I have at times been chided for being tight-lipped about my family. That is, since I am careful to prudently guard my family’s privacy, I have historically been cautious about what I share with others concerning family matters. Of course, when I have sensed that we needed help beyond our familial circle, then I have sought it. It would be foolish to be pridefully silent and not seek counsel from the godly. In such a situation, being tight-lipped would be mindless. Thankfully, when I have opened my lips, we have been helped.
But beside such necessary exceptions, I try to keep family matters within the family. When I needed to discipline my children, I did not broadcast it. (Their crying was pretty effective at doing so!) Like most people, I love my family and want to be careful about violating their right to privacy. Among other reasons for being tight-lipped, I don’t want to be a talebearer (Proverbs 11:13). I would rather be a sin-coverer—for as long as it is helpful. If the lid needs to be lifted in order to let in others who can help, then I will lift it. But until then, I will remain tight-lipped. I think that this is how it should be for all families—including the church family.
When there is failure in our biological family, we should do what we can to minimise the shame that the guilty person is carrying. We should be tight-lipped unless help is needed. This principle applies to small faults as well as to big ones.
For instance, a husband should choose to be tight-lipped about the shortcomings of his wife, and a wife should do likewise when she discovers one of his (many?!) shortcomings. Be careful about speaking to others in such a way that your spouse is portrayed in a negative light. Again, there are occasions when to be tight-lipped is actually counter-productive. But even when you must speak, be careful with whom you share, and what you share, and how you share it, as well as when you share it.
The same applies to parents, who may be tempted to open wide their lips to speak ill of their children and children of their parents. Children must honour their parents, not harm their reputation with unwarranted disclosure of shortcomings. And parents must be careful not to unnecessarily disclose their children’s failures. As Peter reminds us, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). In other words, love seeks to guard the object of our affections. And there are no age parameters to this. Being tight-lipped can be an expression of love. Again, there are times when the circle must be made wider in order for the circle of healthy family life to not be broken. In fact, many problems that develop in families could be avoided if help is sought within the body of Christ. Sometimes lips are tight because of love; however, sometimes lips are tight because of pride. Be wise. But if you need to open your mouth about a loved one, seek to be constructive, not destructive (Proverbs 13:3).
Again, what is true in family life is also true of the local church. We are to be tight-lipped about what happens within the church, within this local expression of the family of God.
When sin is exposed within the congregation, we need to remind ourselves that we are family. And, like a physical family, we are to be tight-lipped with a view to protecting those we love.
The Scriptures are clear that there are times when faithfulness to God demands a public acknowledgement that all is not well within the family of faith. And, yes, sometimes it is necessary that problems within a physical family be made known to the spiritual family. But like in the physical family, when this occurs, the family of God should purse their lips—very tightly. It needs to remain a church-family matter.
When Saul, along with his son Jonathon (David’s good friend), was slain by the Philistines, David’s responded wisely and winsomely. His response provides us with a remarkable example.
Though Saul hated David, to the point of seeking to kill him, nevertheless David appealed to the nation of Israel to remain tight-lipped about his demise. He wrote in his lament, “The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not on the streets of Ashkelon—lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice; lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph” (2 Samuel 1:19–20).
The nation was aware of the tragedy. The nation felt the heartache of loss and grieved that the enemy had secured a victory. Yet David asked them to be tight-lipped about this before the watching world. It was a family matter and needed to be treated this way.
When we as a local church experience the fall of one of our members, we should be careful not to publicise it. Rather, let us contain the shame. By doing so, among other things, we are making it easier for the person’s restoration (being tight-lipped displays love which keeps the door open for reconciliation) and we minimise defamation by the world.
Let me close with an admonition about when to widely open our lips: when we pray. Let us move our lips in prayer to our Father, mentioning the names of His children who have been “slain.” Then let us arise, leave our prayer closet and head into Gath tight-lipped about the fallen. Such self-control glorifies God and is good for His family—every member of His family.