When Silence is Golden

There’s something to be said for not saying anything.

In a church culture where cliches, cool quips, and candor are the currency, silence is most often seen as only deficiency. Add in a passion for theology, a thirst to see people grow in Christ, and a sprinkle of immaturity and the problem multiplies. Silence isn’t golden.

Except sometimes it is.

1 Corinthians 2:2-7 reads:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

Paul doesn’t represent the quivering silence of cowardice here. Rather, he represents the silence of wisdom. To the unwise, he is silent on lofty matters. To the childish, he delivers food for children. He doesn’t choke them on big thoughts and force feed them epistemology. No– Paul is like the true shepherd Jesus. He gives the children that pure spiritual milk of Jesus. And like Jesus, he does so with humility. It’s with “fear and trembling” that Paul delivers to his people the word of God.

And yet, weak as he was, there was power in it. There was power that comes from God, “the demonstration of the Spirit”. Paul didn’t withhold wisdom from the wise (1 Corinthians 2:7), but he didn’t impose it on the unwise. Rather, he gave them what they needed: Christ and him crucified.

Have you ever been in a Bible study where you dominated the conversation? Have you ever gone home and thought, “I wish I had said less”? Worse yet, have you ever thought, “I wish others had said more?” Many of us who are pastors and ministers of various kinds fail in this way. In my life I have often failed to nourish those who are children in the faith. I have often run off at the mouth like I was giving a theological treatise. I have often told long stories about God working in my life that built myself up but didn’t build others up much at all.

What hope is there for those of us who struggle like that? What can we do?

Trust in God. A friend of mine taught me to go to a Bible study saying this to myself: “I am not the Holy Spirit.” When you know that you aren’t the Holy Spirit, you know that God doesn’t need you to speak for others to learn. When you know that you aren’t the Holy Spirit, you can begin to trust the Holy Spirit to teach others.

That’s not to say that you won’t say anything. The Holy Spirit of God does not produce cowardice or a spirit of fear that we may say too much. But the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. When we trust the Spirit and love our neighbor, we see what Paul taught the Corinthians: what is best for the church is not that everyone always exercises their gifts whenever they feel like, even if those gifts are teaching or prophecy.

So, let’s be humble. Let’s work hard to see our small groups and discipleship with young believers thrive. And let’s relinquish our pride and trust the Spirit to point to Christ. He will teach us what to say.

Griffin Gulledge