by George Anderson
Shakespeare observed that he "who steals my purse steals
trash. Tis something, nothing. Twas mine. Tis his, and has been
slave to thousands. But he who filches from my good name, takes
that which not enriches him, and leaves me poor indeed."
Talebearing, slandering, putdowns, reporting on and talking
about other people are some of the most destructive practices
that God's people get involved in. It is like carrying on
guerrilla warfare with one's neighbors as the enemy to be
destroyed. Sadly, many people participate in this warfare without
seeming to realize the consequences of their words:
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great
things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And
the tongue is a fin:, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so
set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and
sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by
hell [James 3:5-6].
There are two directions that talking about others can take.
One is carrying tales to those in authority, and the other is
just plain gossip with anybody and everybody. The Bible says,
"You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people" (Lev.
19:16). This principle is repeated many times in the Old and New
There are primarily four reasons why people give information
to those in authority:
1) To ingratiate yourself with those in authority. This is
commonly called "playing politics"; but, it is playing politics
with the reputation of our neighbor.
Did you ever have your reputation tainted, or destroyed, by
someone talking about you to those over you, passing along juicy
half-truths, innuendoes, incomplete stories and anonymous
"opinions" - all passed along for the best intentions, of course.
When someone is robbed of money or physical things that they have
worked for, they feel violated, diminished and taken advantage
of. But physical things can be replaced.
Justice Clarence Thomas, when he was before the Senate
Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings, said "I have
spent 40 years building my reputation for fairness and integrity,
and they are trying to take it away from me in week." A ruined
reputation is almost impossible to overcome. Even if the
allegations are later proved untrue, there is always a taint, a
suspicion about one's integrity in the minds of those involved.
Moreover, the accused will distrust the talebearer and those who
acted on the information.
2) To gain an advantage over someone by soiling his character is
the most vicious reason for carrying information to an overseer.
"But we are converted people," some will say. "Surely people in
the Church of God, or someone in authority there, wouldn't do
something like that." On the other hand, we all went to the same
"school" of this world. And in spite of our efforts to love our
neighbor as ourselves, we still have much of the mind of this
world influenced by Satan. Any time we go to someone in authority
about someone else, we need to question our motives very
3) To try to "help" a person overcome some problem is the
altruistic reason given by most of those who inform.
If we believe that this is our motivation, we need to think
before we speak. Seldom, if ever, does tale bearing involve a
pure desire to help. There is a better way to help. Jesus told us
how to handle such matters, and those who have followed His
instructions find that it works.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him
his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you
have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, lake
with you one or two more, that "by the mouth of two or three
witnesses every word may be established." And if he refuses
to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even
to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a
tax collector (Matt.18:15-17].
James gives us similar instructions: "Brethren, if anyone
among you wanders from the truth, and someone rums him back, let
him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way
will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James
4) To protect yourself or someone who is not able to act for
This is the one legitimate reason to go to authority with
information about others. If a child, an older person, or someone
else that is unable to protect himself is being abused, degraded
or taken advantage of, then a person should seek help for the
helpless either with the civil authorities or the Church.
California law states that anyone in a caretaker position, such
as a teacher, nurse, or doctor, is required to report child abuse
if there is mason to suspect it. No one abusing children, the
aged or the handicapped, should be protected or shielded. Total
repentance, which means that the abuse has stopped, is the only
remedy for this kind of sin.
If we understand that Jesus died to cover our sins from the
sight of God the Father, then it is easier to understand that the
ultimate good we can do for someone is to cover his sins and
faults from others. Instead of broadcasting people's problems,
you should keep private matters private if someone has confided
in you. Seek to build a friendship with another person who has
thought enough of you to trust you by discussing his problems
with you. Sadly, real friendship is a rarity in this life - even
in God's Church! The only way that we can build friendship is to
respect the confidence of our friends and love them enough to
cover and! forget about their faults and sins.
The greatest story of friendship in the Old Testament is
that of Jonathan, the son of Saul, for David who was anointed to
take his place as the heir to the throne of Israel. Jonathan even
risked his life for his friend.
And let's not forget the greatest friendship of all -
Christ's friendship for you and me. He not only risked His life,
but actually laid it down - from a motive of friendship and
unselfish love. Jesus gave it all so we could live.
Compare how differently Jesus Christ and Satan consider
talebearing. Jesus died, gave His own life, so that our sins can
be blotted out and remembered no more; Satan is called the great
accuser of the brethren and continually brings our sins before
God. Jesus forgives our sins and forgets them; Satan spreads our
sins abroad to everyone who will listen. If we have chosen to
follow Jesus instead of Satan, then we should emulate Him in
hiding the mistakes of our friends instead of standing as their
In Nazi Germany, in the 1930s, Adolph Hitler adopted an
informer system so that he could ferret out dissent. In Hitler's
Youth Corps, the children were taught to inform on their
neighbors, parents and peers. Many of those so denounced were put
in prison or killed. Christ prophesied of a similar future time,
"Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his
child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them
to be put to death" (Matt.10:21).
If people are in the habit of using the informer system in a
time of peace, it will only be natural for them to act likewise
when a time of trouble comes - with potentially disastrous
A neighbor of mine, Jean Pelisier, a French-American, was
visiting France just when WW2 events trapped him in his native
land. He said, "The most terrible thing was not what the Germans
did to the French during the occupation, but what the French did
to one another by informing on others so as to gain advantage
with the Germans and favor with the Vichy government."
The informer system is not the way of God but of Satan.
God's way is for friends to talk to friends about their problems,
to resolve them, and to continue their friendship - building
trust, confidence and love. Satan's way is to divide people by
creating confusion, distrust and hatred. This happens when people
don't communicate with one another directly, but rather inform on
one another to superiors or otherwise gossip: "I thought you'd
like to know; it's the opinion of some, but not necessarily mine
There is a time to go to others. When your brother will not
listen to you, or to two or three of your common friends, then it
is time to appeal to the ministry.
This is not to imply in any way that if someone has a
personal problem he should not go to the minister with it. The
minister is provided by the Church to help in solving problems,
to resolve disputes, and to counsel those who need help in
reaching a positive solution or goal. If there is a personal
problem, or if you are not able to resolve a problem with your
brother, the minister is there to assist in such matters. Many
ministers have training in counselling and problem solving. Most
have experience to counsel and help with many kinds of
difficulties. If they are not able to help with a particular
problem, they may be able to recommend sources where help can be
"The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go
down into the inmost body" (Prov.8:8). To talk about people is
like passing around a box of chocolates, with a little poison in
each piece. It is not just poison to the one being talked about,
but poison also to the one talking and to those listening. "What
comes out of a man, that defiles a man" (Mark 7:20). The one
telling the story is defiled by what comes out of him. The minds
of those listening are poisoned just a little, or very much as
the case may be, against the person being talked about. The one
being talked about is also wounded, because those who are his
friends have lowered their opinion of him.
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good
man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good
things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings
forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word
men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of
judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by
your words you will be condemned [Matt.12:34-36].
How many friendships have been broken up by a talebearer or
a gossip! "A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates
the best of friends" (Prov.16:28). Children start fights between
other children by going back and forth between them, maybe
emphasizing things just a little more than what the person quoted
actually said or leaving out or shading the circumstances in
which the comment was made.
Sometimes friends are not just separated, but even brought
to blows, over practically nothing, because a talebearer pushes
matters to promote a fight. Among adults the process is not much
different, except that adults may just start ignoring the other
person and cease to have anything further to do with him.
Talking about someone else' problem, whether incorrectly
perceived or actual, is an expression of hatred toward that
person. Perhaps this could be better understood by saying that
the person being talked about is despised. To talk about
someone's sins, problems or simply pass on malicious,
mean-spirited opinions, carelessly, is a forth of despising the
worth of that individual.. "Hatred stirs up strife, but love
covers all sins" (Prov.10:12). This is the great love that Jesus
showed for us by covering our sins with His own life's blood.
What can we do if someone tells us something detrimental
about someone else? The best thing to do is to say, "This could
be serious. Let's you and me go now, or go next Sabbath, and talk
to him about this." This approach is much better than asking the
person giving you the information to go first and talk to the
targeted person. The talebearer has already passed up that
opportunity and brought the problem to you. To clear your mind of
any suspicion or taint of the one talked about, you should go as
soon as possible with the accuser and discuss the situation with
the individual being talked about. Your mind will then be cleared
of wondering if the matter is true. The person bringing you the
story may understand the whole matter more thoroughly. The person
talked about will have a chance to clear himself or to think
through the matter and make changes. We should never let a matter
just lie in our minds and perhaps fester into suspicion and
distrust. We will also come to distrust the one who does the
telling because we know that we can't trust him with our secrets
for he will tell them to others.
If we wish to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must cover
their sins and faults as we would want our own to be covered. As
we ask Jesus Christ to cover our sins with His blood, we must
also forgive our friends for their faults and problems.
Brethren, we need to help each other in any way that we can.
However, helping is never detrimentally talking about someone
except to protect the helpless. Helping is never carrying
perceived problems and possible sins to others, but rather it is
following the instructions of Jesus Christ to talk with the
person alone - then we can win our brother.