As far as I’m concerned, my wife talks more than me. And there are two dangerous assumptions behind that statement. The first believes that too much talk is problematic. Linked with that, the second says that quietness is better. But God opposes both mindsets. In this short article about Christian speech, I hope to show that silence isn’t always golden. Simultaneously, I want us to see that excessive talk isn’t virtuous.
God expects believers to master their speech.
In Colossians 4:6 Paul exhorts believers to season their speech with salt (Matthew 5:13). In the Old Testament, the sage likens a wise word, aptly spoken, to an apple set in silver (Proverbs 25:11). God expects believers to master their speech, speaking truth mixed with love (Ephesians 4:15). Yet, on the other hand, he cautions against hasty speech (James 1:19). Thus there are times when saying nothing is a mark of wisdom (Proverbs 17:28). However, God is more concerned with the substance of our speech than the volume.
Our Speech and Self-Aggrandisement
The 16th century Reformers proclaimed, over against the humanistic Roman Catholic inventions, what the apostles already had. They insisted that man is justified by faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8). This gracious work of God precludes all boasting (Ephesians 2:9). This much should be plain to Christians, and evident in our speech.
However, as Jesus’ brother warns us, the tongue “boasts of great things” (James 3:5). Despite its diminutive stature (James 3:4-5), our tongues can set the entire course of our lives (James 3:6).
God’s grace precludes all boasting.
My concern in this isn’t primarily daily and domestic boasting or bragging. It is this: why does James warn us against the tongue making great boasts? What about our speech is potentially so destructive? One answer to those questions is that at the root of speech might lie the attempt to justify ourselves.
The natural or worldly person boasts of what she has and does (1 John 2:16). She is characterised by the pride of life. This is not from God. Instrumental to this project of the self is the tongue, our speech. We use it to portray a false identity, communicating a certain version of ourselves. Verbosity becomes its own virtue, in our eyes, while we speak volumes to cover up vice. Where many words prevail, sin might too (Proverbs 10:19).
Silence and Pride
Returning to how I started this article, the above seems to indicate that too much speech is always the problem. Thus I easily sneer at those who are talkative, analysing their motives. However one can just as easily believe that they are justified through their silent, sage-like demeanour. As much as sin might be entangled within much speech, it can lurk as pride alongside the quietened tongue.
Sin can lurk as pride alongside the quietened tongue.
This is a silent pride. And it comes in many forms. Silence might mean being overly apologetic for truth, refusing to speak it. Thus it can be the result of people-pleasing, as we swing the pendulum from overbearing to being overly agreeable. This is not only faux humility and fake peace, it is shutting up when we should speak the truth in love.
Neither Incessant Speech Nor Silence Is Enough
The biblical idea of justification by faith alone, being made right with God by trusting in Christ alone works against the excesses of both talkative and quiet people. It reminds you that you didn’t have to say a word in last week’s Bible study just for the sake of saying something. And it reminds you that your silence throughout the next meeting might be a sign of how much you are paralysed by the fear of man.
What we say, as well as what we don’t, doesn’t define us. Christ does.
To believe in the gospel and find your identity in Christ is to be finally free (John 8:36). Here, and now, we can rest. We no longer need to measure up, whether that is through anxious silence or ambitious speech. What we say, as well as what we don’t, doesn’t define us. Christ does.
Christ Speaks For Us
Jesus is our advocate, at the right hand of God the Father (1 John 2:1). This means that he is constantly speaking things on our behalf. Jesus intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). He does this for verbose and quiet saints alike. You don’t have to justify yourself through excessive speech or fearful silence anymore. Thanks be to God.