Shut Up!

Nowadays, in modern America, one can say, "Shut up!", in a lighthearted way as an equivalent idiom for saying, "No way!" The literal idea might be expressed as, "That is incredible!" Nevertheless, there is no mistaking what is meant when even a faint hint of assertiveness or anger is injected into "Shut up!"

If one were to approach these words as a biblical theme, a world of variety could be explored. On the negative side, are countless instances of God's stern desire to silence presumptuous, hurtful foolishness. For example, He does not want His words proclaimed by those who refuse to practice them!

But to the wicked God says,

What right have you to tell of My statutes

And to take My covenant in your mouth?

For you hate discipline,

And you cast My words behind you.   Psalm 50:16, 17 (NASB)

However, on the positive side, one could focus on how Yahweh Himself has, paradoxically, used silence as an effective tool of communication, such as when concealing and sealing up words until the end of time (Daniel 12: 9), or how He often commands His servants to be quiet. One can see the fruit of the examples of those who have been disciplined to stay silent in obedience to the true God. As a general principle, one can certainly see godly wisdom in the following.

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.  James 1:19b (NASB)

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,

But he who restrains his lips is wise. Proverbs 10: 19 (NASB)

One might think of some vivid examples of God-mandated silence, like the strict, seven-day ban on talking for the whole Israelite army (Joshua 6:10) preceding the conquest of Jericho. Of course, one might think of Jesus' example; he repeatedly told others not to say a word in many circumstances, such as concerning the transfiguration vision (Matthew 17: 9). His commitment to shutting his own mouth is striking. It is not that Jesus was ever reluctant to speak up boldly when it was appropriate, but at right moments, he was unafraid to stay silent in fulfillment of some specific prophecy when falsely accused by jeering bullies. His unperturbed, unruffled silence astounded his hostile accusers, and it became a supreme model for a Christian's calling to "follow in his steps."

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He did not open His mouth;

Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,

So He did not open His mouth.   Isaiah 53:7 (NASB)

and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. 1 Peter 2:23 (NASB)

In a context of interwoven truths prevalent in 1 Peter, one can see how some of these realities converge in amazing ways! Effectively, the silence of those who follow in the steps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-23) can end up silencing "the ignorance of foolish men!" As an end result, those who have been slandering believers as evildoers (1 Peter 2:12, 15) can witness unimpeachable actions and start to "shut up," so to speak. They may even come around to the point of becoming people who glorify God! Talk about a real flip-flop! Silence like Jesus' silence can "shut up" slander and finally replace it with verbal praise! When people of this unbelieving world, for whatever reason, get to the place of not listening to words of truth spoken by believers, we should never be discouraged! We all know that, "Actions speak louder than words!" We should patiently persevere in not underestimating this biblical reality. How loudly could an unflustered smile, a gentle tone of voice, or an absence of retaliation speak?

Certainly, we have ample opportunities in life to emulate Jesus' boldness to speak Scriptural truth, but many times, and often amid the tricky conflicts of personal attacks, believers might be in situations in which they absolutely should not verbally cast pearls before swine. For example, a believer might face being the victim of vicious gossip, or let's say he or she suddenly gets outrageously "cussed out" and falsely accused by another person. Jesus was confronted in the extreme with similar challenges. Perhaps a believer facing adversity already knows that any explanations, etc., will fall on deaf ears. Furthermore, let's say this believer, though tempted to defend himself/herself, responds by silently taking the humiliation in stride, while thinking and praying, how can I be a model of forgiveness toward the people involved? When decidedly refusing to be baited to "vent" or "set people straight," far from being a doormat, he or she can courageously, in imitation of Jesus by suffering according to the will of God, entrust his/her soul to a faithful Creator in doing what is right (1 Peter 4:19.) How great an impact can such well-placed quietness have? How powerful and helpful can a loving ellipsis be, an ellipsis of verbal replies, even if it would seem fair and feel right to reprimand the dishonesty of loud opponents?

These purposeful "sounds of silence" can even be effective in painfully oppressive situations (as when believing employees deal constantly with unreasonable bosses (1 Peter 2:18-20) or in the hurtful, intimate relationships in which, naturally speaking, it is frequently seen that "familiarity breeds contempt."

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. ... but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.  1 Peter 3: 1, 2, 4 (NASB)

It says, "Without a word!" Notice, the model of such wives is not merely the commonplace, indignant silence of those who have decided to roll their eyes and treat others with disdain. The deep, spiritual attitude meant to win others is quite different. Even when it is appropriate to use deliberate silence toward fellow believers who err in blatant ways, it is a loving, provisional measure: "do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame." Such actions though are never for the purpose of permanent, hostile avoidance. "Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:14b, 15 - NASB).

In the big picture of life's true goals, it is insightful to consider "the day of visitation" as a unique phrase, used only in 1 Peter 2:12. The word translated "visitation" is similar to the word for "bishop," which biblically refers simply to an overseer. Here the phrase could possibly refer to the very troublesome day itself on which slanderous unbelievers, called Gentiles in this verse, oversee with judgmental intent the good deeds (excellently kept behavior) of believers and consequently change. Maybe though, it could refer to a future day when accountability takes place in relation to such observation, or maybe it could even mean the ultimate "day of judgment" when all will give an account as God oversees the hearts and actions of people. The verse could point to any of these options, but the result is powerfully clear − the unbelieving slanderers could eventually end up glorifying God due to viewing largely unspoken models of impeccable integrity. One might be reminded of Daniel's impressive example as recorded in Daniel 6:4, 5.

Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may slander you as evil-doers yet when troubles come, they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves.   1 Peter 2:12 (J. B. Phillips - N.T.)

...they may, attracted by your brilliant conduct, praise God whilst witnessing it.               verse 12b (translation by Ferrar Fenton)

Live a lovely life among the heathen, and then, when they spread their malicious stories about you as bad men, they will see the lovely way you live, and end up by praising God on the day God comes to judge.   1 Peter 2:12 (Barclay N.T.)

... on the day of his royal arrival.   verse 12b (KNT - N.T. Wright)

Loved ones, I encourage you, as strangers and refugees, to keep away from the lusts of the flesh that battle against the soul. Have good conduct among the Gentiles so that although they may speak against you as evil-doers, they will glorify God on the Day of Overseeing because they observed your good works. 1 Peter 2: 11, 12 (JAV)

Not only does this potential example of God-inspired proactive silence, following in the steps of Jesus, keep the believer's mind and heart peacefully focused on trusting God despite some unjust suffering, it can accomplish more! Such silence can also be immeasurably valuable to the jeering unbeliever, when words fail to get his attention. "Shutting up," while exhibiting a dignified example, could be a miraculous gateway by which someone might be won and end up glorifying God as a converted believer in the day of overseeing.

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