When to Stay Silent and When to Speak Up


I think a lot of us would say we desire to be wise. For me it’s true—I want to be a wise person. But often I suspect deep down I don’t mind not being wise so long as others’ perception of me is that I am, in fact, wise.

This reminds me of a phrase often repeated (with varying attributions), “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Proverbs 17:28 has a similar idea, “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” Wisdom, it seems, is one of those unattainable goals. Just when you think you’ve got there you realize how much more there is to learn. It seems a lot easier to keep up appearances by keeping my mouth shut.

But there’s a concept in 1 Peter 3:15, which gives me a lot to think about: “...And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Always be ready to explain? To anyone who asks? But how will people think I’m wise then?

I can still remember the panic I felt when I first came across this verse.

In reading 1 Peter I identified with Moses when God told him to speak to Pharaoh in Egypt and he responded, “...O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied and my words get tangled,” (Exodus 4:10). I get it—it’s too much! How could I, a regular and not-even-that-smart person explain the depth of my faith to anyone who comes along and asks?

It felt like this verse was asking me to get a 19 hand in cribbage—impossible!

In Bible school I took a course on 1 Peter and the way I viewed this verse was challenged and changed. I learned it’s emphasising a general readiness rather than a specific predicament. Peter is saying we need to have a gentle and respectful disposition towards all people (both friends and enemies), but also to be prepared to witness verbally about the faith, which has changed our lives.

It was liberating to learn I didn’t need the perfect answer to every question; I just needed to be real with people. And ready to talk about my faith whenever asked.

Talking about my faith is intimidating but the truth is there’s nothing to fear. The God who strengthened Moses is the same God who will be there in my time of need. Look how He responded to Moses’ fears,

Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

To be prepared to talk about my faith I don’t need memorized scripts or talking points, but I do need to be in regular communication with God through prayer, Bible reading, and biblical instruction. That’s the only way I will know what He wants me to say.

And wisdom? Wisdom comes from learning from others and applying knowledge to everyday life. If I think I know more than everyone else I won’t be open to learning new things. And if I’m afraid to let others see my imperfections then I limit my ability to glean from others’ experience. That’s the thing about wisdom. No matter how wise I become there’s always someone who is wiser. If only I can get over myself, then I’ll be on the wisdom path.