A detail in 2 Samuel 1 instructs us well in our over-heated cultural moment. Since David’s anointing as king, forces supporting Saul and David have fought. Saul dies, and then a messenger informs David.
David mourns Saul, for Saul was “the Lord’s anointed” (1:14). God had anointed Saul – therefore God’s honor is diminished.
Therefore, David pens a lament (1:17), teaching it to all Israel (1:27). Of note is verse 20:
20 Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
The public facts are undeniable: God’s people have descended into open civil war. Saul is dead. This was to their shame – and to God’s. These are the open, public, undeniable facts.
Yet David commands, “Don’t tell it in Gath or Ashkelon” – both Philistine cities. He doesn’t mean, “Don’t let the Philistines know.” They already know. He means, don’t intentionally, openly repeat or gossip the failings of God’s people among the enemies of God, and thereby double-down on God’s dishonor among them.
Apply this to today. Sometimes, Christians commit heinous sins. And sometimes, those sins are flagrant and illegal – of the kind that even unbelievers avoid. In this case, the church must involve all public authorities, hiding nothing – though that invites public derision.
And sometimes Christians will do or say “debatable” things, that you strongly disagree with – as does seemingly everybody else. You and the Twitterverse can’t believe she would say that dangerous thing.
In either case, it’s tempting to “retell” the other Christian’s actions or words “in Gath” – on Facebook, or Twitter – wherever.
Yet this “publishing” makes it easier for an unbeliever to say, “What a bunch of hypocrites.” Yes, the original act or word may have done the same thing. But David’s charge: don’t double-down on God’s dishonor. Don’t give more strength to God and the gospel’s opposition.
And don’t misshape the gospel. Too often the tone and manner of the “telling it in Gath” implies there’s no possibility of redemption. The original act is “republished” – by a Christian, forgiven through Christ’s blood – as though the other Christian’s word or act is unforgiveable.
This “republishing” twists the gospel as much as or more than the original act or word that is being “published”. Matthew 18:21-35 comes to mind.
The charge: to take care how we talk about the Bride of Christ, for whom Christ died. We do not ignore or neglect her sins. Not at all: we practice discipline; we counsel; we hold accountable; we pick out from the fire. And we mourn her sins, without gossip. This is love for the world: to watch what we say, lest we distance anyone further from redemption.