Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church. Ephesians 4:15 TLB
Recently, I received a comment on an older post, Guard Your Mouth R-Rated Version. Below is a portion of the comment which I believe implicitly asks a very timely question, When should a Believer speak up? Rather than just reply with a brief comment I thought it would be beneficial to many if I addressed it in this post.
“… it suddenly struck me that there are actually times when strong words are not only appropriate but even necessary, right? (Burke’s “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” quote springs to mind.) And I was wondering what your thoughts were on this. Are there Bible passages to support this also?”
In light of the major cultural shifting that is taking place all around us, this is such a relevant question and one I have been asking myself a lot lately. Here is my humble attempt at answering this question based on my study of scripture.
SPEAK UP WHEN A FELLOW BELIEVER IS IN SIN
As Christians, we are commanded to confront our brothers and sisters if they engage in sinful behavior. This should always be done with the motive of love and the goal of restoration. I would also like to note the admonitions to “Watch yourselves” and “Pay attention to yourselves” in the verses below. Whenever we speak up in this manner it is to be done with caution and consideration.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 NIV
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 NIV
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,” Luke 17:3 ESV
The Bible is very specific about how we are to approach a fellow believer when we are confronting their sinful behavior.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
We see this demonstrated when Paul confronted Peter’s hypocrisy.
“But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong.” Galatians 2:11 TLB
The Living Bible, which is a paraphrase says Paul “had to oppose him publicly” but most Bible translations say Paul “opposed him to his face” or “face to face”. It isn’t clear exactly how this went down. I mention this because the Bible gives distinct instructions on how to confront Christian Leaders (which Peter would have been) caught in sin. I address this in Indecent Exposure.
SPEAK UP ABOUT THE GOSPEL AND OUR FAITH
” And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15 ESV
I like this verse in the English Standard Version. Other translations read, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” But the Greek word used here is kerusso which means to proclaim like a herald. We are all commanded to go to all the world–everywhere and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation–everyone.
Even persecution does not release us from being obedient to this command. I am inspired by the portion of scripture in Acts Chapters 3 and 4 in which Peter healed the lame beggar. Afterward, Peter and John were thrown in jail, released and then commanded not to speak about Jesus.
Peter then proclaimed,
“Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12
The rulers, elders and teachers of the law “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (vs 13)
Scripture goes on to say,
“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'” Acts 4:18-20 (emphasis mine)
This passage is so relevant for today as we are seeing Christians persecuted for speaking up about their faith
SPEAK UP AGAINST EVIL
In His sermon on the mount, Jesus declared that we, His disciples are the “Light of the World”. (Matthew 5:14) Light exposes things. That is our job.
“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them,” Ephesians 5:11-13 NLT
We are living in a culture that either denies or admires evil. I believe God is asking Christians today this same question that the psalmist asked here.
“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” Psalm 94:16
The psalmist goes on to ask another question which is also just as appropriate for today,
“Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.” Psalm 94:20-21 ESV
The answer is NO! We cannot be allies with evil. We must speak up. Light cannot have anything to do with darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14) We can never simply “coexist”. Proverbs 29:27 says, “An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, and he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked.”
SPEAK UP FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
It has been said by many that the measure of society is how it treats it’s weakest members. As Christians, we have been charged to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” Psalm 82:3
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
I was astonished by a story that I read recently about American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who nightly heard the screams of young boys being raped by American -backed Afghan military commanders. They were repeatedly ordered by their superiors to stand down and “look the other way because it was the country’s culture.” Soldiers who spoke up, disobeyed these inhuman orders and intervened anyway have faced discipline and career ruin. SEE HERE
We are living in unprecedented times. Because of modern technology we can no longer use ignorance or lack of awareness as an excuse for not speaking up for the needy and defenseless. We see the racially oppressed, hurricane victims, displaced refugees and aborted fetuses before our very eyes on our smart phones, tablets, laptops and High definition wide-screen TV’s.
To most, confrontation, which is what we are doing when we speak up, is mostly viewed negatively. Just ask any non-believer what they think of Christians who speak up about their beliefs. In the unbeliever’s defense, there has been a long history of Christians confronting out of anger and judgment. But lately, I have observed that the pendulum has swung to the other side. Christians who rightfully want to live up to Jesus Christ’s declaration in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” have started to believe the accusations that Christians who speak up are unloving and hateful bigots. They now keep quiet and simply live and let live. Only it’s not just letting live if we believe that the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) I submit to you that neither of these extremes is what believers are called to do.
One of my favorite books that I read in college was, Caring Enough To Confront by David Augsburger. He presented the concept of care-fronting. Care-fronting is offering genuine compassion and caring that deals upfront with important truths that can call out new awareness, insight and understanding. It brings together the love one has for the other with the honest truth. Sound familiar? It is our featured Bible verse, Ephesians 4:15. Many Bible versions translate it as “Speak the truth in love.” I feel The Living Bible paraphrases it so elaborately. “Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church.”
I once heard an atheist say that he was not offended by Christians who tried to share the gospel with him. He said it would be more offensive, if Christians really believed that they had the truth and did not try to share it. What he said impacted me tremendously. If I am a disciple of The Way, The Truth, The Life and The Light (John 14:6, John 8:12) how can I refuse to speak the truth to those I am called to love.
As you strive to “speak the truth in love and grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”, may your Faith grow deeper, your heart grow bigger, your arms grow wider and your ears grow keener to the Holy Spirit’s direction. LH