In our Christian culture, we generally don’t like to name people who have behaved badly (at least publicly).
Don’t believe me? Just make a truthful statement about some of the false teachers of our day and then duck … because there will be many comments coming your way. You will be called judgmental, unloving, and much more.
In our Christian culture, it is generally believed to be inappropriate to speak against someone publicly. Instead, comments are typically shared in the shadows, in private meetings, in the church parking lot.
To be sure, there have always been critical people who enjoy condemning others and talking badly about them. But if we could look beneath the veneer, we would see that it is a proud heart that drives those people with the “spiritual gift” of criticism. 🙂
I guess the questions end up being: “Is it biblical to speak against someone who is in sin, who is teaching heresy, or who has caused us harm? And if so, when does it become gossip?”
“Is it biblical to speak against someone who is in sin, who is teaching heresy, or who has caused us harm?”
Well, let’s look at 2 Timothy, a book I was reading through this morning.
2 Timothy 1:15 (CSB) “You know that all those in the province of Asia have deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.”
We don’t know anything else about Phygelus and Hermogenes other than what is mentioned in this one verse. Apparently, they were known by name to Timothy so we might assume they were among the promising group of leaders who Paul was training.
We are told that they deserted him. We don’t know why. Maybe it was persecution. Maybe they came to realize the commitment was much larger than they had initially thought.
Regardless, they abandoned Paul – and he called them out for it. He named them to Timothy.
2 Timothy 2:16-18 (CSB) “Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness, and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some.”
In these verses, Paul calls out two individuals for rejecting the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Hymenaeus and Philetus were specifically named.
Again, these were probably people that Timothy knew. Paul wanted him to know that some people were abandoning the truth and Paul didn’t want to be ambiguous. He provided two names that may have surprised Timothy.
2 Timothy 4:9-10 (CSB) “Make every effort to come to me soon, because Demas has deserted me, since he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”
Paul had a strong personality and was driven by a passion for the Gospel and its dissemination. But he valued relationships. In fact, we can read his prison epistles and realize that he was probably battling loneliness and severe discouragement at times. He needed people around him.
When someone abandoned him, it stung. It was like a dagger that was thrust into his gut. The pain it caused was unspeakably intense.
So, Paul named a guy that deserted him. He told Timothy the guy’s name. He called him out.
2 Timothy 4:14-15 (CSB) “Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works. Watch out for him yourself because he strongly opposed our words.”
We don’t know anything about Alexander except what is given in these verses. We may suspect that since he was a coppersmith and he had motivation to hurt Paul, he may have been involved in making idols for worship. If that is the case, when Paul came into town and turned people away from the worship of idols, it would only be natural to expect Alexander, who was feeling the financial repercussions, to slander Paul and maybe get him arrested.
So, Paul named him. He called him out.
But Paul also had another motivation in mind. He knew that Alexander continued to pose a problem and might be a source of grief to Timothy. So Paul told Timothy to “watch out for him.”
Clearly, we see that Paul named people who were in sin, who were teaching heresy, and who had created serious problems for him and might pose a problem to others.
When does naming someone in sin, who is teaching heresy, or who has caused us harm become gossip?
While this could certainly be a bigger discussion, let me share three of the things I see in 2 Timothy that made Paul’s actions right … and not simply gossip.
Paul’s comments were made to one individual.
Paul wasn’t whimsically slandering individuals to groups of people. He was writing to one man, Timothy.
Timothy was a leader in the church. He would need to know where the landmines were.
This is a private letter between two people. Paul wasn’t burning the phone up or posting private matters to social media or having meetings with numerous people in the parking lot.
He was writing to one man.
The names would be beneficial to Timothy.
Timothy was on a need-to-know basis, and he needed to know.
Paul wasn’t simply sharing slanderous gossip with Timothy. Timothy probably knew all of the people Paul mentioned.
Some of them may have been friends. So, Timothy would need to know that the relationships had changed. He needed to know that when he reached out to the men Paul had mentioned, there was a reason they weren’t “returning his phone calls.”
Alexander the coppersmith was certainly someone Timothy needed to know about. Paul had accidentally stepped on that landmine and he had paid dearly for it. Paul wanted to protect Timothy from making the same mistake. “Please, Timothy, avoid Alexander at all costs. He hurt me and he will hurt you, too.”
The Gospel was at stake.
This third and final point elevates this discussion. It makes it clear that Paul wasn’t simply tossing out names and throwing people under the bus. Instead, he was naming people whose actions or teachings were undermining the propagation of the Gospel.
The Gospel was the message of God’s condemnation of all sinners but also of God’s love and God’s sacrificial gift that, if received by faith, would bring individuals into a relationship with God so that they would never experience His wrath.
So, with Paul’s passion to get the Gospel out to the masses, he was frustrated (angry!) with anyone who stood in the way of the spread of the Gospel. Without it, people would die and spend eternity in Hell. Therefore, Paul named the people whose actions or speech stood in the way of the Gospel.
It has been my observation that much of the name-sharing that takes place in our churches is simply gossip. Within the churches I have pastored, I have confronted people who were gossips and even those who were so duplicitous that they were playing both sides of the fence. Much of the name-sharing in our churches is utterly sinful.
But, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place to call out sin and name the parties involved. In my estimation, Paul’s example in 2 Timothy gives us the guidelines to determine whether we are gossiping or doing what has a biblical precedent.
I hope this post has been helpful. If you have questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comments section below.