I wrote this many weeks ago, but didn’t post it. My jet lag woke me up early, and I felt compelled to review this important obedience Christ commands, which in His strength we must obey. I pray it is a timely word for pastors and church leaders under the weight of another’s words and wondering what to do. Do this . . .
“We don’t air our dirty laundry!” In a society bent on freedom of information and journalists whose careers can catapult upward with a sudden surge of the salacious, this maxim seems a bit antiquated. “We don’t air our dirty laundry?” Dirty laundry? Yes! In the process of drying after a shower, slipping in and out of bed, wearing underclothing, it’s possible to mark a fabric in such a way that . . .
“STOP—I get your point, no more detail please!”
Were you thinking that? If yes, that’s a good sign. TMI is the heart cry of those who understand intuitively that too much information elevates clarity above love. You would never hang the unmentionables mentioned above in the front yard to dry as guests arrived for dinner. But Christians, apparently blind to this biblical imperative, are doing so increasingly—even when the laundry isn’t their own, and they have no clue how the stain got there in the first place. When the issue is doctrine or method, the discussion is good, and a volley of ideas can be warranted if they’re gracious. But when it’s a story of strife between sisters in Christ, it’s high time we lay low because “we don’t air our dirty laundry!” Even when the uncouth argue “It’s doctrinal,” it often isn’t really. What is sold as major is often really minor, isolated in half the story and fanned into an inferno by a prideful heart seeking . . . what? Only God knows!
When we feel we could shed some light on matters of relational strife that masquerade as a message worthy of a wider audience, it is love, even love for our enemies, that commands our silence. Don’t you see it’s not hypocritical, but loving to keep your disappointment with a brother or sister from public view? If it’s low in its opinion of other Christians, if it’s revealing of fault you think you see in a friend or imagined foe, if the person you want to parade is a member of your family, God’s family, it is best kept private . . . so you and I must leave it alone. Why would we ever shame or embarrass our brothers and sisters—sons and daughters of our Father—before the eyes of those who follow the father of lies?
“Why not rather suffer wrong?” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6. What is lost on many, it seems, is Paul’s rationale for not publicizing your dispute with a member of God’s family. In verse 1 he says: “before the unrighteous,” in verse 4 “why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church,” and in verse 6 “before unbelievers.” If the breach is what Paul calls “a grievance” (v.1), “a dispute between brothers” (v.5), THAT is what we don’t air in public (1 Corinthians 6:1-6).
Better to be wronged than reveal by public word or post: unpleasant believer business, church disputes, or relational strife, etc. We are to be known for our love, but in our fallenness we can fall into unloving conduct. Whether you are the cause, or the affected, or possibly both, don’t display on the ‘clothes line’ for all to see, disputes that reveal our depravity. Even if you have been wronged, even if someone has come at you in hurtful ways, bow in silence, commit your way to the Lord and wait for His deliverance. Be as public as you want about your own sin and relational shortcomings, but NEVER about another’s. Hey pastors: We don’t air our dirty laundry for the world to see. Suck up the injustice if you have to, but no retaliation, no recompense, no returning evil for evil. We are Christ-followers and Jesus laid down an awesome example on this point!
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:38-45).
At this point my fundamentalist upbringing would always answer: “When a man’s ministry is public, his rebuke needs to be public too.” In the context of a local church I would agree with this. “He who sins in the presence of all, rebuke in the presence of all that others may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20). Only Elders rebuke Elders when needed and should tell it to the church in some instances, to be sure. But only in the context of their own church for the sake of greater fear of God in that specific church.
The Elders are in the best position to understand every facet of the facts from every angle and determine the most biblical course of action. Self-appointed rebukers with no position or authority or even access to all the facts, should keep silent and prayerful—appealing to the appointed leaders of their church for redress of grievance. If the church leadership fails to respond, that is on them. The last thing we need is fleshly ventilation of supposed soiled laundry on the front lawn of Christ’s kingdom. Follow the leadership if you can, exit with grace if you can’t, but don’t, don’t, don’t air the dirty laundry. Say “No” when others demand to know. You may be less known if you avoid the publicity that comes with publicizing what should remain private, but you’ll be more like Jesus. People may assume your guilt if you don’t clear your name, but don’t forfeit God’s favor by seeking to manufacture your own. Our job, pastors, is not to draw a crowd but to make disciples. And false accusation or mistreatment from those who called themselves your friend is an awesome opportunity to exemplify Christ to your congregation.
Have you ever noticed the “new commandment” Jesus gave about the priority of loving each other is sandwiched in the text of John 13, between Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial? Even when the display of relational depravity from another is most grievous, it does not empower you to return the fire. With a betrayer in one ear and a selfish self-protective friend in the other, Jesus called us to love. WOW! If our most powerful kingdom weapon is the way we love each other (John 13:35), personal grievances and relational disputes form the greatest opportunity to show forth Christ. Relational strife is NEVER permission to take to the airwaves with an air of superiority and air your dirty laundry—and you will answer to God for every soul that is wounded or misled when you do. We must remember that our reputation, our personal grievance, however big it is to us, is small potatoes compared to the work of the kingdom we are negating in our misguided pursuit of . . . what? What exactly do we hope to gain by airing dirty laundry?
Hang all the love you want on the line for the world to see, but keep the dirty laundry of disappointment with others out of sight. Too many times I have witnessed publicized conflict that was later resolved privately. That is 100% backwards. It is our love and reconciliation and mutual humility that are to be public, and our grievances and complaints with one another’s position or practice that need to be kept private. Hear me pastors: Beware when making your point misses the point that we don’t air our dirty laundry.
Let me give some painful examples of where I and others have failed in this regard . . . wouldn’t you love to know? . . . I could get some support for my version of the facts if I pinned it up on the line for the world to see . . . NOPE! Don’t do it preacher! For the sake of Christ and His bride’s reputation, leave it with God . . . wait for His deliverance . . . we don’t air our dirty laundry!
I find the text from Psalm 37:5-12 very helpful.