It’s time to shift gears at least for a few minutes from the constant 24/7 news coverage regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that is going on around the world right now. So let’s get started….
Back on August 2, 2019, I published a blog post titled, “The Sound of Silence .” The post was regarding a new book that had been published titled, “Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, founder of Key Life Network, host on the radio talk show, “Steve Brown, Etc.”, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a former pastor, and author of over a dozen books. As I was trying to find a project to fill up some of my “stay-at-home” time (also known as “shelter-in-place”) during this coronavirus pandemic, I ran across Steve’s book again and I started rereading it. In the previous blog post mentioned above, I quoted from a couple of chapters including Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,” (Chapter 3).
Picking up where I left off back in August from Chapter 3, I’d like to start off this blog post with the last subsection in that chapter titled “Speaking the Truth in Silence” (pp. 30-31):
Sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking. There are some things Christians cannot say without words, but there are other matters that are only confused by words. My wife, who is a musician, has often said to me that music is the universal language. Sometimes it is best to remain silent and hear the language of music. Just so, sometimes it is best to speak the language of silence.
It is a cliché, but nevertheless there is some truth to believing that Christians are the only Bible unbelievers ever read. However, with due respect to that point of view, let me say that most of us sin so much, betray our principles so often, and fail so obviously in our Christian walk that the message is mixed and muddled.
But what if we remained silent by not defending ourselves? What if we remained silent when others are condemning those whose lifestyles, politics, or religious views are deemed unacceptable? What if we remained silent and refused to be the social, political, and religious critic of every opinion that wasn’t our own? What if we remained silent in the fact of rejection? What if we refused to share the secrets we’ve been told or tell the stories we’ve overheard? What if we remained silent and overlooked the foibles of others? What if we looked at the pain of our neighbor and just loved him or her, instead of trying to fix the unfixable? What if our response to confusion, fear, and guilt was simply, “I know”?
There is a powerful witness in that kind of silence. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 30-31).
Why is it that silence is so hard for us to practice? We live in a culture that is very fast paced (or at least it was before this coronavirus pandemic hit last month) and where everyone has an opinion on just about anything that comes up in the news, on social media, regarding politics and lifestyles, and in everyday conversations with others. Social distancing has limited our everyday conversations with others we used talk with in public settings on a daily basis for the time being, but it hasn’t limited our social media or smartphone interactions. We still have plenty of opportunities to give our opinions to others.
Silence is not highly valued in modern culture. When it comes to communication, it seems that we value quantity above all. And in our digital world it only gets easier to add your own voice to the cacophony. I recently read about a new book that suggests the act of writing is outstripping the act of reading in the digital age.
Whether e-mailing or snapchatting or podcasting or hash-tagging, we live in an age distinguished by noise. Not silence.
Church as Faithful Proclaimer
Of course, speaking is at the center of the Christian vocation as well. There is a range of biblical reasons to speak instead of being silent (e.g. Ps. 32:3; 35:22; 39:2; Jer. 4:19; Mt. 20:31; Lk. 19:40; Acts 18:9). Most importantly, we proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:19-20). Paul asks, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14c).
Yet I want to dwell here on the ways that Scripture counsels God’s people to be silent, and the blessings that come with it.
Five Biblical Reasons to be Silent
Simply put, you can’t obey if you are not silent to listen. This is true on a physical level, but also a spiritual one. Scripture symbolically links our hearts with what comes out of our mouths (Mt. 12:34; Lk. 6:45). To extend the metaphor, only when we silence our heart are we in a place to hear—to receive God’s instruction—and obey.
Moses highlights this idea in one of his final speeches as he underscores Israel’s call to obey all of the Lord’s commandments (Deut. 27:1-10). That requirement is rooted in their identity as God’s people: no longer slaves, but God’s own inheritance (32:9). Moses puts an exclamation point on his speech with the sharp exhortation: “Be silent and hear, O Israel!” (27:9).
So God’s commandments and our obedience are hinged together by spiritual silence before the King. Conversely, disobedience is the uproar of indwelling sin as our heart denies who we are in Christ. This principle holds in a general way not just for God’s people, but all of his creation, including demons (Mk. 1:25//Lk. 4:35).
The silence linked with obedience also manifests self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Obedience and self-control are inseparable, but distinct. On the one hand, lack of silence betrays a lack of self-control that otherwise governs faithfulness (Eccl. 5:2-3). Scripture warns that the wordy fool only gets into trouble and displays his or her ignorance (Eccl. 10:12-14; Prov. 12:23). The pragmatic but biblical solution for someone acting like a fool is self-inflicted silence: “Put your hand on your mouth” (Prov. 30:32).
On the other hand, being silent demonstrates our willingness to wait upon and serve others in love (Gen. 24:21; Job 29:21; Eph. 4:29). Silence is also the catalyst for godly self-reflection amid anger (Ps. 4:4). It attests to our resolve to endure difficulties with hope fixed firmly in the Lord (Lam 3:26-29). Silence also governs our ability to evaluate spiritual instruction carefully (1 Cor. 14:29-30), and interact shrewdly with the world without succumbing to its temptations (Ps. 39:1; Prov. 21:23).
It is possible to worship God in complete silence. One of Scripture’s most beautiful paradoxes is that wordlessness can speak clearly about God’s glory. We honor God when were are in awe of him. We are made in his image and therefore bring him glory in our humble silence, while every other creature is simply mute. Scripture is full of instances of silent awe prompted by wonder before God.
This kind of silence works two ways, both of which can bless God’s people. On the one hand, when Christians come to terms with the depth of sinful grievances committed against a holy God, Paul says that their mouths should rightly “be stopped” (Rom. 3:19). Silence is the only possible response in the face of God’s holiness and the coming judgment (Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 2:12; Mic. 7:16). On the other hand, we ought to be struck silent in light of God’s incredible redemption, worked out in his promised deliverance for his people (Isa. 41:1; cf. Lk. 1:20) and the reconciling work of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:18; 15:12). Silence even in corporate worship, where the church gathers to meet with God, facilitates the reverence that he is rightly due (Hab. 2:20).
As a parallel to wonder in light of God’s salvation, silence is a blessed product of the rest that we have in him. Knowing that God is our God prompts us to “be still” (Ps. 46:10). Even in the face of uncertainty and suffering, the psalmist can say, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation . . . for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:1, 5). Even creation knows its Maker and comes to rest at his command, as when Jesus silences the storm (Mk. 4:39). When Israel faced the Red Sea on one side and Egypt’s army on the other, Moses inconceivably commands Israel to be silent. “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent!” (Ex. 14:13-14). So firm is our hope in God and his salvation that fear may be laid aside, and our silence can demonstrate and encourage rest in him.
Often when we think of wisdom we think of speaking, usually to give counsel. But many times wisdom should prompt just the opposite. Especially in the book of Job, we see the tension between the desire to give counsel and the need to be silent. The multiplication of words by Job’s friends does little to help (6:24; 13:13, 19; 33:31, 33). The high point of wisdom in their counsel comes in 2:13: “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (cf. 13:5).
Silence as a form of wisdom is frequently encouraged in Proverbs, too. It can help wisely avoid transgression (10:19) and manifest respect and understanding (11:12; 17:27). It is part of wise and even-handed interactions (29:11; cf. Amos 5:13). Silence is so powerful that it can even make the fool at least appear wise and intelligent (17:28).
Church as Silent Witness
Being silent is not only part of how we obey and glorify the King (Job 36:10-12). It is also how we bless others as we are lovingly quick to listen and slow to speak (Jam. 1:19). Silence is thus an unspoken virtue: part of the church’s vocation and the Christian’s delight.
Much more could be said on the topic. But now it’s time for practical application. (Quote source here.)
In an article published on November 16, 2016, titled, “Top 7 Bible Verses About Silence,” by Jack Wellman, pastor at Mulvane Brethren Church, and senior writer at What Christians Want To Know, he writes:
Here are seven Bible verses relating to silence.
Proverbs 17:28–“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all than to say something that shows our ignorance, like the many times I’ve spoken too quickly and rather unwisely, so silence can be golden, but even a foolish person is deemed wise by saying few words or by saying nothing at all. It’s better to say nothing than to say something we’ll later regret.
Psalm 46:10–“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The psalmist wrote, “we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:2-3), and even if “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6). All we need to do is to rest in the fact that God is over all things and so we can be still and simply know that He is God, and He “will be exalted among the nations” and “in the earth.” Nothing can prevent that.
Lamentations 3:26–“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Jeremiah’s wise words in Lamentations 3:26 are shown elsewhere in Scripture to be true. Isaiah the Prophet wrote, “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (40:31). By waiting upon the Lord, you’re also waiting for His divine timing.
Psalm 62:5–“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”
David was in dire straits when he wrote Psalm 62. His life was in danger due to his son Absalom’s taking over the throne of Israel. David had to escape but harder still, he had to deal with those who had betrayed him as he wrote they “plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse” (Psalm 62:4), but David didn’t panic as he wrote, “He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6).
Psalm 141:3–“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
Perhaps the psalmist is asking God for a little help in keeping his peace in waiting upon the Lord. He needs to have help in his silence and to keep his hand over his mouth from saying something that he might later regret, or even saying something out of frustration. This is why he prays “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds” (Psalm 141:4).
Proverbs 17:27–“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
I think what Solomon is saying is that if we restrain our words, we have wisdom enough to know when to keep our mouths shut, because with many words comes the chance for saying the wrong thing. Sometimes is just better to say nothing at all, and in the context of this verse, the one “who has a cool spirit” might be a person who knows how to hold their tongue and temper when angered, even when they don’t feel like it.
Isaiah 53:7–“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
This verse is clearly speaking about Jesus during the Passion and when answering all of the false charges brought up against Him. When Jesus didn’t defend Himself and kept silent before the charges when brought to Pontius Pilate, Pilate was amazed and said to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you” (John 19:10), but Jesus said, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11), meaning it was all part of the sovereign plan of God.
I could have also included Habakkuk who wrote, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20) which is a show of holy reverential respect for God, or Revelation 8:1 where the Apostle John wrote, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Rev 8:1), perhaps due to what cataclysmic events were about to shortly take place, but most of these verses deal with how we should trust in God and wait upon Him and to “be still” and know He is God. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 46:10—Be still, and know that I am God…
I will be exalted among the nations . . .
I will be exalted . . .
In the earth . . . .
No YouTube Video is being posted for this blog post so we can contemplate the power of silence.