As is often the case, we need some care, wisdom and discernment as to when and how we might deal with the sin, error or failings of others. But contrary to the views of some, there certainly is a place for public rebuke – even for naming and shaming. It is interesting to see this with the Apostle Paul for example. There seem to have been at least eight individuals who were publicly named by Paul as having failed him or gone off the rails. Whether for betrayal or for sinful activity, Paul had no problem in calling them out in public.
Balancing biblical truths is always a tough gig. We can easily go off into one extreme while trying to avoid another. Consider the issue of dealing with other believers. On the one hand we are told repeatedly in Scripture that we are to be kind to others, forbearing, patient, forgiving, gentle, humble, and so on.
A main reason for all this is because we tend to be guilty of the same things we dislike in others. We all can be just as proud and rude and impatient and unloving and unfair as the next person. So we need to offer grace to others, just as God offers us grace. Let me share just three verses on this.
Paul in Ephesians 4:32 puts it this way: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And Galatians 6:1 speaks about how we should consider ourselves while we deal with others and their sin.
He says this: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” That verse does deal with the issue of rebuking others and calling out sin – but more on that in a moment.
A third text we should bear in mind is Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’.” That is actually one of the most encouraging texts in all of Scripture. I fail the Lord every single day, and yet he still forgives ME. So I need to extend that much forgiveness to others as well.
But on the other hand, Scripture tells us repeatedly that we are to call out sinful behaviour and false teaching. It tells us often about the need to challenge one another, to rebuke, to warn, and to sound the alarm. We are not to be indifferent or careless about the need to hold others to account, just as we are to hold ourselves to account.
So how are we to reconcile these two seemingly opposing sets of commands of Scripture? How can we love and be forbearing with others, yet at the same time uphold high standards and call out sin? One way to understand this is to keep this oft-heard principle in mind: private sin, private rebuke; public sin, public rebuke. I have discussed this elsewhere: here.
As I explain in that piece, there is in fact a place for calling out others – but it depends on when and where and how we do this. If a person I know of has some sin problem, I am to go to him alone, as in Matthew 18:15-20. The whole world does not need to know about the matter, and a private conversation will do, hopefully.
But if, say, a person writes a book for the whole world to see, and it contains some rather unhelpful and even unbiblical material, then one can publicly deal with that book if needed. Some years ago a noted Australian Christian leader put out a quite bad book with the title, You Need More Money. It was so bad that I penned a review of it, and also shared that review with other Christian publications.