“What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end.” – Proverbs 25:7-10
We had been living in Florida for a few months when we discovered that a house adjoining our backyard had been renovated, not for some snowbird’s convenience, but to convert it into a spacious Airbnb rental. We discovered this one week during Spring break, when our walls began vibrating to the profundities of Party in the USA at ten-thirty in the morning.
We were more bemused than our neighbors, perhaps because we had a newborn, so the idea of regular hours of quiet or sleep had become very hypothetical. Within forty-eight hours, I was exhorted by multiple neighbors to join a barrage of calls we would make to the police. “Has anyone talked to them yet?” I asked.
When we did, we discovered the owner was eager to sound-proof, and the renters were apologetic. I don’t know what escalating, passive-aggressive retaliation we avoided through speaking directly with the offending parties, but I’m grateful we never found out. In Matthew 18, Jesus commends the wisdom of this initial step: talk to the person first.
There is a large nugget of wisdom found at the root of this proverb, one that is useful on many occasions: “Don’t be so sure.” You’re probably not seeing things as clearly or exhaustively as you think. It’s going to get awkward if you assume your neighbor is burying a body when he’s preparing to plant some geraniums. If you talk to him first, you will do yourself the favor of not publicizing your stupidity.
Let’s bring this closer home. Don’t be hasty to bring your spouse or family members into the court of your judgment, pounding your gavel and pronouncing verdicts. I find that the mental trial hearings I conduct in my head often lack significant pieces of evidence. When these facts emerge, they cast the case in a different light.
When you hastily judge someone else, you must also be prepared for the return volley. Have you avoided the same pitfalls you are denouncing? Humble consideration of your own failings will lead to more measured confrontation. You will better perceive the way you would like to be confronted and the grace you would like to be offered in a similar case.
God, who is perfect and all-knowing, handles us in this gentle manner. The Holy Spirit whispers. He prods, nudges, or gives us a knowing look, if we are only wise enough to see it. God does not lash about, canceling and shaming people because of a rumor. He first approaches us privately, quietly, through his Word, or indirectly through a friend’s comment, or in our own disturbed conscience.
It is only on account of our brute insensitivity that God must proceed to harsher means and more public disgraces. We should be thankful God does not air His grievances with us for all to see, but in Jesus he hides them, conceals them, buries them in the bottom of the ocean. We should be slow and personal in our confrontations with others while being personally quick to respond to the Spirit’s gentle confrontations with us.