The Bible is a big, rich, diverse, and complex book, one that can be used to prove virtually anything if you try. This is one of the primary reasons why Christian denominations find it impossible to get together 100% on doctrine. And let’s just get it said: Sometimes the Bible seems to be downright contradictory concerning its teaching. This post will offer a case in point.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says:
But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your, ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (N.K.J.V.)
While it’s true that the specific context for this quote has to do with swearing oaths, this basic notion of being careful not to say too much lest you cross the line into sin is found in other Bible passages. Consider the following list (all from the N.K.J.V.):
- Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
- Proverbs 17:27: “He who has knowledge spares his words…”
- Ecclesiastes 5:3: “…a fool’s voice is known by his many words.”
- Matthew 12:36 (Jesus again): “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.”
- Matthew 27:12-14: “And while He (Jesus) was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?’ But he answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.”
- James 1:19: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
- 1 Peter 3:1-2: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”
Now, if these verses were all the Bible had to say on this subject we could conclude that the Lord wants us to say the bare minimum when we talk. The problem, however, is that these verses are not all the Bible has to say on this subject. So now let me offer another list:
- In Joshua 24:1-28, Joshua gives a lengthy, rousing speech to the Israelites to remind them of everything that God had done for them and encourage them to continue to serve the Lord.
- In 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Nathan rebukes David by telling him a parable.
- In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus encourages His followers to do their job of being salt and light in the world. Surely that job sometimes involves speaking up and speaking out.
- In Matthew 14:1-12, we find the account of how John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas concerning Herod’s immoral marriage.
- In Acts 20:7-12, Paul preaches until midnight at a certain gathering. If such a sermon isn’t a multitude of words, I don’t know what is.
- In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul describes the somewhat wordy rebuke by which he rebuked Peter over the fact that Peter was trying to give the gospel a Jewish tint.
- In Titus 3:10, Paul tells Titus to reject a divisive man after two attempts at admonishing the man. Please note that the rejection should only come after not one but two attempts at admonishment.
Of course, this list of passages doesn’t even begin to name all of the sermons, teachings, and lengthy discussions that we find in the Bible. The book of Job, for example, is basically just 42 chapters of lengthy dialogue. And you can believe me when I tell you that these dialogues certainly aren’t marked by the sparing of words or the restraining of lips.
So, as we Christians live in this modern world, how are we supposed to apply all of these passages to our everyday situations? Should we be constantly on the lookout for platforms by which to share our opinions in our attempts to be salt and light to a world that surely needs salt and light? Or should we bite our tongue, hold our peace, and be content to try to influence the world through our godly conduct and actions rather than our words (as the 1 Peter 3:1-2 passage encourages Christian wives to do in their dealings with their unbelieving husbands)? Basically what I’m asking is, are we Christians supposed to speak up or shut up?
Well, my answer would be: It depends upon which Bible passage you find yourself. What I mean is, each situation is unique. Just as there will be times when God will have you to say much more than the bare minimum — whether it be in encouraging, teaching, motivating, rebuking, or whatever — there will be other times when He will have you to either say precious little or remain completely silent. You see, there just isn’t a cookie-cutter approach as to when you should speak up and when you should shut up.
You ask, “But how am I, as a Christian, supposed to know the difference between a “speak up” moment and a “shut up” one? Here’s how: the indwelling Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus said the Spirit will teach us all things (John 14:26) and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). He also said the Spirit will give us the right words to say in the moment (Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12; 21:12-15). These are wonderful promises to claim, Christian, when you are faced with the dilemma of what to say or what not to say. And if I know life, it won’t be very long before you need them.