Young People Ask
Should I Tell On My Friend?
“It was extremely difficult. This person was a good friend of mine.”—James.*
“At first, things were really tense. I was treated as an outsider because I spoke up.”—Ann.
THE Bible says: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) Have you found such a companion? If so, you have found something special.
But what if a friend who claims to be a Christian has got into trouble? For instance, what if he or she has become involved in immorality, smoking, underage drinking, abuse of drugs, or some other serious wrongdoing? (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10) What should you do? Confront your friend? Tell your parents? Tell your friend’s parents? Report the matter to a congregation elder?* If you speak up, what will happen to your friendship? Would it be better just to keep quiet?
To Tell or Not to Tell?
Everyone makes mistakes. Indeed, the Bible says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) However, some get involved in serious transgressions. Others take a “false step” that if left unchecked could lead to further trouble. (Galatians 6:1) Consider the following real-life example.
◼ A young Christian named Susan found out that her friend, also a Christian, had a Web page that contained sexually suggestive photos and music with explicit lyrics.
Consider: What would you do if you were Susan? Would you do something about the situation? Or would you decide that what your friend posts on her Web page is her own business and no one else’s? If Susan came to you and asked for advice, what would you tell her?
What Susan chose to do: After giving the matter some thought, Susan decided to talk to her friend’s parents. “It was scary,” she says, “because they’re also good friends of mine. It was so hard to tell them that I started to cry.”
What do you think? Did Susan do the right thing? Or would it have been better for her to keep quiet?
To help you reason on the matter, here are some factors to consider:
What would a real friend do? Proverbs 17:17 states: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” When someone pursues a course that violates Bible principles, that person is ‘in distress,’ knowingly or unknowingly. While it is a mistake to be “righteous overmuch” by making an issue of minor matters, a real friend will not turn a blind eye to unchristian conduct. (Ecclesiastes 7:16) Ignoring the situation is simply not an option.—Leviticus 5:1.
What if the roles were reversed? Ask yourself: ‘If I were a parent and my son or daughter had a Web page with sexually suggestive content, would I want to be made aware of it? How would I feel if my son or daughter had a friend who knew what was going on but didn’t say anything about it?’
What about God’s standards? If any code needs to be followed, it’s not a code of silence. Rather, you should adhere to God’s moral code as set forth in the Bible. The fact is, when you stand up for what’s right, you make your Creator’s heart glad. (Proverbs 27:11) In addition, you feel better because you know that you truly acted in your friend’s best interests.—Ezekiel 33:8.
“A Time to Speak”
The Bible says that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) Younger children often can’t tell which course is appropriate in a given situation. When a companion does something wrong, they reason: ‘I don’t want to get my friend in trouble’ or ‘I don’t want to get into trouble with my friend.’ If those were the only factors to consider, the decision would be simple—this would be “a time to keep quiet.”
However, as you grow up, you begin to look at such matters from a more mature viewpoint. You realize that your friend is already in trouble and needs help—help that perhaps you can initiate. Specifically, though, what can you do if you hear that a friend has got involved in conduct that violates Bible laws or principles?
First, confirm whether what you’ve heard is true. It may merely be a false rumor. (Proverbs 14:15) A teenager named Katie recalls: “A friend of mine started telling lies about me, and people who were close to me thought that what she said was true. I was scared that no one would ever believe me!” The Bible foretold that Jesus would not “reprove simply according to the thing heard by his ears”—or as the Contemporary English Version renders it, he “won’t . . . listen to rumors.” (Isaiah 11:3) The lesson? Don’t hastily assume that everything you hear is true. Try to find out the facts. Consider a real-life situation.
◼ James, mentioned at the outset of this article, heard that his good friend had used drugs at a party.
Consider: What would you do if you were James? How might you determine if what you heard is the truth?
What James chose to do. At first, James pretended that he had heard nothing and knew nothing. “Then, my conscience started to bother me,” he says. “I knew that I’d have to confront my friend about the matter.”
What do you think? What advantages might there be in first talking to the person who allegedly engaged in unchristian conduct?
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the person about the matter, what else could you do?
James’ friend admitted that he had indeed taken drugs at a party. But then he begged James not to tell anyone about it. James wanted to do what was right. But he wanted his friend to do the right thing as well. So he told his friend that he would give him one week to report the matter to the elders in his congregation. If he did not do so, then James would report it himself.
Do you think what James did was fair? Why or why not?
James’ friend did not go to the elders, so James reported the matter. Later, however, his friend came to his senses. He was helped by the elders to see the need to repent and to restore a clean relationship with Jehovah.
Are You Being a Snitch?
Still, you might ask: ‘Won’t I be a snitch if I tell on my friend? Wouldn’t it be easier to pretend that I don’t know anything?’ If you find yourself in such a situation, what can you do?
First, realize that the easy thing to do is not always loving and the loving thing to do is not always easy. It takes courage to report a friend’s wrongdoing. Why not talk to God in prayer about the matter? Ask him for the wisdom and courage that you need. He will help you.—Philippians 4:6.
Second, think about how your reporting the situation will benefit your friend. To illustrate, suppose you and your friend are walking along a steep hillside when, because of a misstep, your friend stumbles off the path to a ledge below. Obviously, your friend needs help. But what if, out of embarrassment, he tells you that he would rather try to climb the steep slope by himself? Would you let him risk his life in that manner?
It is similar when a friend stumbles from the Christian path. That person may feel that he or she can recover spiritually without help. But that is foolish reasoning. True, your friend may feel some embarrassment over what happened. But your ‘call for help’ may well save your friend’s life!—James 5:15.
Therefore, do not be afraid to speak up if a friend has got involved in wrongdoing. By getting help for that one, you are showing loyalty to Jehovah God and loyalty to your friend, who may one day be grateful for your loving intervention.
More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
Names in this article have been changed.
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, elders render spiritual assistance to any who have fallen into serious sin.—James 5:14-16.
TO THINK ABOUT
◼ How is reporting a friend’s wrong conduct actually an evidence of loyalty to your friend?
◼ What characters in the Bible can you think of whose loyalty to a friend was tested? What can you learn from them?
[Picture on page 20]
If a friend has fallen from the Christian path, you need to make sure he gets help