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When Is the Right Time to Speak?

When Is the Right Time to Speak?

“There is . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak.”​—ECCL. 3:1, 7.

SONG 124 Ever Loyal


1. What does Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7 teach us?

SOME of us like to talk a lot. Others like to be quiet. As the theme text of this article points out, there is both a time to speak and a time to be silent. (Read Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7.) Still, we may wish that some of our brothers and sisters would talk more. And we may want some to talk less.

2. Who has the right to set the standards for when and how we should speak?

2 Speech is a gift from Jehovah. (Ex. 4:10, 11; Rev. 4:11) In his Word, he helps us to understand how to use that gift properly. In this article, we will consider Scriptural examples that will help us know when to speak and when to be silent. We will also see how Jehovah feels about what we say to others. First, let us consider when we should speak.


3. According to Romans 10:14, when should we speak?

3 We should always be ready to speak about Jehovah and the Kingdom. (Matt. 24:14; read Romans 10:14.) In so doing, we imitate Jesus. One of the main reasons why Jesus came to earth was to tell others the truth about his Father. (John 18:37) But we must remember that how we speak is also important. So when talking to others about Jehovah, we must do so with “a mild temper and deep respect,” and we should show consideration for the other person’s feelings and beliefs. (1 Pet. 3:15) Then we will do more than just talk; we will teach and possibly reach the person’s heart.

4. In line with Proverbs 9:9, how can our speech help others?

4 Elders should not hesitate to speak up if they see that a brother or a sister needs counsel. Of course, they would choose the right time to speak so that they do not needlessly embarrass the person. They would want to wait until they are in a private setting. Elders always endeavor to speak in a way that preserves the dignity of the listener. Still, they do not hold back from sharing Bible principles that can help others to act wisely. (Read Proverbs 9:9.) Why is it so important that we have the courage to speak up when necessary? Consider two contrasting examples: In one case, a man needed to correct his sons, and in the other, a woman had to confront a future king.

5. When did High Priest Eli fail to speak up?

5 High Priest Eli had two sons for whom he had deep affection. Those sons, however, had no respect for Jehovah. They held important positions as priests serving at the tabernacle. But they abused their authority, showed gross disrespect for the offerings given to Jehovah, and brazenly committed sexual immorality. (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22) According to the Mosaic Law, Eli’s sons deserved to die, but permissive Eli merely reproved them mildly and allowed them to continue serving at the tabernacle. (Deut. 21:18-21) How did Jehovah view the way that Eli handled matters? He said to Eli: “Why do you keep honoring your sons more than me?” Jehovah then determined to put those two wicked men to death.​—1 Sam. 2:29, 34.

6. What do we learn from Eli?

6 We learn an important lesson from Eli. If we find out that a friend or a relative has broken God’s law, we must speak up, reminding him of Jehovah’s standards. Then we must make sure that he gets the help he needs from Jehovah’s representatives. (Jas. 5:14) Never would we want to be like Eli, honoring a friend or a relative more than we honor Jehovah. It takes courage to confront someone who needs to be corrected, but it is worth the effort. Note the contrast between Eli’s example and that of an Israelite woman named Abigail.

Abigail set a good example in choosing the right time to speak (See paragraphs 7-8) *

7. Why did Abigail speak to David?

7 Abigail was the wife of a wealthy landowner named Nabal. When David and his men were running away from King Saul, they spent some time with Nabal’s shepherds and protected Nabal’s flocks from marauder bands. Was Nabal grateful for their help? No. When asked by David to provide his men with a little food and water, Nabal got angry and screamed abuses at them. (1 Sam. 25:5-8, 10-12, 14) As a result, David determined to kill every man in Nabal’s household. (1 Sam. 25:13, 22) How could such a disaster be avoided? Abigail realized that it was time to speak, so she courageously went to meet the 400 hungry, angry armed men and spoke to David.

8. What do we learn from Abigail’s example?

8 When Abigail met David, she spoke courageously, respectfully, and persuasively. Even though Abigail was not to blame for the bad situation, she apologized to David. She appealed to his good qualities and relied on Jehovah to help her. (1 Sam. 25:24, 26, 28, 33, 34) Like Abigail, we need to have the courage to speak up if we see someone heading down a dangerous path. (Ps. 141:5) We must be respectful, but we must also be bold. When we lovingly offer a person necessary counsel, we prove that we are a true friend.​—Prov. 27:17.

9-10. What should elders remember when counseling others?

9 Elders in particular must have the courage to speak to those in the congregation who take a false step. (Gal. 6:1) Elders humbly realize that they too are imperfect and may one day need counsel. But elders do not let that hold them back from reproving those who need discipline. (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9) When counseling a person, they try to use their gift of speech to teach him skillfully and patiently. They love their brother, and that love moves them to action. (Prov. 13:24) But their primary concern is to honor Jehovah by upholding his standards and protecting the congregation from harm.​—Acts 20:28.

10 Up to this point, we have considered when to speak up. However, there are times when it is best for us to say nothing at all. What challenges might we face in those situations?


11. What illustration did James use, and why is it appropriate?

11 It can be difficult to control our speech. The Bible writer James used an appropriate illustration to describe the challenge. He said: “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (Jas. 3:2, 3) A bridle is put on the head and a bit is put into the mouth of a horse. By pulling on the reins, a rider can guide the animal or bring it to a halt. If the rider loses control of the reins, the horse can run wild and cause harm to itself and the rider. Similarly, if we fail to control our speech, it can cause a lot of damage. Let us consider some occasions when we need to “pull on the reins” and hold back from speaking.

12. When should we “pull on the reins” and hold back from speaking?

12 How do you react when a brother or a sister has information that should be viewed as confidential? For example, if you meet someone who lives in a land where our work is banned, are you tempted to ask him to give details about how our work is carried out in that country? No doubt your motives are good. We love our brothers and are interested in what is happening to them. We also want to be specific when praying for them. However, this is a time when we should “pull on the reins” and hold back from speaking. If we put pressure on someone who has confidential information, we show a lack of love​—both to that person and to the brothers and sisters who are relying on him to keep quiet about their activity. Certainly, none of us would want to add to the difficulties of our brothers and sisters who live in countries where our work is under ban. Similarly, no brother or sister serving in such a land would want to reveal details about how Witnesses living there conduct their ministry or Christian activities.

13. As stated at Proverbs 11:13, what must elders do, and why?

13 Elders in particular must apply the Bible principle recorded at Proverbs 11:13 by keeping matters confidential. (Read.) This can be a challenge, especially if an elder is married. A married couple keep their relationship strong by talking often to each other and by sharing their intimate thoughts, feelings, and anxieties. But an elder realizes that he must not reveal the “confidential talk” of those in the congregation. If he did, he would lose their trust and ruin his reputation. Those who are appointed to a position of trust in the congregation cannot be “double-tongued,” or deceitful. (1 Tim. 3:8; ftn.) That is, they cannot be devious or inclined to gossip. If an elder loves his wife, he will not burden her with information that she does not need to know.

14. How can the wife of an elder help him to maintain a good reputation?

14 A wife can help her husband maintain a good reputation by not pressuring him to talk about matters that should be kept confidential. When a wife applies this advice, she not only supports her husband but also shows honor to those who have confided in him. And most important, she makes Jehovah happy because she is contributing to the peace and unity of the congregation.​—Rom. 14:19.


15. How did Jehovah feel about three of Job’s companions, and why?

15 We can learn much from the Bible book of Job about how and when to speak. After Job suffered a series of heartbreaking calamities, four men came to comfort him and to offer counsel. Those men spent a lot of time being silent. But from the statements made later by three of these men​—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—​it is obvious that they did not spend this time thinking about how they could help Job. Instead, they were thinking about how they could prove that Job had done something wrong. They made some accurate statements, but much of what they said about Job and about Jehovah was either unkind or untrue. They judged Job harshly. (Job 32:1-3) How did Jehovah respond? His anger burned hot against those three men. He called them foolish and made them ask Job to pray for them.​—Job 42:7-9.

16. What can we learn from the bad examples set by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar?

16 We learn a number of lessons from the bad examples set by Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. First, we should not judge our brothers. (Matt. 7:1-5) Instead, we should listen carefully to them before we speak. Only then will we be able to understand their situation. (1 Pet. 3:8) Second, when we do speak, we must make sure that our words are kind and our statements accurate. (Eph. 4:25) And third, Jehovah takes a keen interest in what we say to one another.

17. What can we learn from Elihu’s example?

17 The fourth man to visit Job was Elihu, a relative of Abraham. He listened as Job and the three other men spoke. He obviously paid close attention to what was said because he was able to give some compassionate but direct counsel that helped Job correct his thinking. (Job 33:1, 6, 17) Elihu’s main concern was to exalt Jehovah, not himself or any other man. (Job 32:21, 22; 37:23, 24) From Elihu’s example we learn that there is a time to keep silent and listen. (Jas. 1:19) We also learn that when we do give counsel, our primary interest should be to bring honor to Jehovah, not to ourselves.

18. How can we show that we value the gift of speech?

18 We can show that we value the gift of speech by following the Bible’s advice about when and how to speak. Wise King Solomon was inspired to write: “Like apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time.” (Prov. 25:11) When we listen carefully to what others say and we think before we speak, our words can be like those apples of gold​—both valuable and beautiful. Then, whether we say a little or a lot, our speech will build others up, and we will make Jehovah proud of us. (Prov. 23:15; Eph. 4:29) What better way could we express our appreciation for this gift from God!

SONG 82 “Let Your Light Shine”

^ par. 5 God’s Word contains principles that can help us know when to speak and when to be silent. When we know and apply what the Bible says, our speech will please Jehovah.

^ par. 62 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A sister sees the need to give some mature advice.

^ par. 64 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A brother offers recommendations about cleanliness.

^ par. 66 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: At an appropriate time, Abigail appealed to David, with a good outcome.

^ par. 68 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: A couple refrain from revealing details about our work in a place where it is banned.

^ par. 70 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: An elder takes care that his words about a confidential congregation matter are not overheard.