A Time To Keep Silent
Dr. Joe Temple


In our study of the book of Proverbs, we have suggested to you that it is impossible to study the book of Proverbs in subject matter chronologically because the Proverbs are not presented in that order. Of the various methods suggested for the study of the book of Proverbs, we have chosen the one that we refer to as principle —associating all of the various proverbs related to one particular principle together and thinking about the doctrine that would be gleaned from such a presentation.

The principle that we're going to consider together in this lesson is when silence is best. “There is a time to speak,” Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, “and there is a time to be silent.” In the book of Proverbs, this wise man of God has made some suggestions to us as to when are the best times to be silent.

The basic fact is presented to us in chapter 17, verses 27-28. Notice the exact wording of the Scripture:

Proverbs 17:

27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

If we read these words without thinking about them in detail, we might simply say that the sign of how much a man knows is not based upon what he says, but upon what he doesn't say. There would be an element of truth in that, but I would like for you to notice the phrase, an excellent spirit , for I believe it lends an interpretation to the verse that is missed in a casual reading of the King James text.

I would like to notice the rendering of this verse from the New American Standard version. Notice: “He who restrains words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”

“An excellent spirit” brought into this text is interpreted by “a cool spirit.” When we think about colloquialisms of the day, we know immediately that about which we are talking. In our generation we said, “Keep cool.” In the generation of this day it is, “Man, don't lose your cool,” but everybody knows what we are talking about. Everybody knows the suggestion is, “Don't lose control of your temper. Don't become angry and speak out in a manner that would cause you to be sorry for what you had said or wish you could retract what you had said and could undo damage that can never be undone.”

Silence is Best in Moments of Anger

The first thing that we would like to suggest to you is that silence is best in moments of anger. Notice chapter 15, verse 1:

Proverbs 15:

1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.

We are interested in the last part of the verse because we are talking about when silence is best. Of course, the first part of the verse is of interest: “A soft answer turneth away wrath…” I wish that I could say that I put this into practice and have seen the reality of it more than I have, but I can't say that, to be honest, because I am not always inclined to return a soft answer when someone speaks to me in a spirit of anger.

Someone says, “I am not interested in returning a soft answer because I don't want people to think that I am soft. I want them to think I am a real man.” We would like to remind you that the word soft comes from the Hebrew word rak which may be translated by the word tender , and is so translated in II Kings, chapter 22, verse 19:

II Kings 22:

19 Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.

This tells the story of a king who is young and tender. He was not hardened, and he recognized the needs of other folk. Perhaps we would find it easier to return a soft answer in a moment of anger if we were tender and sensitive to the needs of others, recognizing, perhaps, some of the reasons that have caused them to blaze out at us. We might not have the same reasons as they and we might find it much easier to control our anger.

The reason I say that we are interested in the latter part of the verse, “…but grievous words stir up anger,” is that grievous words should never be spoken. If you want to stir up a fuss, then you speak grievous words. What are grievous words? Looking at it purely from the English standpoint, we might say, “It is words that make people feel bad.” But there is a deeper meaning in the original text than that because the word grievous comes from the Hebrew word etseb , which is translated elsewhere by the words earthen vessel . When you find the words earthen vessel used typically in the Word of God, it always carries with it the idea of emptiness, the idea of futility, the idea of that which is only temporary that cannot last, that cannot add anything permanent to that which you are trying to do.

That is why the Apostle Paul said in the New Testament that we have this treasure in earthen vessels. The sufficiency might be of God and not of us. Grievous words are not necessarily words that make people feel bad. They are words that are produced by the flesh instead of by the Spirit. When they are produced by the flesh instead of by the Holy Spirit, then you can be sure they will stir up anger; and unless—this is what I would like for you to get—the Holy Spirit of God is leading you in what you say, particularly in moments of anger, you would do well if you did absolutely nothing.

I had a friend visiting here a few weeks ago and we were talking about some so-called great men of God with whom he had had association. He mentioned one man and said, “He has hurt his ministry repeatedly by losing his temper and speaking out in anger to those who work with him. Though they work very hard to further his ministry, they have little confidence in his message because he speaks as he does.”

Let me speak of another man whose name you would recognize if I were to mention it, a man who has a wide ministry and God has used him abundantly. He said concerning this man, “I have seen this man in very trying circumstances, and I have seen him in situations where certainly the pot was brought to the boil; but I have seen him turn abruptly without an answer and walk away because had he stayed, had he said anything, what he would have uttered would have been grievous words. Rather than utter words that come from an earthen vessel not directed by the Spirit of God, he turned and walked away.”

This is a good illustration of when it is best to keep silent, but it is not always an easy thing to do, as is indicated by the comparison in Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 32:

Proverbs 16:

32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

This, Beloved, is real victory. Did you notice: “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man; and he that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.”

One version suggests: “It is better to be slow tempered than famous.” I wonder if you believe that. It is better to have self-control than to control an army. This is an indication of how very, very difficult it is to rule your spirit.

I ask this question to provoke your thinking: How many of you rule your spirit in the sense in which I am speaking? Let me ask you parents something. How many of you teach your children that it is a necessity to rule their spirits, or do you let them have their temper tantrums and pitch their fits and throw their weight around? From the human side, they have to be taught to rule their spirits.

If we were speaking to you in detail about a Spirit-controlled life, we would emphasize the fact that it is through the Holy Spirit that you can rule your own spirit, but certain guidelines should always be set down. It is more important to control your own temper than it is to control a whole army. How we wish all could recognize the danger of speaking at the wrong time, at a moment of anger when it is best to be silent, and recognizing it, want to do something about it. In moments of anger, the danger of not being silent at such a time is brought to your attention in a very interesting verse. Notice, chapter 17, verse 14:

Proverbs 17:

14 The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.

The King James text does not emphasize the power that is suggested in the verse itself, and so I would remind you that the phrase, “letteth out,” comes from the Hebrew word patar which means simply “to burst through.” Are you thinking? Beloved, if you are responsible for breaking the dam, you are not going to be able to control the flood that results. If you are responsible for breaking the dike, you are not going to be able to take care of the damage that is going to occur. How many times with a spiritual stick of dynamite has the dam been broken and the flood waters began to flow, sweeping everything before them. Individuals are so concerned, and they try with their skimpy, little efforts to repair the dam, and it can't be done. Life is lost and damage occurs that never can be repaired.

You notice the text says, “Because of the danger of breaking the dam, leave off contention before it be meddled with.” I would have you notice the phrase, “leave off,” as I remind you that it comes from the Hebrew word natash , which means “to forsake.” Forsake contention. Walk away from it if you have to as has been suggested. Refuse to have anything to do with it if it is going to break the dam.

Do not confuse what I am saying with taking a stand for that which is right against that which is evil. I am talking about your responsibility of remaining silent in moments of anger.

The wise man brings another thought to our attention as to when it is best to be silent, and for want of a better way of expressing it, I have suggested that it is best to be silent in absence of information. Notice, chapter 18, verse 13:

Proverbs 18:

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.

I say to you that this is almost as difficult, this matter of being silent when you don't know the facts of the case, as being able to control your temper in moments of anger. You know, we don't want to appear ignorant about so many things, and somebody brings up something and we are quite ready to express ourselves. We don't really know what we are talking about. We don't have all of the information at hand, and what little we have is hearsay. We don't even understand what we do know and yet we are very willing to express ourselves.

I like the way the Paraphrased translation brings it to our attention when it says: “Yes, how stupid to decide before knowing the facts,” and yet, many of us do that very thing, don't we? Before we have all the facts at hand, we are ready to express our opinion and let folk know what we think.

If our reputations alone were endangered that would be grievous enough, but oftentimes, because we are Christians and we represent the cause of Christ, individuals, whether we like it or not, associate us with the statements we make and in associating us with the statements that are made, associate Christianity and all Christians with it. Many Christians have been turned off by people speaking ill advisedly when they did not have all the facts.

The hardest words to answer in reply to a question, the most humiliating but by far the safest is, “I do not know.” It doesn't minister to your pride, but it does save a lot of grief.

If you feel you do not want to say, “I do not know,” you can say what a dear man of God used to say. He said it many times to me because I always tried to skim as much cream off his mind as I could because he was a tremendous student of the Word of God. I have never met nor heard of anyone who could compare with him in the matter of knowing both the original language and the study of the Word, but I never will forget how often when I said, “Dr. Cooper, what do you think about this passage of Scripture?”, he would say, “Brother Joe, I am awaiting for the light on that passage of Scripture.”

I would say, “Well, tell me what light you have.” He would say, “No, because when I get through the light on this passage of Scripture, the light that I have now may not be correct,” and he would just refuse to discuss it. It was so irritating, but I think so often what a tremendous influence he had on my life by taking that approach of refusing to speak when he did not know.

When Is Silence Best

You understand, I trust, that this is not an inspirational message. I don't expect to hear any amens , and I don't expect people to go away refreshed. I hope you will go away convicted. Particularly is this true in the light of what I want to say to you now: When is silence best? I would suggest that silence is best in the presence of a talebearer. If there is a talebearer anywhere about, then you should keep silent in his presence.

I would like for you to know what we are talking about when we talk about a talebearer, so I would like for you to notice three passages of Scripture in which three different Hebrew words are used for this English word talebearer so that you might have a complete picture of what a talebearer actually represents. Turn to chapter 20, verse 19:

Proverbs 20:

19 He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.

In this particular verse the word talebearer comes from the Hebrew word rakiyl , which means “a person who engages in idle gossip.” There is no foundation of fact for anything that he says. It is idle gossip, nothing more.

Turn, please, to chapter 11, and notice verse 13:

Proverbs 11:

13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

Here the word talebearer comes from the Hebrew word halak , which speaks of the movement of the person who is a talebearer. He is not an individual who sits in an ivory tower and waits for people to make appointments so that he can convey this empty gossip he has accumulated. He is an individual who, as soon as he gets a dainty morsel, drops everything and runs to share the good news—something he has heard of interest. The idea is that he is a person who moves about, much as a herald moves about to convey the news. He feels as if he has failed unless he has included everybody in the tale that is to be told.

Turn to chapter 18, verse 8:

Proverbs 18:

8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

Here the English word talebearer comes from the Hebrew word nirgan , and it means “to tear to pieces.” This is done so often among talebearers. How many reputations have been torn to pieces by these talebearers of which the Bible speaks? All they have to carry with them is empty gossip. They hurridly find someone with whom they may deposit that empty gossip, and in the process of depositing, they roll to pieces as a great machine might grind to a powder a rock that is put beneath it. They tear to pieces as a wild animal might tear to shreds the prey upon which he has come.

These are talebearers, but we have suggested to you that we have a responsibility in relation to them as far as this immediate discussion is concerned, and that is, we should keep silent in their presence. There are several reasons given in the book of Proverbs as to exactly why we should keep silent in the presence of these folk.

Failure to Keep Silent Ruins Friendships

The first one I am going to suggest to you is that these talebearers ruin friendships, and our failure to keep quiet in their presence ruins friendships. How sad it is, but how true. Notice chapter 16, verse 28:

Proverbs 16:

28 A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.

This word whisperer is a translation of the Hebrew word nirgan which is translated by the word “talebearer,” so we are still talking about the same subject. “…a talebearer separateth chief friends.” This word chief is a word that is difficult to put into the English language. It means “friends that are almost one because they have been almost cemented together.” You think of it as a friendship that could never be broken. Nothing could ever break a friendship like that. God says that a talebearer can. An individual who goes about whispering the gossip that he has to convey can ruin friendship, and this is such a serious thing that it can and it does affect the Body of Christ.

Turn with me, please, to the book of Romans, chapter 16, verses 17-18:

Romans 16:

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Here the Apostle Paul is talking about the talebearers who ruin associations because they make divisions in relation to doctrine. You must be careful about that.

I have read this passage of Scripture because it is characteristic of these individuals. They go about, contrary to the doctrine which they have learned, and by their good words and their fair speeches, they deceive the hearts of the simple. It is a sad thing to recognize, but it is true that sometimes the only thing that is needed for verification is “somebody said so.” Mark such people who cause division and have nothing to do with them.

Failure to Keep Silent Shows Lack of Love

There is another reason we must be silent in the presence of talebearers, and that is suggesed in chapter 17, verse 9. To fail to keep silent is to show a lack of love. In verse 9, we read:

Proverbs 17:

9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.

The first part of that statement is a bit difficult for some folk to receive because it leads some to think they are going to be an accessory after the fact, that they are going to be an accomplice in crime, that if they know something is wrong, then if they love somebody, they are going to cover it up. But that is not what the Spirit of God has in mind as will become evident if you will notice the word seeketh . This is not the usual word that is used for seek in the Scripture. It is the Hebrew word baqash , and it means “to seek through worship and prayer.” Do you get it? Here is a transgresson that a brother has committed. What do you do? If you act true to form, you run to the phone and you tell the first person you can get on the line, but what does Solomon say to do? “Why don't you talk first to God about it?” Seek through prayer and fellowship with the Lord to know what the mind of the Lord is in relation to the matter at hand, and then cover the transgression. I am quit sure that if you seek in prayer to know the mind of God in relation to the matter, God will not lead you to be an accessory after the fact, to become an accomplice in crime.

You never need to worry about twisting the Word of God and making it say something that it doesn't say. It is always very explicit and very clear. We might remind you that individuals in the last part of this verse who repeateth this matter separateth these friends is not speaking objectively as was our other verse. Our other verse said, “If a talebearer goes about telling certain tales, friends who are very close together can be separated by that talebearer.” That is objective. This verse is dealing with the subject in the sense of the verse because the words “repeating a matter separateth friends.” It is a word that is used elsewhere for nagging about it. You have a friend who has committed a transgression and you nag him about it. You keep telling him about it until by and by, he will reach the place where he is not interested in being around you anymore for obvious reasons, and you have broken a very close friendship because you have spoken when you should have kept silent. Love has not been in control.

Failure to Keep Silent Stifles Edification

To continue our discussion of the reasons we should keep silent, another reason that I would suggest to you is that if we do not keep silent, then we stiffle edification and we grieve the Holy Spirit. You will recognize the word edification is a word that describes in one brief word the matter of building up, maturing, and growing stronger in the things of the Lord. In Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 8, we read:

Proverbs 18:

8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

This verse in the King James text would suggest that what the talebearer has to say wounds the individual and hurts down deep. Oh, the hurt is deep, and that is so true, but another translation has suggested something that is more in line with what I am thinking about at the moment. It suggests: “What dainty morsels rumors are. They are eaten with great relish.” How true that is. What dainty morsels when they are eaten with relish. When you get together with individuals, what do you do? Do you say, “What dainty morsel have you got for me today? What can you tell me about so-and-so?” You smack your lips while you enjoy what has been suggested to you.

Corrupt Communication Grieves the Holy Spirit

You may say, “I don't quite understand why you are saying, in light of this text, that talebearing stifles edification and grieves the Holy Spirit.” Turn with me to the New Testament for a reason that you will find in Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 29-30:

Ephesians 4:

29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

You will notice the first statement: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…” If you were to stop right there, you would think that this is an injunction against dirty stories and obscene stories. Well, you ought not to be telling dirty stories and obscene jokes, but that is not the injunction. The corrupt communication is that communication which does not edify, which does not build up, which does not minister grace unto the folk who hear it.

When you get together and you have one of these carving sessions and you carve up everbody you know, how much good have you done for anyone present? How have you built them up? How have you ministered grace to them? That in itself is bad enough, but notice that immediately on the heels of verse 29 is verse 30:

Ephesians 4:

30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

There is a sense in which everything in Ephesians, chapter 4, does refer to the matter of grieving the Holy Spirit, but certainly, for emphasis, this matter of corrupt communication grieves the Holy Spirit, so I say to you that this stifles edification and grieves the Holy Spirit.

A Faithful Spirit Conceals Tales

For further emphasis go back to the book of Proverbs to chapter 11, verse 13:

Proverbs 11:

13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

We interpret this in the same idea that we interpret the matter, speaking love in concealing a matter, but we are interested this time in the words a faithful spirit , which is the translation of one Hebrew word, aman , which means “to build up and support.” We are reading here, “A faithful spirit conceals tales.” Why? “So that he might build up and support the individual who is in need of help.”

When you hear some dainty morsel that you swallow, almost immediately what is your reaction? Do you immediately have a burden for the person involved and want to do something to help that person in his time of trial, or are you just really glad to share it with someone else so that the rumor can be spread further and greater damage can be done?

Keep Silent in View of the Judgment

One last reason it is best to be silent in the presence of talebearers is what I have termed in view of the judgment . In view of the judgment it is good to be silent in the midst of talebearers because there is unavoidable transgression in loose tongues. Notice chapter 10, verse 19:

Proverbs 10:

19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

The New American Standard suggests another translation: “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.” Did you know that this is the reason that I personally am concerned about what people ordinarily call fellowship . Sometimes I have people say to me, “You know, there isn't very much fellowship at Abilene Bible Church,” and I say, “What do you mean by that?” They say, “Well, you don't have very many parties. You don't have this group meeting together and that group meeting together. You have a picnic on July 4th, and that is about it. That is bad.”

Often I have said, “It is good, and this is one of the reasons: You get together too many times, and before long, there will be some transgression because when there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.”

Permit me to say something that I am saying in love and I hope it will not be misunderstood, but I do trust it will be applied. You need to be careful about your prayer meetings. You need to weigh your prayer meetings from time to time, and if you find that you are spending three fourths of the time talking to one another and one fourth of the time in talking to God, it is time to revamp your program or drop your prayer meetings. I have known some prayer sessions which have been nothing but gossip fests and my, the dainty morsels they had on the menus they presented. They had roast preacher and baked Sunday School superintendants. There is sin in a multitude of words.

I think of this in view of the judgment because individuals who are going to insist on speaking when they should be silent are going to have to suffer the consequences of what is suggested. Look at Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 21:

Proverbs 18:

21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

You will suffer the consequences of the loose use of your tongue. Yes, with the loose use of your tongue, you could be guilty of murder. With the loose use of your tongue, you could be guilty of suicide, figuratively speaking, because death and life are in the power of the tongue and you suffer the consequences.

Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 12, and notice verses 36-37, as I say to you once again that in view of the judgment, it is best to be silent when you are in the presence of talebearers. You will recognize chapter 12 to be a portion of a record of the so-called unpardonable sin , when individuals blasphemed the Holy Spirit by saying that the Lord Jesus Christ had done what he had done in the power of the devil. Notice beginning in verse 33:

Matthew 12:

33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things..
36 [Now notice verse 36] But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

You should be well enough indoctrinated that I don't have to take the time to explain to you that this is not a reference to the idea that you will be sent to Hell if you haven't talked right while you are here upon the earth. He is speaking to individuals whose hearts were corrupt and He said to them, “When you stand at the judgment bar of God, you are going to have to give an account for every idle word.” That doesn't refer to the little sing-song ditty that you might spend your time singing or speaking the words. The word idle here refers to an empty word that has no foundation.

These men said, “What you have done, you have done by the power of the Devil,” and God said, “Every sin will find forgiveness except a sin like that.”


I have brought it to your attention regarding our discussion to remind you that God does not look lightly upon the idle use of the tongue. There are times when it is best to be silent.

Home Bible Studies Books King James
Abilene Bible Church
Dr. Daiqing Yuan Tim Temple Dr. Joe Temple
Some icons on this site used courtesy FatCow Web Hosting