The art of communication is a tricky one. How do you distinguish when to say something, how to say it, and when you should just keep silent? Today, I’ll share some enlightening scriptures and personal lessons God has taught me on how to handle those situations. (Keep in mind, these are not strict formulas, but simply a summation of biblical principles to help guide you.) Let’s dive in.
To Speak or not to Speak?
Mid-conversation, your normally shut-off coworker opens up to you about her pending divorce with her husband. During your lunch date with your sister, she playfully tells you she’s meeting a male friend for dinner tonight, without her husband’s knowledge. Arriving home, your spouse couldn’t get in touch with you all day, and falsely accuses you of ignoring his calls. Based on your last phone conversation, your best friend is headed down a destructive path that will tear her away from God. Imagine the momentary pause and allow the subtle gaze of each individual to fall on you as they anticipate your response. To speak or not to speak? Beloved, that is the question.
Everyday we find ourselves in situations that call for us to say something, but all are not created equal. There is a time to say something and a time to keep silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Even a true and necessary message, may need to be patiently spoken in God’s timing. A time where you are falsely accused may actually be a moment God tells you to keep silent, so that He can defend you. You might assume that God wants you to articulate a message with words, when in fact He simply wants you to communicate it through your actions. So how can you practically be attentive to what, how, and if the Holy Spirit is actually leading you to say something?
Step One | Start by asking the Holy Spirit, “Is there something You want me to say?”
Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes it’s wise to simply listen to the speaker, or observe a circumstance. Before you utter one word, you must discern whether the Holy Spirit–not your flesh or your own self-centered desire– is urging you to speak. Otherwise, your words will tear down the listener rather than build him or her up.
Asking yourself the following questions will protect you from speaking prematurely, injuring the hearer, and bringing guilt on yourself with reckless speech.
Is the Holy Spirit leading me to say this?
Is love driving me to say this for the benefit of the hearer? (Read 1 Corinthians 13 to check your motives.) Or am I just trying to be the Holy Spirit for this person by correcting their flaws?
Is this message reflected in the scriptures?
The Holy Spirit will never lead you to say anything that contradicts the Word of God. If your message is not supported by biblical principles, it’s wise for you to keep silent.
Do I have relationship capital with this person?
Does this individual know that I care for them? So much so that I can share this message? A wise man once said, “People don’t care about what you know, until they know how much you care.” You could drive the hearer away with your message if you fail to communicate your love first.
*If the Holy Spirit responds with a “yes,” go to step two. If “no,” go to step four.*
Okay. So, you got the okay from the Holy Spirit. You’ve got a legit message, and you’re confident the Holy Spirit wants you to say something. But you’re not quite ready to shout it from the rooftops yet, my friend, which brings us to the second question you must ask.
Step Two | Ask the Holy Spirit, “How do you want me to say it?”
There is more than one way to say something. In fact, it’s often said that actions speak louder than words. When the Holy Spirit gives you a message to communicate, it’s wise to prayerfully consider how He wants you to communicate it. Should you speak with words or action? Perhaps a straightforward verbal articulation would be effective in one case, and less effective in another. Maybe right now it would be best for you to communicate your message through your actions, and pray that the hearer’s heart would be softened to receive your message. One helpful question to discern whether you should speak is:
Is this situation so dire that saying nothing would allow my friend to make a destructive, life-changing decision?
Is your friend considering an abortion, contemplating suicide, or on the verge of a marital affair. These are examples of crisis where it is best to say something, rather than passively allow your friend to take a harmful and self-destructive path. On the other hand, there are times where your concern should be communicated with your lifestyle.
As a fresh convert, on fire for Christ and passionate about sharing Him with others, I’ve made countless mistakes communicating the gospel to those who know me best, my family. I can remember sharing the gospel in very careless language, like the time one family member said “I’m not that into Jesus right now,” and my response was, “Yeah. I know we’re on different spiritual levels.” Ouch. (For what it’s worth, I meant to say ‘pages,’ not levels.) Sometimes you need to wait until God shows you how to communicate in a way that person can understand. Communication happens when the message is actually understood by the receiver. Some people aren’t ready for words, yet. It’s more appropriate to live the message you’re sending, especially when someone tells you upfront (directly or in so many words) “I don’t want to, or care to hear that message right now.” Obediently communicating with actions now may open up the door for you to communicate with words later.
(On a side note, don’t think I’m saying “Don’t share the gospel verbally.” I’m just saying in my case after I shared it verbally, it would have been better to focus on communicating with my actions since my family member was not receptive at that time.)
How is the Holy Spirit leading you to say something? With your words or with your actions? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you communicate your message in a loving, practical way to the hearer.
*If the Holy Spirit leads you to communicate with “actions,” start today under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Collaborate with Him on ways to live your message for the hearer. If you are led to use “words,” continue to read through step three.*
Step Three | Ask the Holy Spirit, “When do you want me to say it?”
So the Holy Spirit is leading you to verbalize your message, aye? Then it’s time to figure out when you should deliver it. Even good news requires good timing. So what should you consider when determining the best time to deliver your message? It depends on your personal situation, and that’s why it’s so important to rely on the Spirit’s guidance. To get you started consider:
Is this something that would embarrass the hearer if I said it in public?
If so, wait for a time to pull them aside. Ask them privately to meet you some time to discuss it.
Is this person struggling with a weightier matter, right now?
You don’t want to kick somebody when they’re down. That’s not Christ-like. Once, a friend greatly offended and embarrassed me with her words in public. The day I decided to confront that person about the matter, I heard that she had a horrific day. That individual was clearly struggling with something heavier than my own wounded pride. “If it happens again,” I thought, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” But in that situation, the Spirit said, “Let it go.”
Is this the best time to deliver your message? Waiting for the appropriate moment could be the difference between adding or retracting value to your listener.
Step Four | Hold your peace.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but sometimes God doesn’t want us to say anything at all. That can be difficult to grasp, especially as a woman. How can saying nothing be productive? We love using our tongues to straighten stuff and people out, don’t we? But there are times when it’s neither necessary nor appropriate.
On some occasions, God will ask us to lay down our rights and allow Him to speak for us. Take marriage as an example. As a spouse, there are times where you have to forfeit your wins –times when you may not have necessarily done anything wrong, but you must humbly submit so that God can deal with your spouse. Let’s say your husband has a terrible day at work (I know your husband never has those, right?), comes home to a hot mess– I mean you haven’t even had time to fix dinner yet because the kids or your day has been chaotic– so he lays into you about it. Instead of using your tongue to set him straight, you listen to the Holy Spirit when He tells you not to be defensive, but to apologize. Twenty minutes later your husband walks into your bedroom, and apologizes for his behavior. This is what the scripture means when it says that with our righteous behavior, we can win our husbands without a word (1 Peter 3:1-7).
On other occasions God may be asking you to live out that message until He directs you to verbalize it. Say you work with someone who swears up-and-down that he or she is a Christian, but despite how unchristian his or her lifestyle is they refuse to accept biblical correction. If you simply live out biblical Christianity on a daily basis that coworker will understand that he or she is falling short by seeing you live out the real mccoy. I’ve even heard stories of evangelists sharing the gospel through exercising forgiveness.
An evangelist was sharing the gospel when a spectator suddenly and purposefully broke one of his teaching tools. The evangelist seized the young man by the arm, and demanded that he repay him for what was broken or the evangelist would make a citizen’s arrest. The young man only barely had enough to pay for his crime, but when he handed it to the evangelist he politely declined it saying, “No, keep your money. I will pay for it, and I forgive you. That is what Christ did for you.” By being attentive to how he could communicate the gospel, the evangelist was able to share the gospel through his actions.
Final Thoughts & Bonus Content…
I hope that this article has been helpful in demonstrating when should you say something, how to say it, and when you should keep silent. The bottomline is that being attentive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit will help you guard your speech and give value to those who hear. (By the way, I want to emphasize that I didn’t say it would always “delight” the hearer. I said it would give value to him or her. There’s a difference.) If you’d like even more direction on this subject, download this free printable with scriptural meditations to help you consider more specific circumstances, such as when you need to correct someone, confess something, give advice, and more. Another article on the site closely related to this subject would be: “Does the Bible Really Say “Don’t Judge?”
Do you have any experiences of not knowing when to speak, how to speak, or when to keep silent? Share yours by leaving a comment below.