Our family met a delightful woman in Switzerland who offered to show us around. We traveled in two cars. I rode with our new friend, and my family followed. Instead of raving about the beauty of the Swiss Alps my companion began to sing the praises of the person who’d maligned our family and other Christian leaders.
I couldn’t believe it.
Thousands of miles away from home and I had to listen to someone unwittingly praise my enemy. And worse, she encouraged others to follow this deceitful leader. Having been raised on the above adage, I prayed as I went back and forth on how to respond.
We forgive a wrong doer and hope the memory of our hurt will evaporate like morning dew in sunshine. But if the person who caused our pain doesn’t change and continues to work, worship, and live around us, we have to learn how to cope with them and respond to those bewitched by their charm or talent. These people’s naivety can rewound us and lead others astray.
Some people, recovering from the attack of an evil influencer, dream of moving away from their pain to avoid these encounters. But as I realized that day in Switzerland, there is nowhere to run. It’s better to face it head on and let God use it—and you—for His purposes.
So how do we respond when people trust someone we know to be wicked? Do we speak up when someone wants to hire a person we know to be irresponsible? Should we follow the opening adage and say nothing? If we’re silent when others applaud this person, do we mislead them or set them up for harm? If we speak up, are we bitter and judgmental? What should we do?
Should I Look for What’s Nice or What’s True?
Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NASB).
In our series we’ve looked at how forgiveness frees us to make wise decisions unspoiled by bitterness and allows us to heal from our injuries. But old wounds may still throb when people minimize the harm of an evil doer.
Some fear this discomfort means they haven’t forgiven. Feeling disturbed is not the same as being bitter (Romans 12:9; Hebrews 12:15). God is righteous and feels indignation each day (Ps. 7:11). And showing good judgment doesn’t make you judgmental.
In an effort to avoid appearing critical, I’ve heard people ask God to help them see only the good in their enemy. That sounds noble, but Jesus tells us not to throw pearls to pigs. “If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). How do we recognize these people if we ignore their swine-like traits?
Should I Say Something Nice or Be Kind?
Forgiveness releases the offender to God who promises to deal with him/her (Romans 12). But it doesn’t toss out the need for shrewdness. The Bible uses yeast to illustrate the pervasive influence of evil. A small amount packs a big punch. If you are a shepherd, you not only need wisdom to protect yourself, you must also protect those in your charge.
Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matt. 7:15 NLT). Some of these wolves had performed miracles in His name. Jesus called them wicked (Matthew 7:15-23). He wasn’t being unkind; He was being the Good Shepherd.
I counseled a young woman whose youth pastor tried to rape her. You can imagine how this shook her faith in God and the church. Here’s the kicker. When her church leaders dug deeper into the assailant’s past, they learned he’d committed a similar crime at his previous church. The leaders of that church chose to “forgive and forget” because the culprit promised to never do it again.
By following the “If you can’t say something nice” adage, these leaders clothed this wolf with pastoral authority and released him into the church to devour God’s sheep. That’s not love; it’s treachery.By following the “If you can’t say something nice” adage, these leaders clothed this wolf with pastoral authority and released him into the church to devour God’s sheep. That’s not love; it’s treachery. #wisdom Click To Tweet
So back to our original question, is it ever appropriate to speak when what you have to say about someone isn’t nice? Do we tell our family, “Don’t leave your children with Uncle Harry because he abused me when I was a child”? Or do we warn, “Think twice before partnering with Frances. She has a history of mismanaging funds”?Saying something nice isn't nice if it harms innocent people. #SpeakTruth Click To Tweet
Biblical Tips on When to Speak
- Consider your motive. If your motivation to speak is revenge, take time with God until you desire to “speak the truth in love.” If the desire to be quiet comes from self-protection from possible fallout, consider God’s warning in Ezekiel 33:1-9.
- Reverse roles. If you were in this person’s place would a warning protect you? If someone asks for your opinion or if your knowledge could spare them from harm, a warning may be appropriate. Even though no one enjoys learning someone may not be what they appear, those spared from suffering will be grateful.
Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV). #Kindness Click To Tweet
Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).
Paul warned his friends in the faith. “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm, but the Lord will judge him for what he has done. Be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said,” (II Timothy 4:14-15, NLT).
God leads those willing to obey. Wisdom and love show us when to be silent and not give what is holy to those who are unholy (Matt. 7:6) and when to speak (Eccles. 3:7). When we speak, a simple warning like Paul’s, that doesn’t rehash the details or stir up the past, should be enough.
My trip to Switzerland taught me I can’t run from pain, but my experience may save someone else from harm. When we keep our hearts clean, His gentle nudge will guide us.
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
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