“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent…Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.” (Proverbs 17:28; 23:9)
“Save your breath.” “Flattery will get you nowhere.” These are two common sayings that promote wisdom by not speaking. Here are a few more quotations to think about. “Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud” (Hermann Hesse). “Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute” (Josh Billings). “I am annoyed by individuals who are embarrassed by pauses in a conversation. To me, every conversational pause refreshes” (George Sanders).
The goal of this exercise is to think about how both our words and silence impact others, or fail to do so. There is some wisdom in them, gained by experience, no doubt. The world is not devoid of intelligence, but limited by the scope of human reasoning. Whether or not we agree with all the quotations in the paragraph above doesn’t really matter. What matters is if we agree with biblical quotes. The Proverbs quotations from chapters 17 and 23 are the most profound because they are inhabited by the power and wisdom of God. Silence is so wise that even a quiet fool comes across as intelligent. Some of us have frequent opportunities to visit with or share meals with acquaintances who like to draw us into controversial conversations about politics, sports, public figures, or any number of other subjects. I was bantering with an acquaintance the other day in the exercise room, having a pretty good time debating with her about some medical advice she was offering for my upcoming knee surgery. We were smiling and enjoying our little debate, but another person in the room suggested that we may need a referee. I heard this as a red flag, indicating that what we enjoyed as friendly banter was perceived as an argument, so I ceased and desisted from the back-and-forth volley. In this case, the silence was better than our fairly pointless words (although they did help pass the time while we were exercising).
The second verse refers to speaking to a fool, knowing that the person to whom we direct our words will not appreciate them. In this case the hearer’s hard heart will hate the wisdom we seek to share. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). Remaining silent is the most intelligent thing we can do in the presence of those who will not appreciate our words, and especially gospel wisdom. Hopefully we are not trying to prove our intelligence, because it is more likely that we will disprove it as soon as we open our mouths. Silence in this case can even be worshipful, as we listen and pray for the one who shuns God’s wisdom. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
Will you think about being silent today when you’re in the middle of a conversation, to glorify God?