Controlling the Tongue (Part 4)

Posted on August 23, 2010 by


Some Suggestions (continued)

A study like this would be incomplete without attention brought to possible strategies to minimize the misuse of the tongue, and to maximize the potentials in reaching true religion with a proper use of the tongue. Some of the points come from Scripture, others come from common sense. There is no doubt that these are but a sample of all that could be said. Here is the final suggestion we offer for our series on controlling the tongue.

(3) A Time for Silence

In chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, the “Preacher” (Eccl. 1.1), presents his famous “there is a time” monologue (3.1-8). In verse 7 of this passage, he pens, that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” What was Solomon addressing?

The overruling theme of this section of the book focuses upon two main things: (a) in this transient life humanity has many ways (i.e. the “a time to” statements, 3.2-8) to stay busy (3.1, 10); and (b) despite the ability for life to bring despair (3.9), everything is beautiful “in its time” in light of the eternal consequences of living the life designed by God (3.11-14).[1]

Now that we have established the context, the actual verse needs some clarification. The whole verse reads (3.7):

(A) a time to tear,                 (A’) a time to keep silence,

and (B) a time to sew;          and (B’) a time to speak

As seen above, from the first verse to the eighth each verse is broken down into four parts of what can be best expressed as “opposite extremes”.

For example, in 3.2 birth and death are “opposite extremes” of each other, and then in a similar vein the vegetation imagery is used of planting a productive plant seed, and then plucking the plant to ends it productivity. The two lines are very similar in their emphasis, there is a time to begin life and a time that life and all its productivity will come to an end.

Ecclesiastes 3.7 follows a similar pattern, only that here the passage seems to refer to the customs of mourning and grief shown during the event of a death. Customarily, in the cultural milieu of biblical times a garment was “torn” to show grief,[2] but when it was time to overcome grief reconnecting the torn pieces (i.e. “a time to sew”) would symbolize “picking up the pieces” (for lack of a better phrase).

Likewise, carrying this pattern of posing “opposite extremes” against each other, “the Preacher” says that there are appropriate times that justify silence – like a death – and that there are times when we must resume to our daily conversations.

Solomon stresses that life often confronts us with these opposite extremities of life. One moment, we are careful without a concern in the world; and then, in the next moment, it would seem as if the whole world was on our shoulders and every detail must be right. However, in the grand scheme of things, knowing that eternity looms in the future, and we have a purpose in the world, we face each challenge with spiritual and moral strategies in place. We fear God and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12.13).

Amazingly, one of those spiritual and moral strategies is to be silent or conversant depending upon how the situation demands us to act. Often, spiritually concerned individuals feel that they must consistently insert their lips into every problem or situation, thinking perhaps that it is the conscientious thing to do. Solomon reminds us – there is a time for it, and then there is a time when it is highly inappropriate to speak.

Concluding Thoughts

What can we say; our tongue is a battle ground. So much depends upon our ability to control this little muscle-organ. As we have observed, the use of our tongue stems from our own maturity and spiritual depth. We must be vigilant then to guard our hearts, be more patient and think before we speak; and finally, we must recognize that just because we feel we have something to say, the occasion may not call for it.


  1. Derek Kidner, 1985, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity), 97-99.
  2. Several passages in the Old Testament alone demonstrate this cultural practice: Gen. 37.29, 34, 44.13; Num. 14.6; Josh. 7.6; Judg. 11.35; 2 Sam. 1.11-12; 2 Sam. 13.19, 31; Ezra 9.3; Esth. 4.1; Job 1.20, 2.12; Isa. 37.1, etc. This is not all the passages that could be listed, but these are sufficient to demonstrate the pattern of behavior.