God is not unmoved or indifferent - quite the opposite. His anger burns against the evil in this world that hurts the people whom He loves (namely, all people - not just you and me). Knowing and loving God also means that our anger will burn against evil, and we will grieve over the wounds of people (Jeremiah 8:21-22). This burning and grieving can happen in daily interactions with people or in massive, world-sized situations of injustice.
When God is on the Cusp
When God is unpacking something in a person's life, sometimes they vocalize it (or the opposite of it) in a way that sounds offensive to the people around them. It's kind of like watching a young child offer up their very best protestations when their parent is trying to brush their teeth. There are times when God is growing somebody or touching something in their life, and they need space to experience it; my jumping in could be an interruption, even and perhaps especially when I have the urge to dazzle them with little golden nuggets of wisdom that I learned years ago. This is an excellent time to keep silence. Certainly there are times when courage means that I will voice disagreement or guidance, with gentleness and respect, for the building up of that person or the people involved. However, there are times when courage and love require that I hold my tongue, as an active trust in what God is up to behind the scenes.
When Wonders Are Coming
On a much bigger scale, I tend to quiet myself when God is preparing to act. It's like the silence before the storm; I want to be overwhelmed in witnessing what happens next. His Spirit still hovers when He is preparing to bring light and separate it from the darkness (Genesis 1:1-4). When there are wonders coming, we can consecrate ourselves - set ourselves apart, dedicate ourselves - ahead of time in preparation (Joshua 3:5). The battle is His and He fights for us while we remain silent (Exodus 14:14-15). When that silence is broken by His victory cry, we will be overwhelmed by the depth of His love and song over us (Psalm 42:7-8).