Tactfulness is a notable virture. Although worldly people can show it to a remarkable degree, Lk 16:8, in its highest form it is a Christian grace. It is the offspring of love and wisdom. It is the ability to be honest without being rude.
God himself is the model for tactfulness, as shown in his dealings with our first parents, Gen 2:18-24; 3:9-19; with Cain, Gen 4:7, 15; with Abraham, Gen 12:1-3; and Jonah, Jon 4:10,11.
Jesus demonstrated this quality also, as with the Samaritan woman, Jn 4:1-42; with Thomas, Jn 20:24-29; and Peter, Jn 21:15-17.
Other human examples include (a) from the OT – Abraham, Gen 13:1-13; Joshua, Josh 24:15; Abigail, 1 Sam 25:14-33; Nathan, 2 Sam 12:1-12; Solomon, 1 King 3:16-28; and Mordecai, Esth 4:13f. (b) from the NT – Joseph, Mt 1:19; John the Baptist Jn 3:22-30; ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, Jn 27:19; Gamaliel, Act 5:33-42; the Jerusalem Conference, Act 15:22-29; Lydia, Act 16:15; the town-clerk, Act 19:35-41; Paul, Act 23:6-9; 27:20-26, 33-36.
For further light on Paul’s tactfulness, consider that he was eager to become ‘all things to all people’, 1 Cor 9:22; that he would choose one approach to the Jews, Act 13:16-41 and another to the Gentiles, Acts 17:22-31. Moreover he was willing to work with his hands in order not to be a burden, 1 Th 2:9. He habitually spoke words of praise and encouragement even when he needed to follow with reprimands and admonitions. Yet he never used flattery, 1 Th 2:5, and when necessary could express deep indignation, Gal 3:1. The letter to Philemon is a model of tactfulness throughout.
Such use of tactful discretion is often recommended in Proverbs – 1:4; 2:1-5; 2:11; 3:1-12; 3:21; 5:2; 8:12; 1-:19; 11:22; 15:1, 17, 28; 19:11; 22:24; 25:11.
Adapted from Hendriksen, The Epistles to the Colossions and Philemon, 231f.
See also Phile 1:14.