The Preacher wrote, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). For instance, he said, “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (3:7).
Is it God’s will for humans to speak or to be quiet? As we shall see from the Scriptures, that depends on the situation and the topic under consideration.
Let us begin by noting some instances when God’s message to man basically was, “Do not speak.” For the sake of convenience, all of the examples which we will note from the earthly life of Jesus come from the book of Mark. After Jesus healed a leper, “. . . He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, See that you say nothing to anyone . . . However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter so that Jesus could not longer openly enter the city . . .” (Mark 1:44,45).
Later, when the Master separated a deaf and dumb man from a multitude of people, He healed Him: “Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:36).
In a case that may surprise us, after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, “Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him” (Mark 8:30). Yes, at that point in time, He forbid His own apostles from preaching His Messiahship. Again, when Jesus and three of those apostles came down from a mountain after He was transfigured before them, “He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept this word to themselves . . .” (Mark 9:9,10).
Various plausible explanations can be given as to why Jesus would want people to be quiet when such great things had taken place. Here, though, is the principle that we do not want to miss: when God says that it is time to be quiet, then we must be quiet!
What about 1 Corinthians 14? In that passage, we read that the Spirit guided Paul to mention three situations in which someone was supposed to be quiet. First, if one was empowered to speak in tongues but there was no interpreter, the tongue speaker was to “keep silent in church” (14:27). Second, while a prophet was speaking in an assembly, if something was revealed to another one, he was to “keep silent” (14:29,30). That helped keep things decent and orderly (14:40). Third, in such an assembly, when the word was being preached, women were to “keep silent in the churches” (14:34).
Okay. What about those occasions when the Lord has told people not to be silent? After Jesus cast demons (“Legion”) out of a man, the blessed fellow wanted to continue with Jesus. Instead, our Lord told him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done . . .” (Mark 5:19).
After Jesus rose from the dead, He charged His apostles to go and preach to every creature (Mark 16:15). Later when the apostles preached the Christ in Jerusalem, they were taken into custody by the Jewish authorities. On one occasion, when the Jewish council forbid some to speak in Jesus’ name, their response was, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Their thinking was: Jesus said to speak, so we will speak!
When Paul preached in Corinth, the Lord told him in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent” (Acts 18:9). Speak what? Paul taught God’s word there for eighteen months (18:10).
The sad reality is, sometimes people, even some among God’s people, do not want to hear the truth (Isaiah 30:10). God’s true preachers, however, must step forward and “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2), even when some do not desire it or like it.
Let us pause and make some observations. God knows what is best for the human race. Thus, when He says that He wants us to speak, to do so is in man’s best interest. Out of respect for Him, let us humble ourselves and prepare to take two courses of action: (1) When He says not to speak, then we will choose not to speak, and (2) when He tells us to speak, then speak is what we shall choose to do.
God has never expected anything from His people which is impossible to carry out. That means in the matters of speaking or being silent, no excuses are acceptable. Our allegiance is not to any man-made rulings at any level, regardless of whether they are family, work-related, or government decrees. Our top allegiance is to King Jesus, period.
In the matter of teaching the gospel to lost people, consider once more what the Lord told Paul: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent” (Acts 18:9). Read that again. And again. And again. A lost world needs us to speak, not be silent.
— Roger D. Campbell