Guard Against Giving Away a Fault
GOD’S Word, the Bible, encourages us to be generous, to be giving, and that with good reason, for it makes for happiness all around. But there is one kind of giving that it does not encourage. And what is that? The giving away of a fault of one’s brother, companion or intimate acquaintance.—Ps. 50:20; Acts 20:35.
You may be very careful not to spread false reports, and the idea of indulging in malicious slander or perjuring yourself by bearing false witness may seem abhorrent to you, and that is fine. But did you know that in connection with use of the tongue God requires even more as evidence of neighbor love?—Ex. 20:16.
Concerning this we read at Psalm 15:1-3: “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent? Who will reside in your holy mountain? He who . . . has not slandered with his tongue. To his companion he has done nothing bad, and no reproach has he taken up against his intimate acquaintance.” Yes, if you would have God’s friendship you may take up no reproach, whether true or not, against an intimate acquaintance.
That God views the matter of indulging in harmful talk seriously can be seen from another psalm: “But to the wicked one God will have to say: ‘What right do you have to enumerate my regulations, and that you may bear my covenant in your mouth? Why, you—you have hated discipline, and you keep throwing my words behind you. You sit and speak against your own brother, against the son of your mother you give away a fault.’”—Ps. 50:16, 17, 20.
Obviously, when the wicked one gives away a fault it is done in malice or ill will. More often than not, however, the ones giving away a fault are not enemies but those who profess to love one another. Husbands and wives often give away each other’s faults, letting outsiders know about things that should remain hidden. Then again, parents comment to others on the shortcomings of their children, at times even doing so in the presence of their children, to their hurt. Nor is this giving away of a fault unknown or absent from members of Christian congregations.
Not without good reason does God condemn such giving away of a fault. For one thing, it involves the betrayal of a trust, a confidence, for what is particularly condemned is the giving away of a fault of a brother, the taking up of a reproach against an intimate acquaintance. By reason of close association in the family, at one’s place of employment or of worship one gets to know others intimately, and so has opportunity to observe their shortcomings. Loyalty requires that the reproach be not spread. However, the first man Adam betrayed a glaring lack of loyalty to his wife when he volunteered the information that she had been the first to transgress, and his doing so was not motivated by any prior loyalty to God.—Gen. 3:3, 12.
More than that, the giving away of a fault is unloving. It flies in the face of the counsel: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” In fact, simple justice precludes our giving away a fault, for does it not require that we do to others as we would have them do to us? Who wants to have his faults given away?—1 Pet. 4:8; Matt. 7:12.
There is other harm that giving away a fault can do. It might separate good friends: “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.” Why weaken or dissolve friendships by downgrading talk? Or why lessen or destroy the influence for good that another may have by making known his shortcomings? Would it not be better to mention the favorable things others do than to give away their faults?—Prov. 17:9.
It may, therefore, well be asked, What makes humans give away a fault? Is it because of the need to have something to talk about, without considering the effect it may have? Or is it due to a lack of empathy, being unable to put oneself in another’s place? This is true of gossip in general, for, even when wholly harmless, it usually consists of small talk that the subject of the gossip would prefer having left unsaid.
Then again, it may be pride, perhaps even an unconscious wanting to exalt oneself, that causes one to give away the fault of another. Or it could be that one is nursing a grievance and is looking for sympathy from others instead of following the Scriptural rule of going to the one whose fault offended and straightening out matters. (Matt. 18:15-17) Another motive may be that of self-justification. Thus Adam betrayed not only a lack of loyalty but also a desire to justify his own transgression by calling attention to Eve’s. When it comes to giving away a fault it is easy for the human heart to deceive itself. (Jer. 17:9) Only Jehovah God can fully know it, but his Word can help you to know your own heart better, for it is “able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:12.
However, there are exceptions in the matter of revealing faults, as when one is questioned in regard to a judicial matter. Loyalty to God, to principle, to one’s cause, to one’s loved ones may require the giving away of a fault. For such good reasons Jesus gave away the fault of the religious leaders in his day, that of hypocrisy. So today also it may be necessary to give away the fault of a brother or of an intimate acquaintance to protect the interests of others, and, in particular, the interests of the Christian congregation.—1 Cor. 1:11; 5:1.
But aside from these exceptions, there is no justification for giving away the fault of a brother or of an intimate acquaintance. As has well been noted time and again, when tempted to say something of a personal nature it is well to ask: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Pertinent here is the counsel of the apostle Paul: “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another. Stop tearing down the work of God.”—Rom. 14:19, 20.