One of the worst things that a church member can do to hinder Christ’s work and ministry, that is proclaiming the Good News of God’s love for all, is to speak ill of a fellow Christian. Yet it is common to hear Christians speak of each other in an uncomplimentary ways.
Of course there are plenty of faults that we can find in our fellow church members. The only real requirement for church membership is that we have to be sinners (if one is not a sinner, one does not need God’s grace and forgiveness).
But when we do anything that serves to hurt our neighbor’s reputation, we betray our own hearts. We demonstrate a less than compassionate attitude toward our neighbor.
Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, explained the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” as including more than refraining from being untruthful about others. Luther wrote that we should “speak well of” our neighbor, “and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”
James Nestingen and Gerhard Forde, in their confirmation handbook titled “Free to Be” (Augsburg Publishing, 1975) wrote, “ . . . God takes (great care) to protect our names. He not only forbids betraying, slandering, and lying about one another, but he commands us to speak the truth in love, loving our neighbors enough to keep quiet about their faults unless we speak to them directly.”
Before we talk about others or their actions, perhaps it would be wise to evaluate them in light of the Apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians (4: 8), when he wrote, “ . . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
If we use this verse as a mirror with which to examine our thoughts before we speak them, perhaps others will be able to see in us a glimpse of the loving Lord whom we all seek to serve.