Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 22, 1954
NUMBER 49, PAGE 6,12b

When Silence Is Not Golden - "The Sin Of Silence"

Oscar Ellison, Springfield, Missouri

We hear much of the sins of the tongue. Indeed, no one can read the third chapter of James without being impressed with the great danger and terrible consequences of a failure to control the tongue. He says: "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." Again: "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." These warnings should strike deep. We shall one day be called upon to give account of our words. Jesus said: "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." (Matt. 12:37) In word we often offend, and so need to be often warned. The wise man said: "Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding." (Prov. 17:28)

But, while there is a time not to speak, there is also the responsibility to speak. The control of the tongue does not imply complete silence. Words are to be "fitly spoken." They are to be "sober words." God's servant must speak "advisedly." These Divine requirements regulate the conduct of our speech. But, there is still the command: "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." (Titus 2:1) Again: "Preach the word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Tim. 4:2) We will no more please God in failing to meet this requirement than in failing in the control otherwise enjoined. Both are oft repeated in the word of God and many times exemplified in the lives of the servants of God. And, in the light of circumstances that now prevail in the church of our Lord, there seems to be a special need for emphasis to be placed upon "THE SIN OF SILENCE." Especially is it needed as directed to that great host of gospel preachers who are charged with the responsibility to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3)

In the book of Esther this lesson is presented in a most vivid manner. After Vashti had been deposed as queen and Esther had been chosen in her stead, the wicked Haman devised a scheme by which, in one great stroke, he could destroy the Jewish population of the empire. His anger had been aroused because Mordecai had refused to do him homage. So, he sought revenge in this manner. When he had obtained the consent of Ahasuerus to carry out his plot the decree was published throughout the land. Upon learning about it Mordecai made appeal to Esther the queen to go in before King Ahasuerus and ask for deliverance from the wicked plot. The reply of Esther is recorded in chapter four, verse eleven. "All the kings servants, and the people of the kings provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days." To this Mordecai replied: "Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this." This plea persuaded Esther to speak. She asked that all Jews in Shushan fast with her for three days and promised: "and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish." This promise she carried out faithfully and by it obtained deliverance for her people.

The lesson here found is crystal clear. None knew that Esther was Jewish. That fact Mordecai had kept carefully concealed. But, there came a time when duty required that it be made known. Mordecai did not doubt that deliverance would come even though Esther refused to speak. But he reminded her: "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this." Even though she did not speak the responsibility was hers. And, he reminded her that she could not escape destruction herself, should the decree be carried out. This great lesson should be before every servant of God in the midst of the opportunity and responsibility that are his.

Esther would have many selfish and personal reasons for keeping silent. Her position as queen was a very fine one which she no doubt desired to hold. Her own safety was to be considered as well. Going before the king uninvited could easily result in her death. Too, she had no assurance that the king would listen to her plan. But her devotion to Mordecai and to her people overruled all these and caused her to speak.

Let us consider this same truth as applied in New Testament teaching. The apostles of our Lord are themselves a fine example. When their safety from persecution was involved, and they were charged not to teach nor preach Jesus upon penalty of death, their answer came back quickly: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20) Later, after they were beaten and charged again not to teach Jesus, they answered: "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) When Paul was on his last journey to Jerusalem and Agabus foretold his imprisonment, Luke says all of them tried to persuade him not to go to Jerusalem. Here is his reply: "What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13) This spirit reveals the reason for their success in preaching the simple gospel to the whole world in their lifetime. They refused to let hardship, suffering, privation, threat of death, or anything else keep them from their great purpose. Why? The answer is plain. They loved the Lord and his cause more than they loved themselves or their own lives. May the Lord give us just such courage and devotion today.

But what of the application today? There are many of us who believe sincerely that the church is at the crossroads. One way leads to digression. That way was marked out plainly a half century ago but many refuse to heed the warning signals. The Christian Church of the present is its end. The other leads to simple, pure New Testament practice. Church supported and sponsored recreational programs (kitchens and the like), inter-congregational relations in mission and benevolent programs, worship designed to please, and many other things rise up to challenge the simple New Testament way. And the end is not yet.

What about the preachers? Are they for all these things? To be sure, many of them are. But, a great host is not. But where is their voice? It is not heard. Can it be true that we are afraid of the consequences to ourselves and so keep silent. No one is anxious to be hurt. All enjoy the good pleasure of the brethren generally. All like to be often called for work that is pleasant and profitable. And, no thinking person enjoys being the target of those who were once his close friends. But, are we to allow these considerations to keep us from declaring our convictions on matters of faith? Shall we be frightened into silence? One preacher said: "I am no writer." Perhaps not, but we all preach every Lord's day, at home and abroad. Are we using these opportunities? Another said: "It would hurt my influence and keep me from the opportunities I have to do good." Are you really doing good? Do you even satisfy your own conscience in the matter? The great Benjamin Franklin was for a time kept from his fight against digression by such arguments.

This simple prayer I have oft uttered in the past months. Dear Lord, I do not ask for ease. I do not ask for popularity. I do not ask the favor of my brethren in the Lord, even. I do not ask for peace and quiet, save that which exists in my own heart in my consciousness of thy approval. I ask only that I may know thy truth and that I may be filled with that courage born of the conviction of truth that will enable me to preach it faithfully. I ask that in love of truth and in love of thy church and the souls of men, I may uphold and defend and propagate it wherever I may be. I ask that I may be able to use it to expose every false way, every way that threatens to destroy the simple faith and practice of the New Testament. May the time never come when I shall give even a passing thought to what the consequences shall be to me in preaching thy word faithfully.

Preacher brother, how do you know but that you were brought to the kingdom for just such a time as this. And, do you not know that if destruction comes you will be swept away by it also. This is a time to speak. Much is at stake. May the Lord help you to have the needed courage. Deliverance will surely come. The truth will triumph. Be an instrument of God in bringing it to pass.