It is easy to get caught up in talking about what we consider to be wrong behavior or pick on the weaknesses we see in other people. Not only can it be hurtful to the people we are speaking of, but it can hurt our reputation. We end up looking bad when we speak evil of others. It is especially hurtful when it is done within a group of friends or family. (Romans 14:12-13)
I was once having a conversation with a man I had not previously met. During the conversation, I noticed a friend nearby looking confused. I stopped and asked if I could be of help and then returned to the conversation. The next words he spoke shocked me. They were very derogatory statements about my friend. I stood for a moment before I responded, trying to grasp what was being said. My friend was dressed modestly so at first, I did not understand his comments. Then it dawned on me that without knowing anything about her he was judging her character by her looks. Her big “sin” in his eyes was that she was wearing her hair differently and dressed boldly. There was absolutely nothing sinful about it, but he had put her in a box he had created for himself. This box held all his preconceived notions of how a Christian should look and she did not fit into it.
We all know the scripture “Judge not that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37-38). It is a reminder to us. Yes, we can judge something bad that is done—the action—but we are not to judge the person. That is up to God. This can be a difficult thing for people to do. We have trouble separating the sin from the sinner, as it were. We have all been the accuser at one time or another. The point is that if someone is really doing wrong we should try to help them, not talk about them. And we should do it gently, not run them over like a bulldozer or declare it like a sports announcer to the crowd.
The apostle Paul teaches us that we should restore each other, we should bear each other’s burdens and that we deceive ourselves if we think we are better than anyone else (Galatians 6:3-5). We need to help ourselves but we are also to help others, not bring them down. Ecclesiastes 7:1 reminds us to protect our good name, but we should also protect the name of others. In the case of my friend there was no wrongdoing, so nothing was to be gained by speaking evil of her.
Ecclesiastes also tells us not to be overly righteous or wise, and that there is not a just man on the earth who does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:16, Ecclesiastes 7:20). Knowing that should make us stop and think. Sometimes we get upset by what people say about us but if we carry on about it, it just makes us look bad (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22). When that man insulted my friend, I quietly told him she was a dedicated, wonderful person who had overcome a lot in her life. With little to say he walked away from the conversation. I did not insult him or speak angrily but hoped I left him with something to think about.
Jesus, at one point, was defending Himself against those who complained He was healing people on the Sabbath. He told them not to judge Him on what appeared to be sin, but to use righteous judgment (John 7:24). What looked evil to the people was not at all sinful. We must be careful not to speak against others, we do not always see what God sees or think as God thinks.
We also need to remember that every Christian is at a different stage in their conversion and even those who have come a long way have a long way to go. We all sin (Romans 3:23). We need to ask ourselves: "Is what I see really sin?" If it is then we need to go to the person as a friend and gently speak to them. If we are unsure or it is questionable whether it is even a bad action, then we have no right to assume we know how God views it. We should pray for the person before God if we are concerned.
We should also ask ourselves if talking about a person is useful. If someone is in a similar situation to us then we can be of possible support. But usually, the answer to this question is no. Unless the person is in danger or there are other risks, then what you think or know about of someone else should not be shared? There is an old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It is something mothers often tell their children, but as Christians, it is something we should continually remind ourselves.