September 30, 2016
Listen More, Speak Less
With that in mind, have you ever noticed how small the Bible is?
The inspired, authoritative, infallible accumulated written record of the specific words God wanted us to read and remember over the course of 3,500–4,000 years — the definitive book to gather in and guide his people — is tiny. Its sixty-six “books” are brief, some only a few pages long. At a little over 750,000 words, most English versions of the Bible have less than two thousand pages.
Why Didn’t He Say More?
To help put that number in perspective, here are rough estimates for several popular books or authors:
- William Shakespeare: 960,000
- Harry Potter: 1,084,170
- John Piper’s forthcoming collected works: 3,000,000
- Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: 6,000,000
- The Bible: Only 750,000
Numbers like these simply make us pause and wonder over God’s written word economy.
Our wonder increases when we think that during the most important moment in human history, when the Word himself became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), we only have a relative handful of recorded words that he actually spoke. Unlike us, Jesus seems to have been a man of few, potent human words. Why did he choose the words he did? Why didn’t he say more?
Of the likely thousands of answers to those questions, what we know is that Jesus limited himself to speaking only what the Father gave him to speak (John 8:28). There was more he could have said (John 16:12), but he guarded his mouth, speaking carefully and prayerfully only what gave grace to his hearers (Ephesians 4:29), or delivered the needed rebuke and reproof (2 Timothy 4:2). And he intends for us to learn from him (Matthew 11:29).
Living in a Whirl of Words
Since the fall of man, the human tongue has always been “a restless evil,” “a world of unrighteousness,” setting whole forests of humanity on fire (James 3:5–8). The proverbial author said, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). And the post-Eden world has been a whirlwind of words.
But never before have so many been able to say so much in so many ways. Satan, the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), has filled the airwaves, cyber-waves, print-waves, brainwaves, and every other wave of human communication with lying words. He is the father of lies (John 8:44), and wields power over the world (1 John 5:19). He is working to exponentially increase words, and in doing so, to increase the snares of human transgression. The tornado of words is now a raging Category 5 hurricane.
But the hurricane has an eye. It is the Spirit of God speaking through the word of God. The few, powerful, nourishing words of God are still waters and green pastures of refreshment; they are Gibraltar-like rocks of refuge from the whirling wicked words careening across the world in which we live. The few words of the Word have eternal life in them (John 6:68), in a world overwhelmed with tongues of death (Proverbs 18:21).
Seek the hurricane’s eye. Seek the rock of refuge. The storm of words never lets up. Therefore, like anything else, we get used to it. We acclimate to the howling wind of words. Strangely, the hush of the eye can feel strange. The quiet of the refuge can be unnerving. If that’s true for us, we need the stillness more than we realize.
Let Your Words Be Few
But we also need to speak less. When speaking to God, perhaps we need to take more seriously these few words of counsel:
Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
And when speaking to others, perhaps we must take more seriously the concise commands to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19) and to “let no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Christians are “Christ-ones.” We are being conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). “As he is so also are we in the world” (1 John 4:17). If Jesus limited himself to speaking only what the Father gave him to speak, if he spoke carefully and prayerfully, if he could have said more at times but held back, what does that mean for us?
It means, in comparison to the volume of words flooding the world, we should let our words be graciously few.
Lay Aside the Weight of Too Many Words
Too many words inevitably result in sin (Proverbs 10:19). Wordly sin just compounds the closely clinging weights of relational conflict, concealed lies, broken trust, a violated conscience, and knowledge of a grieved Holy Spirit. And too much time in the satanic whirlwind of worldly words also takes its toll, weighing down our spirits.
Let us lay aside these sins and weights by:
- Confessing the sins of our lips to God (1 John 1:9), and to appropriate others (James 5:16),
- Making this our prayer: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3),
- Letting our words be appropriately few to God (Ecclesiastes 5:2) and to others (James 1:19),
- And daily taking refuge from the hurricane of words in the eye of the word of God.
Our God is a speaking God. He is not silent. The Word is speaking into existence you and everything else that exists. And the Word’s few spoken human words have more power in them than five hundred trillion words of men, angels, and demons. That’s why the Father says to us of his Son, “listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). We would do well to listen more and speak less — and when we do speak, to only speak what he gives us to say.