Three (3) Times When It's Better to Speak Up Rather Than Shut Up
By Leslie Vernick
In my coaching and counseling practice, I talk with people who are in pain. Husbands fail to love their wives. Wives disrespect and hurt their husbands. Friends disappoint one another. Sometimes we struggle just to get along peacefully.
Yet, Jesus said that we’re to be branded by our extravagant love for one another. Even more challenging is Jesus’ command to love our enemies and to forgive those who mistreat and hurt us.
But how do we balance these commands of Christ with the biblical mandates to speak the truth in love, to be the salt and light of the world, to confront sin, to go to someone when they’ve sinned against us, and to admonish the unruly? It isn’t always clear when we ought to put up with one another’s weaknesses and be patient with him or her, or whether we should confront a person directly about his or her sin.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether you should be quiet (forbear), or whether you should speak up and confront.
First, forbearance is a very good spiritual discipline to practice. Jesus reminds us to take the log out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:4). We all need to learn to live graciously with one another’s weaknesses and faults because we all have them.
Instead of practicing biblical forbearance, sometimes we choose outer silence but nurse inner discontent, anger or bitterness. By keeping quiet, we may preserve an illusion of peace, but it’s not a biblical peace and often results in further conflict and alienation not to mention feelings of resentment.
Forbearance doesn’t mean simply being passive or quiet when someone does something wrong or hurts us. Forbearance actively works to understand, accept, forgive, and let go of an offense, all without ever talking directly to the person about it.
Second, when we decide we must speak up about an offense or something that bothers us, it’s important that we not thoughtlessly blurt out our thoughts and feelings without any regard for the well being of the other person or the relationship.
When we do that it’s like vomiting on them. Sure it feels better getting it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet, and not on a person. Better to take some time to vomit out your first draft in a notebook so that you can better decide what exactly needs to be said for the purpose of reconciliation and/or the welfare of the other individual.
Below are three situations where speaking up is the better choice.
1. The matter dishonors God. (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 1 Corinthians 5:11,12; Romans 2:19-24)
When Queen Esther was told of Haman’s wicked plan to have all the Jews exterminated, she knew that it was a not time to forbear but to speak out. She didn’t do it rashly, but prayerfully and thoughtfully. (Read the OT book of Esther for the story). She was afraid but she knew speaking up was the right choice.
2. The matter hurts the other person (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1)
We are to be faithful to our friends and friendships and that means that if we observe someone caught in a repetitive harmful sin or habit, we need to speak to them about it. Do you have a friend who is flirting with disaster? Tempted with an affair? Being abusive towards their spouse? Playing with drugs? Abusing alcohol?
So many people have told me they wished someone would have come along side of them and lovingly warned them before they fell of the cliff. Hebrews tells us to encourage each other day after day lest any of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).
3. The matter has damaged our relationship (Matthew 5:23 , Matthew 18:15; Proverbs 16:28; Proverbs 17:9)
When someone repeatedly or grievously sins against us, it is no longer time for forbearance but for speaking up. Matthew 5 and Matthew 18 tell us that if someone has sinned against us, or if we have something against another person, we are to go and make peace first before presenting our offering.
Our relationship has been hurt or damaged by something someone has done. We can’t forbear. Even if we’ve tried, we can’t let it go and it’s eating us up inside and harming our relationship. Now is the time to speak up or the relationship will deteriorate even more.
You want to know how? Like Queen Esther did, we need to have a plan. Click here to read my free article on how to have a difficult discussion with someone and Share with a friend.