I was involved in a situation last week which reminded me of the importance of privacy and discretion—after all, the Proverbs regularly speak to the need for such wisdom (Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, 17:27, 20:19, to name a few).
But ‘what was the situation I was involved in’, you ask?
Wouldn’t you like to know!
Sorry, I’m not actually being harsh there—I’m pointing to the typical way we like to gaze into and include ourselves in others' affairs. Think about the last time you drove past an accident on the highway. Did you slow down to rubberneck and see what happened? Such wondering and speculation reveal our “need to know”, or at least our sense of a need to know.
Of course this response is very normal. We are naturally curious creatures. As ones fashioned by God, we have an innate desire to understand; to make sense of our world, and to come to a greater knowledge of things. And as such, we long to be included; one on the inside! (FOMO—can I get an “Amen”, my millennial friends? And for those readers not tracking at this point: fear not, you aren’t missing out).
Our desire to be included raises the question I am driving toward in this post: When is it good to get involved in someone else’s business, and when is it better to keep out? In the Church today, there is a wide spectrum of opinion on this very issue. Some would advocate for telling all, broadly and loudly, for the sake of transparency and by way of fostering a close-knit community in the body of Christ. Such a position can make for some awkward conversations—as I’m sure a number of you have experienced! Those on the opposite side of the spectrum want to conceal all, for fear of gossip, slander, or misunderstanding. The results can be as isolating as having zero confidants in the Church or feeling the sting of the “woe" in Ecclesiastes 4:10.
Then how may we navigate the question of involvement in someone else’s life? When ought we be our brother’s keeper specifically, and when should we stay out of their business? Here are a few thoughts to help navigate the morass:
- Take stock of yourself—This first point is generally a good motto to follow in almost every circumstance: examine yourself, take heed to yourself, address any logs prior to specks, and so on. As we consider whether or not to immerse ourselves in that which is affecting a brother or sister in Christ, we ought to engage in some critical self-assessment. We need to be the kind of person who is worthy of trust, having a good reputation, known as one not given to gossip, and one who gently diverts potential slander. If we are not worthy of being entrusted with sensitive matters, it stands to reason that our friend in the Lord may not be too thrilled with us being thrown into the mix.
- The second is like the first: Do you have a rightful role to play in the dynamics of the situation? Consider whether you are a party to the circumstances or not. Before you would get involved, determine your relationship to the other people or the events themselves. Perhaps you actually bear a responsibility to the person due to your position of authority and are therefore obliged to help. The exact opposite may be true, there may be good warrant for considering your limitations, or your lack of connection in the given affairs. Just because you desire to help does not necessarily mean you ought to (see my final point below for more on this noble desire and how to unobtrusively act upon it).
- Is it necessary? Sometimes we are looking for an excuse not to be burdened with the burdens of our fellow believers. Such is not the proper perspective of Christ’s followers (Phil. 2:3, Gal 6:2); but we must be cautious of the alternative: often we simply want to be included. We want to feel important, like our contribution matters, and therefore it is necessary to ask ourselves the question of necessity. “Do the circumstances dictate that I get involved?” So long as we are not seeking to shirk our Christian duty to our brethren, this is a helpful question to answer before jumping in.
- Motivation—Here is a category we must always examine in any scenario. Just as we can do the right thing with the wrong motives (e.g. James 4:3), so too we can do the wrong thing with pure motives (Romans 6:1 comes to mind). We must assess our hearts for why we would like to insert ourselves into the happenings: is it out of a sincere desire to help, and because we honestly believe we can provide a biblically helpful voice; or is it because we’re inquisitive? Be careful not to seek out gossip—which is a form of spiritual voyeurism.
- Finally, be content to play a distant supportive role. You don’t have to be a primary party to help immensely. Pray for the situation, even if you’re not privy to the details. Encourage your fellow Christian, even if such encouragement lacks particulars to what they are facing. Assure them you are there, that you love them, and in all sincerity, that you do not need to know what’s going on to pray and encourage. Contentment with not knowing may actually speak volumes more than knowing and speaking specifically. Such a position may further establish point #1 above, that you are a person worthy of trust.
Yet when all is said and done, I’m interested to see how many people will still ask, “But for real, what was the situation?”