There is an old saying, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”
It’s good advice.
As an educator, I talk. As a good friend, I talk. As a professional learning consultant, I talk. I was even paid – quite well – for this last one! As a matter of fact, I remember taking my mother with me when I had to facilitate a two-hour session with teachers, principals and district administrators. Mom had never seen me at work. While eating dinner after the session mom asked, “Is this what you do for a living – talk?” Laughing (and knowing it would be a challenge to really explain my job to her), I simply said, “Yes, and Mom, they pay me well to do it!” She and I both laughed.
I know that I am not alone in liking to talk. My postmaster often asks me how to help her get her second grader to stop talking. Seems that almost every day the teacher sends a note home about Amber’s talking. I know a lot of teachers who send notes about students they have labeled over talkative. And while I have mixed feelings about talkative students (for the most part I say, let ’em talk!!!), we do need to know when to stop talking!
James wrote, “You must understand this, my dear brothers. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19 ISV)
Many consider the book of James to be a New Testament version of the Old Testament Proverbs – practical wisdom for a life of faith as a child of God. And like Proverbs, James does not offer suggestions but, rather, commands. Directives. Imperatives. “You must understand!” There are no options. “Everyone!”
Probably more than any other New Testament book, James provides the clarity that we need to live our faith. In the every day. In all our actions and interactions – including our speech and including knowing when to stop talking.
Look at teaching from two other books of wisdom – Proverbs and Ecclesiastes:
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” ~Proverbs 10:19
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise…” ~Proverbs 17:28
“Be not rash with your mouth…Therefore let your words be few.” ~Ecclesiastes 5:2
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” ~Proverbs 18:2
“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” ~Proverbs 13:3
What’s the big deal about talking? James sums it up best:
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:2-11 ESV)
The Message translation of these same Scriptures makes it even clearer – “We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. This can’t go on!”
Indeed, it can’t go on. Rather, we should aspire to live quietly (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV) perhaps taking Job as an example. He begged, “Teach me, and I will be silent.” (Job 6:24 ESV) Apparently Job knew that the talker is not learning. It is in stillness, silence and a posture of listening that we learn. And when we learn… Wow!