A wise man once observed, “There is a time to speak, but there is also a time to be silent, which too often comes and goes without being discerned.” This statement is a modification of the words of King Solomon, who said there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7).
Unfortunately those times when silence is golden are often spoiled by those who don’t seem to realize the importance of the moment and who go right ahead and speak up when they should have stayed quiet. It is interesting that Solomon first mentioned that there is a time to be silent before he said that there is a time to speak. Many times saying nothing is the most appropriate response.
All too often we can be guilty of putting the mouth in motion before engaging the brain. Howard W. Newton has said, “The thoughtless are rarely wordless.” If only we would stop and think before we speak we would have much less to ask God to forgive us for saying. James tells us, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” We all have said things that we regret. We tell our children, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” and we need to pay attention to this advice ourselves. As another wise man has said, “Where one man has suffered from saying nothing, a hundred have suffered from talking when they ought to hold their tongues.” In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Not offering our opinion on a matter, especially when we haven’t given it much thought, is a scriptural principle. Lincoln’s words are a loose translation of Proverbs where Solomon says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Prov. 17:28).
James has much to say about the evils of the tongue. It is little in size but can get us into a lot of trouble. “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 person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be”(James 3:5-10).
James is right: this mixture of filth and goodness coming from the same mouth should not be, but unfortunately it is. Out of the same mouth can come so much good and then so much evil. No wonder David asked for God’s help: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). David saw the problem clearly and resolved to try to control his tongue. He said, “I will guard my ways, Lest I sin with my tongue; I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle” (Psa. 39:1).
A few years ago whole countries were in a state of panic because their cattle had a terrible disease called foot and mouth disease. Many cattle were slaughtered to try to prevent this disease from spreading. There is another epidemic that is worldwide, except that it is not among the cattle but in the human population. It too is a deadly disease and can be called foot in mouth disease. It seems that way too many of us only open our mouths to change feet.
Let us recognize the dangers that come from saying harmful words with our tongue, and let us with David resolve to restrain our mouth with a muzzle. Let our prayer to our Heavenly Father then be the same as David prayed when he said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psa. 19:14).
Robert J. Lloyd