Desert Hills Bible Church | Ecclesiastes: A Time to Speak

Ecclesiastes: A Time to Speak

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

My last several posts have explored the treasure trove of Biblical wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. In its context, this poem teaches us that God is sovereign over all of life and has appointed a proper time for all human endeavors. We have reflected on various parts of the passage with the goal of making application to the Christian life. In this final post on this passage, we will consider verse 7: “A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Throughout the passage, pairs of opposites are grouped in sets of two: born, die, plant, pluck up (v2); kill, heal, break down, build up (v3); etc. Therefore, the tearing and sewing in verse 7 almost certainly correspond to keeping silent and speaking. Whether the tearing corresponds to keeping silent and the sewing to speaking, or vice versa, the point remains the same. Our words can tear or mend, as can our silence.

The Bible has much to say about our speech. Our words have the potential to bring both life and death (Prov. 18:21), and they demonstrate whether we are wise or foolish. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). The wise not only know the right words to say, but they also know when to keep silent. In fact, simply knowing when to keep our mouth shut is one of the most difficult areas of Christian maturity. Scripture compels us to exhort one another, but how often do our attempts at exhortation backfire? How often do we speak and then immediately regret it? Mastering the art of speaking and keeping silent takes years to develop, so I don’t presume to have a magic eight ball that will always tell you when to hold your tongue, but here are a few questions that might be helpful to ask yourself before speaking.

Are you keeping confidences?

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13). If a person shares something with us in confidence, and we agree to keep it a secret, we should honor that commitment. To do otherwise is to sin on two counts: violating our commitment and gossiping. There may be rare exceptions where breaking confidence is the right thing to do (e.g. to prevent bodily harm, when compelled to testify in a courtroom, etc.), but too often we make exceptions simply because keeping the secret is inconvenient. Loose lips sink ships.

Are you speaking to the appropriate person?

Scripture contains many verses that instruct us to confront others about their sin, both when they have sinned against us personally (Matt 18:15) and when they are practicing sin generally (James 5:19-20, Gal 6:1). Knowing when to confront sin and when to keep silent, especially in the latter case, takes wisdom and discernment. However, there is one principle that always applies: if we do speak, the first person we speak to should be the person who is sinning. The situation may escalate to the point of involving others, but we must begin by confronting the person involved. It may be helpful to seek the counsel of another believer regarding how to approach the confrontation, but our pursuit of counsel should never be an excuse to gossip.

Do you have the right motive?

The Bible commands Christians to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Using the example above of confronting someone about their sin, we must examine our motives. Why do we want to confront them? If the answer is anything other than “because I have a desire, motivated by love, to see this person repent and seek the Lord,” then this is a time to keep silent.

Is this the appropriate time and place?

There are two unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict: hiding from it, and charging into it like a bull in a China shop. While the charging bull has a laudable desire to resolve conflict, his brazenness creates a mess. The wise person has the patience to wait for the appropriate time for a confrontation, which is when tempers are cool, privacy is available, and potential interruptions are minimal.

Have you heard the whole story?

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13). We live in the age of the “hot take.” Social media pressures us into forming and expressing an opinion on every current event in real time. Sometimes we are guilty of carrying this “hot take” mentality into our relationships. As soon as we hear one side of a story, a rumor, a whisper even, we feel compelled to give a verdict, but the wise withhold judgment until hearing all sides of the story. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17). Similarly, when others seek our counsel, we sometimes rush to give advice before we have really taken the time to listen and understand the complexities of the situation.


Ecclesiastes 3:7 teaches that there are times to speak and times for silence. As we study all that God’s word teaches about speech and grow in Christian maturity, we will become better discerners of these times. The questions above are not a substitute for good, old-fashioned sanctification, and they certainly are not exhaustive, but hopefully they give a starting point for anyone looking to grow in this area.

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