We are to call out evil while not being contaminated by it:
Christians can be conflicted when it comes to calling out evil and sounding the alarm about what is happening all around them. Some want to avoid such things altogether, even to the point of pretending all this just does not exist. They prefer keeping their heads in the sand and living in their own little bubble world.
Indeed, some of these Christians are more concerned about those who do raise a warning than the thing being warned about. They seem to prefer to shoot the messenger. As I remarked in a recent article, such folks are not very helpful for the Kingdom: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/09/25/take-offence-at-what-is-really-offensive/
This piece will look at this matter in more detail, as well as remind us of some key aspects of biblical interpretation, primarily comparing Scripture with Scripture, and always studying context. This is important because these folks will try to justify their ways even with Scripture. They will latch onto one or two passages which they might think makes their case – that we should not even speak about the various wicked and evil things happening all around us.
One such verse they might run with would be what we read in Ephesians 5:12: “For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” They will claim that Paul is commanding us to not even talk about all that is evil and wicked in the world.
Now if that were the only verse in the Bible that speaks to these matters, then perhaps they might have a case. But of course it is not. Many texts tell us to do the opposite. In fact, speaking of the importance of considering every text in the light of its context, we need to look at the verse that immediately precedes the one I just mentioned.
Ephesians 5:11 says this: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Thus v. 12 and its admonition to not speak of these dark things ties in with the first half of v. 11, about not taking part in them. But the balancing phrase follows, where we are instructed to expose them.
And then we have passages such as 2 Corinthians 2:11 which speak about how we are not to be ignorant of Satan’s designs, or schemes. We must know that he exists, is evil, and has evil plans. We cannot wish all this away, but we must be aware and discerning, so we can properly do battle with the enemy.
And it is not just external evil and dangers we must be aware of, guard against, and warn others about. There are also internal dangers, be they false teachings or unethical behaviours, and so on. Thus Paul could say this in Acts 20:27-31:
I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
So being aware of dangers and threats and alerting others is part and parcel of our calling as believers. And various other passages could be mentioned here. But I want to spend some more time looking at the Eph. 5 passage a bit further. The context (verses 1-21) is all about how believers should be light in a dark world.
Of interest is what Paul said in v. 9. He told the Ephesian believers that they are now in the light, and should no longer partner with those who are not, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Notice that he does not say that they were IN darkness, but WERE darkness.
That is not a very flattering view of those who do not know Christ. And it is in this context that Paul gives the seemingly contradictory commands to not speak of evil, and yet at the same time to expose evil. In his commentary Mark Roberts puts it this way:
This raises a question about how we are to go about exposing the deeds of darkness if we are not to speak about them. Verse 13 begins to answer this question in a most surprising way. “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (5:13). The first part of verse 13 is common sense. If you shine a light on something, it becomes visible. The second part of verse 13 is perplexing, if not stunning. What does it mean that “everything that is illuminated becomes a light”? A hint comes from a verse a few lines up. There we are reminded that “[we] were once darkness, but now [we] are light in the Lord” (5:8). What made this extraordinary change in us? God’s grace offered in Christ. When we received it in faith, we were brought from death to life (2:4–5), from far away to near (2:13), and from darkness to light (5:8). When the light of the gospel shone on us, it showed us our need for God such that we turned to God, received his grace, and became a light. If we shine God’s light toward others who are in darkness so that their deeds become illuminated, then they can see how much they need God and turn to Christ.
I like what John Stott has to say about this passage:
The light metaphor speaks vividly of Christian openness and transparency, of living joyfully in the presence of Christ, with nothing to hide or fear. Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to live in the light and enjoy it, without also adopting some attitude towards those who still live in the darkness, and to their lifestyle. What attitude will this be? Negatively, take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness. While the light produces the fruit of goodness and truth, the works of darkness are unfruitful, unproductive, barren; they have no beneficial results. So we are to take no part in them, but instead, positively, expose them, ‘show them up for what they are’ (NEB). We may not wish to do this, but we cannot help it, for this is what light invariably does. Besides, evil deeds deserve to be exposed, that is, to be unmasked and rebuked, for it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
What I said in the earlier piece that I linked to above might be worth sharing here:
Sure, we must not be salacious nor dwell overly much on some of the seamier and darker aspects of life. But we dare not ignore them or pretend they do not exist. It IS our duty to alert others to the social and moral decay taking place all around us.
So some discernment and balance is needed here. Of course we do not need to show every sleazy picture or repeat every filthy thing being said. We need to take care as we fulfil our prophetic callings. But trying to pretend that we can just get through life and ignore all the terrible stuff that is happening helps no one.
The Old Testament prophets certainly spent a good part of their time sounding the alarm and making strong warnings. They rebuked sin when it was needed, and they proclaimed God’s judgment when it was warranted. We should not shy away from doing the same.
Indeed, it is our responsibility, just as it was the responsibility of the prophets. The warning God gave to Ezekiel if he did not warn the people is applicable to Christians today. As we find in Ez. 3:17-19:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.”
And just in case that is not clear enough, God says much the same in Ez. 33:2-6:
“Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood’.”
And I like what we read about in Isaiah 62:6:
On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
they shall never be silent.
Sure, we are not holding ancient Israel to account today, but believers are to bring warnings to individuals, to the nations, and to the church. That is part of our calling to be salt and light. And like the watchmen of old, we should never be silent.