When should I tell on someone?
As the principal of a Christian middle school and high school, I am often asked that question. Students are told from a young age not to be “tattle tales” and there is peer pressure to avoid being a “snitch.” Unfortunately, each of us occasionally learns of a situation that we know is harmful and deciding what is worthy of reporting and what is merely being petty is sometimes difficult. To make matters worse, the Bible isn’t really clear about this subject. Fortunately, the book of 1 Corinthians was written because some people snitched so I believe it can serve as a loose guide to answer a better question:
When is it my Biblical responsibility to report wrong-doing?
Paul, along with Sosthenes, wrote the book of 1 Corinthians specifically to correct some problems that had been reported to him. The eleventh verse of the chapter mentions that some “of the house of Chloe” reported a few problems and chapter 16, verse 17 mentions three other names of men that brought reports of the Corinthian church. Although the Bible does not say exactly what types of things should be reported to authority, we know that much good (an entire book of the Bible) came from people reporting these problems:
1. Disharmony (1 Corinthians 1-4)
- Dividing Believers (1:10-13)
In this case the divisive issue was by whom each believer had been baptized. While this specific instance may not surface in the modern church, many major schisms are caused by fighting over leadership.
- Spreading lies about spiritual leaders (4:18-21)
Some in the Corinthian church were openly saying that Paul had abandoned them and would not be returning to correct them. This was definitely false but was being used as an excuse to live as they wanted.
2. Immorality (1 Corinthians 5)
Paul said immoral people should not be a part of Christian fellowship and specifically mentioned these sins:
- Fornication- Sexual sin
- Covetousness- greed
- Idolatry- worshiping other gods
- Railing- Reviling, slandering
- Drunkenness- substance abuse
- Extortion- Swindling, robbing, thieving
3. Harming other Christians (1 Corinthians 6)
- Taking church problems to the unrighteous (6:1-8)
The Christians in Antioch were suing each other and allowing the unrighteous to judge their problems. Paul condemned this for several reasons. First, Christians should be able to handle their own personal differences. Secondly, if they cannot reach an agreement they should seek the authority of the church leaders rather than those who do not know God’s law. Thirdly, it is better for a Christian to be defrauded than to not be on good terms with his brother.
So how do I report it? (1 Corinthians 1:11)
- Tell the right person- Chloe told Paul
The problems were reported to someone who had authority, could address them, and was respected those involved.
- Tell the truth- There were contentions
This understatement may have been Paul softening the blow a little, but the church was on the verge of breaking apart and losing all influence in their community. Paul was obviously told about specific people and details that he addressed throughout the book.
- Don’t be ashamed of doing right- Chloe’s name was attached
If you are going to report it, you should be willing to publicly stand against the wrongdoing.
Ultimately, telling an authority about someone’s faults comes down to our tolerance of wrongdoing. Every Christian should be willing to put his reputation on the line for the holiness of God’s church. If the sin is damaging to the body of Christ, we should be willing to stand against it.