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Warren E. Berkley

 Do you remember this from junior high school? A student comes to you and says, “will you tell Sally that I like her?” Or, “will you tell Mary to tell Jane that Henry said he likes Sally?” You were being asked to deliver a message someone else didn’t want to deliver. Perhaps you complied with the request in junior high. But as an adult you recognize that as juvenile behavior.

Yet in offices occupied by adults, a form of that adolescent method may be attempted. “Will you tell the boss that Bob told Bill that Joe didn’t like his annual evaluation. I just think the boss should know.” While you may reluctantly comply with that chain of tittle-tattle, you know there are better ways to communicate.

This happens in families. Shunning straight communication and perhaps with an equal absence of maturity and courage, one family member may ask another to get another one “told.” Though the approach often backfires, it seems to be perpetuated through several generations. It solves no problems and could create many.

Then there are churches. The rule in many places seems to be, if you want to complain about the elders, go to the preacher. If you have something against the preacher, say nothing to him; take it to the elders.

Preachers are targets of this. Many times in 49 years, I’ve been approached by someone and told plainly, “somebody needs to correct brother _____.” The object of this criticism may have mis-worded a prayer, said something out of place or failed to correct a child. The preacher is supposed to fix all of this.

Personally, I just don’t do this. I don’t let people use me to fix people they think should be fixed. If a complaint is valid, take it up with the “guilty party.” If the complaint is just idle talk, I don’t want to hear it. The only time you can bring me in would be in cases where specific application of Matt. 18:16 or 1 Tim. 5:19 are objectively apparent.

Cristians should be people of such maturity, we don’t use the communication methods of a 7th grader. Strife is often the result, when you talk about people in their absence. If you really care about the “guilty party,” and you are convinced they are in spiritual jeopardy, speak directly to the person. Don’t hand off challenging situations to others. That’s cowardly, immature, fosters ill will and often backfires.

I like what Henry Van Dyke said: Never believe anything bad about anybody unless you positively know it to be true; never tell even that unless you feel that it is absolutely necessary — and remember that God is listening while you tell it.

I really like what James said: If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (Jas. 1:26).

From the archives of Expository Files, Jan. 2009

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