“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent…Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips…A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.” (Proverbs 11:12; 24:28; 25:18)
How many times have we heard sermons about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)? Most of us can probably repeat the parable correctly without too much help, which is good. Let me point out that the cold silence and neglect shown by the Jewish priest and the Levite in the parable is ungodly, unkind, and unwarranted. We cannot make up “rules” about the good and appropriate use of silence when it comes to helping others. Jesus used this parable to answer the question from the Jewish lawyer, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) This is “an improper question because the lawyer was trying to exclude responsibility for others by making some people ‘non-neighbors.’ A more appropriate question would be, ‘How can I be a loving neighbor?’” * But Jesus did answer the lawyer’s question, didn’t he? Anyone in need is our neighbor, regardless of their religion, standing, or race.
Now we will veer off the main point of the parable to notice that the Samaritan helped the man who had been robbed, not with words, but with actions. So the silence of two was unbiblical, but the kindness of the Samaritan was consistent with loving, compassionate of true faith.
But our verses in Proverbs refer to the harm we do, not in our silence, but in our reports about our neighbors, seeking to bring them harm with gossip or slander. Proverbs 11:22 exposes the senselessness of those who belittle another by speaking against someone, rather than staying quiet. Proverbs 24:28 teaches us not to report on our neighbors without cause or to lie about them. And 25:18 describes the one who lies about her neighbor as a weapon of great destruction (war club, sword, or sharp arrow), inflicting serious harm. We have “don’ts” that we can translate into “dos.” Do respect your neighbor by staying silent if necessary and do withhold a report about your neighbor, if possible.
So sometimes we are right to be quiet and other times our silence witnesses against us, revealing our selfishness and lack of Christian love and compassion. Discernment for each situation is required if we are to use silence as an instrument of godly wisdom. We should be silent about our neighbor’s confidences, respecting their privacy. We should be quiet when we feel critical of others and what they are or aren’t doing is not impacting us. This may be the time for prayer, not talk, for a relationship that will support vulnerable gospel-based sharing in the future. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15)
* ESV Study Bible, 2008, Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers, Note on Luke 10:29