James tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). We usually quote this verse to stress the importance of listening, which is a great application. I think there is value, however, in just keeping our mouths closed, no matter how good or bad as listeners we are. When we keep our mouths closed, we demonstrate humility and respect and enhance our reputations.
Humility should be demonstrated, for example, if you arrive at a meeting late. This is a time to not say anything. You don’t know what has been said, and any comment or question from you might have already been covered. James also says to “humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). You show humility when you choose to wait long enough to understand the nature of the discussion before making a contribution to it. We are pretty self-absorbed if we make a comment without figuring out what the discussion is about. Humility requires speaking only when you have specific knowledge or an opinion based on your expertise instead of making statements without support. We read a similar reminder in I Peter 5:6—“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
When you are quiet, you also show respect for the other person’s opinion. This is especially true if you show that you are paying attention by eye contact and leaning toward the speaker. As Paul wrote, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10.)
Keeping quiet enhances your reputation with the group when you do speak. You will more than likely have a captive audience. You have earned the right to speak by being silent when others are talking. According to Ecclesiastes 7:1, “A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.” The writer of Proverbs said “A good name is more desirable than great wealth” (Proverbs 22:1.)
Not the least of reasons to keep your mouth closed is that you are less likely to say something you will regret. If you open your mouth too quickly, you might say something that shows you are not informed on the topic as well as you thought you were.
Humility, respect, and reputation are all in play when you choose to keep silent. You may communicate best when you say nothing. Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss made famous the song “When You Say Nothing At All,” which ends with “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”
I like the message Jane Wyman spoke in 1949 when she accepted her Oscar for Best Actress in her role as a deaf-mute in “Johnny Belinda.” “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once,” she told the Academy. “I think I’ll do it again,” and sat down.