The Power of Holding Your Peace

We live in an age of outrage. Expressions of disappointment daily saturate our senses through news media, social media, and regular conversation. In our homes and workplaces, we hear the harsh words of complaint. On our computer (or television) screens and city streets, we witness shrill outcries of political agitation. Even in our churches, we all too frequently catch wind of gossip and soul-destroying slander. To our great shame, our own words stoke the embers of destructive speech. For good reason, James wrote, “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (James 3:6, 10).

By nature, and by nurture, we have a cultural predilection toward outrage. The opening words of the second Psalm give poignant expression to the tenor of the world’s discourse. “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1). The church must present a stark antithesis to the uproar of the world. At the Psalmist’s direction, we must “worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling” (2:10). Our speech must eschew outrage and embrace peace.

There is power in holding your peace. For the Christian, “holding your peace” is more than merely quieting down or “hushing up.” God calls His people to pair restraint with expressions of awe at God’s sovereign majesty. We are to replace outrage with joy at the goodness of God. Yes, this is easier said than done. Scripture bears witness to the burdens of physical deprivation (the Exodus), social ostracization (David, Elijah), and spiritual affliction (Paul) on mortal souls. Whatever our difficulties, we must cultivate self-control in holding our peace, relying on the Lord’s help.

The Holy Spirit blesses Christ’s church with both Scriptural examples and spiritual power for the discipline of holding our peace. We find perhaps the most famous example in the person of Job. When calamity came upon his household, and as disease ravaged his very body, we are told, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10).

Beyond Job’s example, we have the Psalms to aid us in worshiping in the face of deep pain. Consider the words of David in Psalm 39. The Psalm alternates between speech and silence, but David’s words are always reverent in the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty. Verse nine contains a confession for all those who hold their peace in distress: “I have become mute, I do not open my mouth, because it is You who have done it.” In this confession is power.

The biblical starting point for holding your peace in the face of dark providences is a vision of God as the sovereign caretaker of His people. As you suffer, look upon the holy and gracious majesty, sovereignty, dignity, authority, and presence of God. Having acknowledged the sovereign goodness of God, you must also acquit Him of any blame for the difficulties that you experience. Yes, He has done it, says the Psalmist. But “My hope is in You” (Psalm 39:7) simultaneously graces the suffering saint’s lips. Remember that God does not delight in the affliction of His people, and neither will He allow it to continue without end. Rest upon the bedrock of His goodness in all circumstances, and you will hold your peace as well as possess a holy calmness of spirit.

Note that the biblical picture of holding your peace is no empty virtue; the picture is deep with content. Holding your peace includes feeling a sense of distress, and appealing to God for deliverance from it. The Psalmist openly cries to God, citing his sorrow (verse 2), the burning of his heart (verse 3), his hope for deliverance (verses 7-8), and his tears (verse 12). Consider also Christ’s earnest pleading with His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).

Holding your peace in trial has instructive value for those around you. Remember that Paul composed many of his most doctrinally didactic epistles from prison. When you have encountered Christians bearing with grace the trials of chronic disease, impoverishment, or tragedy, have you soon forgotten their example? I hope not, for the Spirit of God convicts and encourages us through the godly examples of our brothers and sisters in distress.

Holding your peace ought to accompany measures to seek relief. Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) advised, “God would not have his people so in love with their afflictions, as not to use such righteous means as may deliver them out of their afflictions.”[1] Seek out the help of officers (Elders and Deacons) in the church when the cares of this world weigh you down. In all things, earnestly pray, as the church prayed for Peter’s release from prison in Acts 12.

The power of holding your peace is found in holy calmness of spirit. The wretched design of Satan is to call up the sins of the Elect, and to accuse the people of God before the judgment throne of heaven. He attacked Job in order to incite him to sin, so that he could then accuse him of blasphemy before the judgment throne of heaven. But Satan’s schemes are foiled when God’s people – in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit Himself – hold their peace under affliction. To borrow from Thomas Brooks once again, “the best way to outwit the devil, is to be silent under the hand of God; he that mutters is foiled by him, but he that is mute overcomes him, and to conquer a devil is more than to conquer a world.”[2]

There is great power in holding your peace under affliction.

[1]Thomas Brooks, “A Mute Christian Under the Rod,” Old Paths Gospel Press.