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Should I tell when I see someone doing something bad?

If you see another student bullying a kid or talking about bringing a gun to school or just outright breaking school rules, how can you know if it is appropriate to tell a teacher or other authority figure? If you catch your sibling stealing from your parents' room, should you tell your parents or talk directly to your sibling? Questions like these are never easy to wrestle with, and at the end of the day, only taking it to prayer and meditating on your reasons for wanting to tell (or not wanting to) is really going to give you an answer that will bring peace to your heart. What do I mean by knowing your reasons?

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." — Matthew 6:1-4

Reasons why we do things (a.k.a. motivations) can be found in the heart, and God is most concerned about what is happening there (1 Samuel 16:7). Our words and actions stem from our motivations, and we want to make sure that our reasons for doing things are godly ones. Sometimes it helps to ask ourselves questions as a way of examining our hearts.

What is your ultimate goal in telling on this person?

Objectively, telling on someone feels like the "right thing" to do because it could result in stopping their actions. However, telling on them out of a sense of superiority or wanting to get them in trouble is a sin. Telling on them because you genuinely love them and want them (or others) to be safe—that is not sinful (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). It's like with the Pharisees. They did and said all the right things, but they did them because they wanted recognition and prestige, but Jesus calls them "whitewashed tombs" and a "pit of vipers" (Matthew 23:27-28). If all you want is to hurt that person or make yourself look better, then that is not a good reason to go to an adult and tell on someone.

Are you called to speak up?

Telling on someone isn't a black or white issue—either sinful gossip/slander or an act of justice. A lot of it depends on if the Holy Spirit is guiding you to speak up publicly or not. And that is something you must ask God about; it's why you must evaluate your reasons. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons doesn't make it right.

Ezekiel 33 is pretty clear that remaining quiet when we have a clear directive from God to say something to them puts our own souls at risk. However, that doesn't mean telling on them to a teacher or other adult is necessarily always the right thing to do. Talking to them personally may be the right thing to do instead. It may be that the Holy Spirit is calling you to have a private conversation with this person about their actions so that it can be resolved without public rebuke or shame.

Are you afraid of being disliked?

When faced with the decision of telling on someone for the protection of a victim or for legal reasons, we should never be motivated by the fear of being disliked. As Christians, we are called to a life that most will scoff at, be confused by, mock, or outright despise (Luke 9:23; Hebrews 12:2; Romans 8:18).

Sometimes, we are called to do hard things, and sometimes those things will cost us social standing (John 16:33). The man Jesus healed from blindness was cast out of the Synagogue and not defended by his own parents, but he still stood by Jesus (John 9). Don't let fear of being disliked—or even hated—by your classmates, brother, or sister be your reason for not reporting an injustice.

If you have a youth minister or a spiritual mentor, talk it over with them and ask them to pray with you (Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 19:20-21). If you don't have anyone to talk to, be honest about your desires and intentions, and see what course of action God is asking you to take. He may be asking you to speak to them privately, to remind them that their heart is worth fighting for. He may be asking you to save a life by getting them busted. He may be asking you to simply pray for them and help them as you can.

Whatever the answer, you are called to obey what God has called you to do—even if it's uncomfortable or doesn't make sense at the time. Romans 12:2 tells us, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Be assured that God's plan is ultimately the best one.

TL;DR

Telling on someone isn't a black or white issue—either sinful gossip/slander or an act of justice. Examine your heart's motivations for why you do or do not want to tell. Fear cannot be allowed to keep you back, but self-righteousness also cannot move your forward (Matthew 6:1-4). Only genuine love should be your motivation (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Talk to God (James 1:5). Talk to spiritual mentors (Proverbs 19:20-21). You may be called to simply speak to the person privately. You may be called to let authorities know what's happened. Either way, obey what God says to do—even if it's uncomfortable or doesn't make sense at the time (Romans 12:2).

By: Brianna

Brianna is a manager at her favorite childhood bookstore. She is likely to be found curled up with a book and her black cat, Bear, talking to a stranger, dancing outside in a thunderstorm, singing Disney songs while making cookies, or snuggling her best friend's baby while drinking coffee. Her heart is fueled by the desire to help people find their unique wings and use them in whatever capacity God has created them for. She is passionate about seeing and finding Christ in the secular world wherever she can.

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