“If you can’t say anything good (or nice) about somebody, then don’t say anything at all!” --- An adage that came into existence a long time ago and is still frequently quoted in today’s world. Origin of the statement and who said it is unknown.
Recently I became involved in a discussion about a certain high profile personality. There were a number of responses from friends and family members. Somewhere along the way the above quote was made and the fact that for some this is a kind of “law” by which we should abide and seek to implement in everyday living. So, if we make statements about other persons, we need to make sure it is “good” – otherwise do not say anything!
Let’s take a closer look at this issue and attempt to determine whether this adage from a time long ago is really legitimate – does it hold up under scrutiny?
In the first place, God does not command such a thing as this. It cannot be Biblically supported. If God would have commanded this, then He would be a hypocrite of the first magnitude because He would have violated it due to saying things that are not at all “nice” about people! A couple of for instances are found in the following:
Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed. [Jeremiah 3:2-3 (KJV)]
How shall I pardon thee for this? thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour's wife. Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? [Jeremiah 5:7-9 (KJV)]
There are numerous other references found throughout the Scriptures where God makes statements to people in regard to things they are saying or doing and they are not nice things which He says! Just take a slow walk through the Old Testament prophets in the Scriptures and see for yourself.
In the second place there are numerous examples of where persons called by God said things that were not nice about or to others. Here are a few of very many that are revealed in the Scriptures:
Amos the prophet --- Listen to this message, you cows of Bashan who live on Mount Samaria. You women oppress the poor and abuse the needy. [Amos 4:1 (GW)]
John the Baptist --- Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father:’ for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” [Matthew 3:5-9 (KJV)]
Paul --- Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” [Acts 13:9-10 (KJV)]
Peter --- Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. [Acts 2:22-24 (KJV)]
Jesus Christ --- Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. …….But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. [Matthew 23:1-4, 13-15 (KJV)]
In the third place Christians are specifically called to be salt and light according to Jesus in Matthew 5:13 ff. This does not mean that Christians are perfect. There will be the occasions where confession needs to be made because of failures. But at same time Jesus is stressing a solemn responsibility on part of those who claim Him as Savior and Lord. Salt is a seasoning agent that retards rottenness from setting in. My parents in my young years raised pigs for butchering in the fall. Hams were soaked in a salt brine and smoked in a smoke house. They needed no refrigeration due to the preserving power of the salt. It is not enough to see evil – responsibility is to address it, speak against it and take whatever action is possible to eradicate it!
Light reveals things. I never knew anyone who did housecleaning in the dark or washed their automobile in the dark. Light is needed to reveal where the dirt is and then take action to remove it! By the same token, Christians are light and as such, are to reveal where the dirt is – which simply means, that sometimes we may have to say some things that are not “nice!”
Isaiah was told, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” [Isaiah 58:1 (KJV)] I get the impression that the prophet would not be saying very many nice things! How about you?
In light of the fact that our republic presently finds itself in a state of spiritual and moral bankruptcy, could it be that God is calling us to do what He called Isaiah to do centuries ago?
Yes, many would agree with the old adage that “if you can’t say something good about others, then don’t say anything at all!” But it simply is not a valid philosophy to practice in spite of the fact that some sincerely try to practice it. As previously mentioned, the most critical thing is that it cannot be supported Biblically. Of course, if the Bible is ignored or if one believes it to be filled with error and contradictions, then one can believe anything and attempt to live in a world where God has no authority and humans define what is right and what is wrong. That, of course, is a very dangerous and deadly thing to do. Eternity will reveal it to be so!
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, “Thou shalt surely die;” and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. [Ezekiel 3:17-19 (KJV)]