At some point in life, we’ll all be called to choose between remaining silent or speaking up when we’re confronted with an issue. If we witness another being abused, bullied, or a victim of wrongdoing I wholeheartedly believe that speaking out is the most obvious course of action. In reading Leviticus 5:1, “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible,” it is confirmed that silence, in these cases, is also considered a sin.
The book of Leviticus is heavy with laws that many consider irrelevant to Christians today, which is true in some respects, but this verse is still in effect today. Even though confrontation is challenging for some, it can be necessary to stretch ourselves and make no exceptions for our hesitant hearts to take the leap when injustice is observed. The reasons for choosing to speak, instead of remaining silent, about what we may witness might be clear in our minds, but ultimately, it may be fear that keeps our mouths from opening. Perhaps the fear that our testimony may hurt another, or cause discord within the relationship, or that our words will be disregarded by those who listen; however, none of the reasons we can conjure up negate the fact that we must speak when prompted, either by our conscience, or by the Holy Spirit, or by someone involved in the circle of iniquity that we find ourselves in.
Of course, there are times when holding your tongue is an appropriate avenue and honoring to God. How can we discern which situations require speaking out, rather than keeping silent? Proverbs offers some insight: “Do not testify against your neighbor without cause, or use your lips to deceive” (24:28). Simply stated, when not to speak up is if you’re unsure as to whether the charge against another is true. If digging further into what you’ve been witness to is needed to clarify whether it’s a false claim, be sure to diligently research before accusing someone of wrongdoing. “What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?” (25:7-8) solidifies the importance of being sure of the circumstances before carelessly implicating someone. On the other side of the coin, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act” (3:27). If you’re able to participate in exacting justice with your testimony in the face of conflict, by all means, do so. If the only aspect giving you pause is fear of anything other than God Himself, then you know that speaking the truth is imperative.
Scripture tells of several accounts where confrontation is looked upon in a positive light. To name a few, Nathan calling David out for his sins in regards to Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:1-14), Paul opposing Peter to his face for not acting in line with the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-21), and Jesus lashing out woes to the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Luke 11:37-54). The blessings of speaking up are twofold: for fellow believers, as in two of the cases listed above, we can provide them the opportunity to repent of their sin in hopes that they’ll be restored to living according to His decrees and, for the self righteous and misdirected, our confrontation can be a stern correction with hope that they’ll come to the realization that their ways are not biblically sound. If these samples weren’t given for us to glean from, we’d be missing out on seeing how God can utilize our mouths to expose sin that He deemed necessary for us to be aware of. David and Peter were out of line and God chose verbal communication through Nathan and Paul to bring them back. In the case of the woes for the Pharisees, we’re not told whether they repented, but we are solidly confronted by the words of Jesus as to the wrong way to serve God.
The last part of the verse, “he will be held responsible,” isn’t explained further; however, we could assume that being held responsible, even though we didn’t personally commit the sin that needs our supporting testimony, is a serious sin itself. Consider sins of omission which James 4:17, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” touches on. Leviticus 5:1 is on the same path. Could it be that, in our silence, we are ultimately lying? That’s quite a leap, I realize, but integrity and honesty generally imply that we speak the truth, not quietly stand by as wrongdoing occurs. To be honest is the opposite of lying, and both require spoken words, so not to speak when we’re sure of the truth that is before us may just align itself closer with being a liar. Perhaps that is why this verse in Leviticus calls us to speak up and, if we don’t, we are in sin.