A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but the trustworthy keeps a confidence. - Proverbs 11:13 HCSB

We have all seen the cop shows where a criminal confessed something to a priest that was critical to the case, but the priest believed he couldn’t reveal the key piece of evidence for fear of breaking the “sanctity of the confessional.” Unfortunately, many Christians have formed their views on the issue of confidentiality more out of what they have learned off the television than out of the Bible.

Obviously, an elder would not make for a very popular counselor if he went around gossiping about those who confessed their sins to him![1] It’s just good sense to remain silent about most of what we’re told. If we want to have a reputation for being trustworthy, we’ve got to be able to keep a confidence.[2] After all, the information we are given could be potentially devastating if revealed![3] As agents of positive change and makers of peace[4], we have to realize the potential for strife that comes from mere gossip and actively work against its destructive blaze.[5] We cannot allow our sinful urge to appear “in the know”[6] to overwhelm our good sense.

However, the Bible clearly teaches that confidentiality is not an absolute! Jesus taught that if our brother sins against us, we should go and rebuke him in private. Our first thought should be the maintenance of confidentiality. But if he won’t listen and the sin warrants further action, then we are to break confidentiality and take someone with us to rebuke his sin and get him to stop. In modern parlance, this would be referred to as an “intervention”. If he still won’t listen and the sin is very serious, then church discipline may be in order. Obviously, confidentiality is completely out the window by now![7]

Yahweh’s elders should generally practice confidentiality. However, if someone confesses a crime to them, or confesses that they are a danger to themselves or to someone else, confidentiality must be breached in order that justice may prevail. In fact, we are specifically prohibited from remaining silent when someone is heading for danger.[8]

We must be slow to breach confidentiality. We need to think carefully before speaking.[9] After all, the person whose confidence we are considering revealing will certainly not be happy![10] We also need to be sure of our facts. Many people confess to sins that they didn’t commit, simply to gain attention and notoriety.[11] An effort must be made to deal with the matter by involving the least number of people possible but we must make sure that everyone is appropriately cared for.

[1] Proverbs 20:19

[2] Proverbs 11:12-13

[3] Proverbs 17:9; 18:21

[4] Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18

[5] Proverbs 16:27-28; 25:23

[6] Proverbs 18:8; 26:22

[7] Matthew 18:15-20 cp Galatians 6:1-5

[8] Proverbs 24:10-12

[9] Proverbs 15:28; 17:27-28

[10] Proverbs 21:23

[11] Proverbs 21:28