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Should I Keep My Friend’s Sin Secret?

RMlogo Should I keep my friend's sin secret_

Your friend comes to you with a secret sin. How would you respond to him? You are his accountability partner, and he asks you to keep his sin confidential.

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You may want to read:

  1. Is it okay to pledge confidentiality or have an expectation of it?
  2. Does confidentiality have value in the context of confession?
  3. Are there instances where we should tell others about a transgression, even if the guilty party is against it?
  4. What biblical principles should guide us when it comes to secrets and secret keeping?

On the Importance of Words

The word confidentiality is not a Bible word. It’s a modern word from the secular counseling world that we brought into the Christian conversation. This understanding is critical because words are important. Our Christian faith and practice stands or falls on how we think about and respond to words (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Word selection and use require our utmost care. For example, theologians have stood at the door of the Word of God for centuries protecting any misuse of God’s Word, while serving us in how to understand it correctly.

They knew the only way we could have faith in God was by His Word (Romans 10:17). Historical theologians have lived and died protecting God’s Word from theological error (2 Timothy 4:6-7). The call for theological precision has always been paramount for the Christian.

One of the odd developments in the past 100 years is how the Christian community has not been as vigilant regarding words in the arena of sanctification. While we can be exacting in parsing the Greek, which we should be meticulous in doing, we can be sloppy when it comes to thinking about and developing sanctification processes.

Sound theology is merely an excellent beginning to a God-glorifying life. Sound sanctification is just as necessary as sound theology because sanctification is the outflow of our theological understanding. You could succinctly define sanctification as the application of theology.

  • Knowledge (theology) without application can make one arrogant (1 Corinthians 8:1).
  • Application without theology can make one foolish. (See the “fool verses” in Proverbs)
  • It is only with a biblically accurate understanding and use of theology that one can be wise (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How to be a person of WISDOM The call of God is not only to be a stickler about theology but to be just as picky about how we apply our theology. There is a blindside to our sanctification that must be guarded just as fiercely as our theological prowess.

If you are not as exacting in how you think about sanctification, you’re on the road to being a devil–a person who is familiar with the Bible, but does not accurately apply the Bible (Genesis 3:1; James 2:19).

On Being Confidential

You could extract the word confidential from the Christian vocabulary, though I realize that is easier said than done. Confidentiality is the world’s approach to problem-solving, not the Bible’s. Christians should not think this way because–as always–the Bible gives us a better way to think about communication.

Let me tell you a story:

Luke was his pastor’s accountability partner. As time went on Luke learned that his pastor struggled with a porn addiction, which was a thirty-year secret.

Eventually, the pastor was terminated for other reasons, though the character-related problems tied to his porn problem were part of his other issues too. The elders knew about the other issues and the character deficiencies, but they did not know how deep and wide his problems were.

Within a few weeks, the recently fired pastor began looking for another ministry job. Luke appealed to him to come clean with the churches who were interviewing him. The wannabe pastor refused while holding Luke to the secularized standard of confidentiality.

Paul gave the Corinthian church a public rebuke for keeping silent about sexual sin (1 Corinthians 5:12). He warned them about how their lack of appropriate confrontation leads to even greater public scrutiny and judgment (1 Corinthians 6:1).

When sinful offenses are happening our first call to action should be redemptive measures, not secretive ones. If you don’t think this way, the sin, like cancer, will continue to spread until more and more people are affected (1 Corinthians 5:6).

On Reframing the Word

The Bible does not talk about confidentiality the way it is generally understood and applied in our culture. This reality does not mean God is silent on the matter. His Word has a lot to say about it after you re-frame the language biblically.

What we’re talking about here is communication: How are we to communicate with each other? The word communication comes from the word community or the Greek word koinonia. The word koinonia means fellowship, community, or participation, all of which means how we are to interrelate with each other in the body of Christ.

The primary way we have relational interaction with each other is by how we communicate with each other.

  • Koinonia is moving in the direction of unity, transparency, honesty, integrity, vulnerability, trust, and redemption.
  • Confidentiality is moving in the direction of secrets, hiding, fear, distrust, and deception.

Confidentiality does not have Biblical moorings, which means you can apply it in unbiblical ways. The story of Luke and his former pastor illustrate how this can be a problem.

The Bible gives us better words that teach us how to build community through communication. Here are a few examples.

(As you read these words, be impressed with how the Bible teaches us to govern our tongues while broadening God’s expectations for community conversations.)

Discretion, Building Up, Fitting Speech, Backbiting, Unwholesome Speech, Soft Answer, Judicious, Confession, Ungodly Speech, Slander, Slow to Speak, Rash Words, Grumbling, Wise Words, Gossip

There are many more words about communication in the Bible that either encourage or convict us about how we talk to and about each other. Here are a few of those verses, not to mention all of James 3:1-18.

1 Peter 3:1–9; Ephesians 5:22–33; James 1:19; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 4:15; Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 16:23; Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 12:18; James 1:5; Proverbs 25:11–15; Matthew 12:37; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 10:29; Proverbs 17:27

On Biblical Restoration

Let’s take the case of the secretive pastor. He likes the word confidentiality because he wants to keep his sin hidden from his friends. Here is a governing passage for how we are to think about this pastor, while never deviating from God’s directives in how we use our tongues.

1 – If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

2 – But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that you can establish every charge by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

3 – If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17

Remember, the goal is not confidentiality, but a community, which will happen in proportion to us being built up in the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13-16). The “community question” as opposed to the “confidentiality question” should motivate us to ask,

How can we have a better community within the body of Christ rather than how can we seek to keep our sinful secrets confidential?

Faith motivates the community with a desire for unity while fear typically drives confidentiality with a desire to keep secrets. The humble gospelized person has nothing to hide and is always pushing toward greater integration within the body of Christ.

Christ came to give us a biblical community (koinonia). His desire has always been to reverse the curse (Romans 8:1). Adam put on figs leaves to cover his fear, guilt, and shame because he was more interested in secret keeping than open and honest care and accountability (Genesis 3:7-10).

We do not want to mimic Adam (Ephesians 5:11). We want to follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We do this through confession, which is agreeing with Him about the actual condition of ourselves while walking out repentance, which is turning away from our sins (1 John 1:7-10). That is how we experience biblical koinonia in the body of Christ.

Will You Love Your Brother?

There will be times when a brother or sister in Christ will sin. When this happens, there is a process for restoring them back to God.

The first step in that process is their confession to God. If the person confesses his sins to God, he can receive instant forgiveness, while stepping on the path to freedom from his sin.

But if he is caught in a sin that he cannot or will not extricate himself from (like the pastor), he will need external restoration from those who are in a community with him (Galatians 6:1-2). This necessity is where Matthew 18:15-17 releases us from secular worldviews about how to help people change.

If a person is not willing to clean up his act or cannot clean up his act, the Lord has called the body of Christ to engage the brother for (1) His glory, (2) the brother’s benefit, and (3) the body’s health.

This perspective is why I would never pledge with anyone to keep things confidential. If someone were to appeal to me to keep what they are about to say confidential, I would let them know that I can’t make that pledge because I do not know what they are going to tell me.

It does not mean I am to gossip about or slander the person. The opposite of dismissing confidentiality from our language is not permission to gossip or slander anyone.

You and I are commanded by Scripture not to let an erring brother or sister continue in sin. There is a beautiful biblical balance between communication that honors discretion, and dialogue that honors redemptive work in a person’s life, which is the entire point of Matthew 18:15-17.

The process for Luke should have been to let his pastor know that he was going to talk to the elder board in an attempt to get him help. He had already made many appeals for him to change, but sin had captured the pastor, a problem that eventually cost him his church, though more importantly God’s name was besmirched and the children of God were hurt–especially his family.

The Lord executed His Son because of our sin (Isaiah 53:10)–a clue that informs us how seriously He takes our sin. For us to hide our problems from others is to mock the death of Christ.

The issue in view here is not about slander or gossip, but about acting redemptively on behalf of a person who refuses to act redemptively for himself.

Call to Action

If a brother is in sin and the community of faith does not act upon what they know, the community of faith becomes culpable to some degree. Think about it this way:

  • Would you want a secret porn addict pastoring your children?
  • Would you want to hire a porn addict to lead and shepherd your church?

Let’s take the questions in the beginning and push them through the filter of community and communication rather than through the filter of confidentiality.

  • When I’m an accountability partner for someone, where is the place for confidentiality?

When I’m an accountability partner with someone who has secret sins, I need grace-filled courage to let him know I will do everything within my biblical rights to motivate him to be honest with God and others, even if it means letting others know about his problem should he refuse to repent?

  • Is it okay to pledge confidentiality or have an expectation of it?

I am going to let my friend know that I will love him to the end. I will also let him know I will use the utmost discretion and stewardship regarding what he tells me. And he will know that my love for him may mean I will make some hard decisions if he continues to choose a life of unrepentant sin. I cannot hide his sin because I love him too much.

  • Does confidentiality have value in the context of confession?

Discretion has value. Wisdom has value. Slandering and gossiping should never be tolerated. Therefore, I will guard my tongue when he confesses sin to me, but because I love him, I cannot keep his issues secret if he chooses not to repent. If he genuinely loves me, he will not hold me to an unbiblical standard. He will want me to get all the appropriate help necessary so he can be free.

  • Are there instances where we should tell others about a transgression, even if the guilty party is against it?

I have no choice but to ask others to become involved with my brother who refuses to repent. Not to do this would be like watching a friend bleed to death in front of me while not acting on it. That is not biblical love. It is biblical hate. Matthew 18:15-17 is my guide. 1 Corinthians 6:1 is my warning. If I do not do this for him, the sin he wants me to hide may become more public than he ever imagined.

  • What biblical principles guide us in this?

There is no one principle to guide us, but there is a gospel to emulate. The gospel is about redemption and rescue. I want to follow my Lord by being redemptive in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Though I hope to never sin against a brother or sister with my words, I am bound to use my words in the fullest redemptive means possible, even if it causes relational conflict within the community of faith.

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