Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Should You Pass on Bad Reports?

Justin Taylor @ http://theologica.blogspot.com reports on a recent discussion with Tim Keller and David Powlison regarding biblical wisdom and guidelines on speech and relationships.

May the Lord help each of us to have truth-in-love speech that is always gracious, salt-seasoned, gentle, respectful, peaceful, and edifying (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:15; 1 Pet. 3:15; Rom. 14:19)
They discuss:
Should You Pass on Bad Reports?

What Does James Say about Passing Along Bad Reports?

Humble yourselves before the Lord.
Brothers, don’t slander or attack one another.
(James 4:10-11)

The verb “slander” simply means to “speak against” (Gk. kata-lalein). It is not necessarily a false report, just an “against-report.” The intent is to belittle another. To pour out contempt. To mock. To hurt. To harm. To destroy. To rejoice in purported evil. This can’t mean simple disagreement with ideas—that would mean that we could never have a debate over a point. This isn’t respectful disagreement with ideas. James warns against attacking a person’s motives and character, so that the listeners’ respect and love for the person is undermined. “As the north wind brings rain, so slander brings angry looks” (Prov. 25:23). Everybody gets upset at somebody else: slanderer, slanderee, slander-hearer.
What Does the Book of Proverbs Say about Receiving Bad Reports?

He who covers over an offense promotes love,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
(Proverbs 17:9)

The first thing to do when hearing or seeing something negative is to seek to “cover” the offense rather than speak about it to others.
  • Start by remembering your own sinfulness. "All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord" (Prov. 16:2).
  • Then remember that there is always another side. "The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" (Prov. 18:17).
  • Third, what should you do if you are close enough to the situation to be involved AND you think the injustice or matter is too great or grievous for you to ignore? For starters, notice that you only really need to know something if it touches your sphere of life and relationships. In that case, you should do what will help you to express God’s call upon you to speak Ephesians 4:29 words of wise love.

When Should You Go?

Galatians 6:1 says we are to go when a person is caught in a trespass.

How Should You Go?

Galatians 6:1 says we are to restore gently and in humility, bearing all the fruit of the Spirit.

Who Should Go?

Galatians 6 says you—plural—who are spiritual should go to the straying one. That both defines how you should go and it calls for multiple people to get involved.

Why Should You Go?

In both Galatians 6 and Matthew 18 the goal is to restore the person and to re-establish sin-broken relationships. You are working to restore people both to God and to others.


In summary, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the principle is this. If you hear bad reports about other Christians you must either cover it with love or go to them personally before speaking of it to any others.
  • The first thing to do is to simply suspend judgment. Don’t pass on bad reports.
  • The second thing to do is “cover” it in love, reminding yourself that you don’t know all about the heart of the person who may have done evil—and you know your own frailty. Don’t allow bad reports to pass into your own heart.
  • The final thing to do is go and speak to them personally.

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