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Sometimes It’s Better to Say Nothing When You’re Right

Sometimes It's Better to Say Nothing When You're Right

Being right is a tricky thing. Did you know that being right does not always mean you have to communicate what you know to be true? How good are you at discerning when to speak and not to speak as you consider the person who should hear from you at that moment? Did you know there were times when Jesus did not speak the truth because it was not best to say it at that time, even though He was right?

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Jesus Withholds Truth

I wonder how many times Jesus withheld the truth from someone who said or did something that was not right. According to John, it was many times, which does make you curious about His reasons for communicative self-control. Listen to how John talked about Jesus withholding the truth from His friends.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:12-13).

Withholding truth could be a form of lying, depending on the motive of the person who is not saying what they know to be true. Of course, in the case of Christ, we know that He could never lie. You then conclude that His silence on a matter had more to do with discretion, wisdom, and love.

I have had friends who said, “It’s the truth! If they can’t hear the truth, it’s their problem.” Do you perceive the immaturity and arrogance in that statement? Can you see how they have focused on the wrong thing—the validity of the truth claim but not the person who they want to listen to them?

What’s Your Point

But the dogmatic person will come back with, “Why can’t I just say it when I am right?” The question is honest and needs a response. And the problem with what they are asking, of course, is their emphasis. They are so fixated on the truth that they are missing the other-centered call of the gospel.

Being right is not always the best criterion to determine whether you should open your mouth. The two greatest commandments implore us to love God and others more than ourselves. The questioner has emphasized themselves and what they know, not the other person and the wisdom and timing of saying whatever it is that they want to share.

If you have something to say, and you know you’re right, the first thing you want to do is run it through the two great commandments filter. Let me share with you a few illustrations of this concept, and you can assess yourself to see how well you understand the wisdom and timing when talking to others.

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Gray Truth Areas

  • Your three-year-old son asks you about how he got here. Do you launch into a discussion about sex, or do you leave out some of the truth because he’s not able to bear all that you could say?
  • Your seven-year-old is in one of those historic seasons of sin. You seem to be correcting him all the time. But rather than disciplining him for every misdeed, you overlook a few of them because you don’t want to crush his spirit.
  • Your fourteen-year-old has a peculiar habit. It’s not wrong, but it’s your pet peeve—that one thing that gets under your skin. But it’s not a sin. Are you going to manipulate her to bend to your preferences or show more maturity by casting your struggle on Christ?
  • Your spouse is similar to your fourteen-year-old. The book of etiquette that you love talks about toilet seats, toilet paper, making beds, and a few other things that your mate does not know. Is it vital or the right time to train them up according to your preferences?
  • You read something on Facebook that the person could have communicated in a better way. Are you more apt to respond to how it was said? Or are you able to stay on point and benefit from it, even though you would have said it differently?

In all of these illustrations, the essential person is not you, but the other person. When it comes to gray areas, preferences, or even what could be sin, the first person you want to think about is the other person.

God and Others Packaged

Bringing glory to God and serving others come in one package—a way to glorify God is by how you care for others. One way to think about the “glorifying God, serving others” concept is when you do something kind to someone, you are doing it to the Lord. Matthew told us about this concept from Jesus in his Gospel.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:37-40 ).

  • How do you do with this idea, as it pertains to controlling your tongue?
  • Are you more about being right and making sure others know about it, or do you have the Spirit’s gift of self-control, which enables you to know when it’s appropriate to share your rightness?

More Gifts Than Truth

Some of the other gifts you want to assess, along with self-control, are patience, kindness, graciousness, wisdom, forbearance, discernment, discretion, love, and mercy. Imagine being all of those things to your friends and family. Compare getting your point across to giving them all these grace gifts by merely not talking.

There are times when you can have a more significant impact on a person’s life by not saying what you’re thinking. You could correct them on the spot, which will give you an “at the moment” victory because you believe that withholding your words feels like a defeat. But you want to play a longer game with those you love.

Think back to your three-year-old son who wants to know how he got here. By withholding some of the truth, you can build a surer foundation of love, encouragement, and grace in his life, which will position you to bring more radical ideas later, like the sex talk.

What about a husband with a nitpicking wife? “He was raised in a barn. He not only doesn’t know what etiquette is, but he’s never heard the word.” Do you want to use all your “corrective bullets” on trivial matters, or build a more supportive relational bridge for more vital transformation later?

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Playing Truth Cards

Jesus was always right and never wrong, but being right was not the leading prerequisite for talking to others. He showed wisdom and discretion when it came to playing His “truth cards.” When it comes to communication, you want to think more comprehensively. Here are a few questions to help you with this concept.

  • At this moment, with this person, what is the most vital thing that I can give them?
  • Is getting my point across or winning the argument the most significant thing?
  • What would serve this person right now?
  • What is controlling me that motivates me to communicate with them?
  • When I think about future hopes and conversations with them, will speaking the truth right now foster those future goals?
  • Must I speak the truth right now because they are about to fall off a bridge? Or is this something that I can overlook?

There is no question that the “other-centered aspect” of the gospel is what drove Christ, and, of course, He was under the control of the Spirit. If you are walking in the Spirit, you will be other-centered, which will empower you to speak appropriately to those around you. Let me paraphrase John 16:12-13 to provide a snapshot of what I’m saying.

Being Like Jesus

I know that I am right. I am God in the flesh. I also know you need to hear what I want to say to you. But my first consideration is you, and you are not ready to listen, receive, and apply what I need to tell you. That’s okay. I will not only stay here for a while longer, but I will send another to come alongside you, and He will continue to make things clear for you.

I don’t have to sweat what is happening now. Even though you have a ways to go in your maturity, I know that in time, you will know what I know, see what I see, and live in such a way that will glorify my Father. I can be patient with you because I know that He who has begun a good work in you will see to it that the good work will be complete according to my Father’s timetable (Philippians 1:6). – Jesus (paraphrased)

How hard is it for you to be like Jesus in moments when you feel like you must share the truth with someone? How aware are you of how self-righteousness is lurking and looking to gain control of your mind? The opposite of other-centeredness is that “greater than, better than attitude” that must speak now regardless of the consequences.

A Prayer to Help You Walk In the Spirit

A Grace-filled Tone

One of the ways you can test yourself on these matters is by the tone in which you communicate. There are two kinds. One is a graceful tone, which has the other person in view. A self-righteous tone has an air of annoyance that rides on the wavelength of your words.

There is something manipulative about this kind of truth-teller. They want to control the situation and the other person. They are the primary arbiter of truth. Rather than submitting to the wisdom and control of the Spirit, they are the ones who determine when, where, how, and why to share stuff.

The battle for them is over faith. Am I willing to trust the “foolishness and weakness” of God in this relationship or rely on my “wisdom and strength? (See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 12:10) Withholding the truth or biting your tongue can feel weak and foolish, when, at times, it is the power and wisdom of the Lord working in you for a greater good.

Must Change Today

The power struggle with this person is with the Lord, and it’s not just over who will I rely on, which is the faith issue, but who determines when this person will change? “Am I okay with this person not changing today, according to my timetable and expectations?” This question is acute for those who are watching loved ones fall off a bridge in real-time.

The critical matter is when you find yourself in a “prodigal scenario,” and everything in you wants to tell the truth to them right now, but in your “heart of hearts,” you know they won’t listen. In some of these cases, it’s better to modulate the truth while accelerating your love for them, as you hope for that future conversation after they hit the hog lot and are ready to listen to you (Luke 15:17).

The Gospel and You

Sometimes being right does not mean things are supposed to change according to your timetable. I have to remind myself of the gospel in those moments when I want things to change now. Specifically, I have to remember the patience of the Lord with me. He has tolerated more foolishness out of my life than anyone I know.

In His timing and in His way, He has taught and helped me to change. This truth is real and pleasant to my taste: God is mercifully patient with me! Some of the needed change in my life has taken years, decades. Sometimes I say it this way: What I have learned from many decades years of walking with the Lord is a reminder not to expect others to change in a week, month, or even years. Sometimes it is best to keep my mouth shut while praying for the wisdom to know when to speak.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).

Call to Action

  1. Do you have the Spirit’s gift of self-control when it comes to communicating with those you love the most? I ask about those you love the most because it’s easier to overlook (or not care) what those with whom you don’t have a relationship do wrong.
  2. What are some things that annoy you that others do, but you know it’s not best, based on this article, to share those things—at least not at this time? What is your plan to show discretion toward them?
  3. Describe something acute, and the person does need to change right now. Would it be better to “modulate the truth” to them because you know they won’t change? What are the pros and cons of waiting for a future day when they are ready to listen to you?
  4. How would a close friend describe you after you discuss this article? Do they experience you as a patient, discreet, wise, self-controlled encourager, or something else? Are you courageous and humble enough to have this conversation with someone willing to speak the truth in love?
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