A TIME TO SPEAK

by Rev Voon Yuen Woh

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: … a time to be silent and a time to speak…” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

Most of us are aware that there are times when we are to be silent. Job’s friends sat down on the ground with Job for “seven days and seven nights” without speaking a word. This must have been difficult but the Bible explained that his friends saw that Job’s grief was “very great ( Job 2:13).” In the time of grief, we often appreciate our friends staying with us without them having to say anything. In these situations, it is rather difficult to have to say something.

Of course they are also many who lack the wisdom and keep saying the wrong things. We often describe them as having “foot in mouth” disease. The Foot in Mouth Award is awarded each year by the British Plain English Campaign for “a baffling comment by a public figure”. The 2006 award was won by supermodel Naomi Campbell who said, “I love England, especially the food. There’s nothing I like more than a lovely bowl of pasta.”

Sometimes we have to remain silent, but on other occasions we have to speak up. Wisdom is needed in order to know when to speak and when to remain silent.

I have heard my secondary school principal, Mr David Boler, made the following quote several times throughout my sojourn through the mischief and school boys’ pranks of our teen years. Once after several obscene artworks were found in the boys’ toilets, he repeated this quote, “All that is needed for evil men to triumph is that good men say nothing.”

Mr Boler had reasoned that these “great works” of art would have taken hours to paint and could not have been done without some of the students having seen the perpetrators. In our school assembly later, he cautioned the students who had seen the crime to speak up and not to remain silent. Those who remain silent are actually encouraging the committal of crimes.

We must speak up in order to push back the forces of evil. We must also speak up for social injustice, for civil liberties and so on. If we do not speak up, the evil goes on … and on… In recent times, many in our nation have been emboldened to speak up for such reasons.

However, many of us are happy to speak within our private circle of friends when we are not held to account for what is said. In public or in front of our superiors, we take greater care in what we say. Often people who have a lot to say in private are speechless in public. The Apostle Paul refers to these as gossip and slander when people’s reputation are destroyed behind their backs. It was a person no less than the Lord Jesus Himself who said that all men will have to give account on the day judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matthew 12:36-37).

When we come to the issue of sharing our faith, most believers have sudden attacks of the dreaded “deaf and dumb” disease – “deaf ” as in the inability to spot a witnessing opportunity and “dumb” as in the inability to speak out the good news with our lips. If we do not find a cure for this “disease,” people will simply not be saved. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14).

One of the reasons why people speak up is because they are passionate about something. The prophet Jeremiah declares, “… his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). This burning desire of the heart inflames every fibre of our being and our lips will quite often be the first to respond. David declared, “My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:” (Psalm 39:3 NIV). Jesus also said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34 NKJV).”

People will not say anything about a subject if they have no feelings about it. I cannot imagine that someone, after listening to a subject of discussion, picking up a phone in anger and dialing and then shouting at the hearer on the other end saying, “I have no opinion on that issue.” People just won’t speak up on an issue that they are not passionate about.

The crowds cheered, danced and marched on the streets in Madrid when Spain won the FIFA World Cup this summer. That’s what passion makes people do. There is a distinct lack of passion in the community of believers in sharing their faith. Without this passion, many would prefer to remain silent or transfer their passion to the football stadium. D.L. Moody possessed this passion when he said, “It is the only happy life to live for the salvation of souls.”

Passion comes from having a right perspective. Once several British clergymen approached Moody to find out why “this poorly educated American” was so effective in winning throngs of people to Christ. Moody took the men to the window of his hotel room and asked each in turn to tell him what they saw. One by one, the men described the people in the park down below. Then Moody looked out the window and tears began coursing through his cheeks. “What do you see, Mr. Moody?” one of the men asked. “I see countless thousands of souls that will one day spend eternity in hell if they do not find the Saviour.”

Because he saw eternal souls where others only saw people strolling in a park, Moody approached life with a different agenda. He could see the untold millions perishing “untold” and he was passionate enough to do something about it.

The founder of EE International, Dr D James Kennedy, once said, “If God would dip all pastors in hell for a fraction of a second . . . . . . and then yank them up by their shirttails — as they’re standing there smouldering and their clothes and skin are full of black soot, and their shoes have half melted off, I think their commitment to the Great Commission would substantially increase.”

It is obvious that passion and a correct perspective won’t save people. We need to perform as well. It has been said that after all is said and done, more is said than done. Believers need to take responsibility and just do it!

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Jesus tells a story about a man who asked his two sons to go and work in the vineyard (Matthew 21:28-31). The first son initially replied in the negative but finally did what the father wanted. The second son however, replied that he will comply but ended up not doing the father’s will. Jesus’ hearers could see that it was the first son who performed and ultimately the one who pleased the father. We have been given the Great Commission, to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

The Psalmist declares that our God is a speaking God: “Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure:” (Psalm 2:5 NKJV). Again, “the mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken.” (Psalm 50:1) Truly “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” (Hebrews 1:2). In the letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelations, Jesus is seen speaking to each of the churches. My red edition Bible is all red in Revelations 2-3.

One of the marks of integrity is that we speak the truth. Can someone who truly believe the word of God that says, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) and “No one comes to the Father except through me” ( John 14:6) not speak out to the lost? The promise to the believer who desires to “live on God’s holy hill” is to the one who speaks the truth from his heart (Psalm 15:2).

In the end, the devil is defeated by the “word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11).

Speak now, or forever hold your peace. Today is the time to speak.

Lead me to some soul today,
O teach me, Lord, just what to say;
Friends of mine are lost in sin,
And cannot find their way.
Few there are who seem to care,
And few there are who pray;
Melt my heart, and fill my life,
Give me one soul today.

Will H. Houghton, 1936.