The priority of private disclosure

December 10th, 2010 · by Tom Stuart · Communication, Relationships

“Go privately and point out the offense.” (Matthew 18:15)  

We live in a world where the ethical scales that should maintain a proper balance between private disclosure and public exposure have gone awry.  Public exposure more often than not is outweighing and countermanding the Biblical priority of private disclosure.

Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear some breaking news about another celebrity indiscretion, marriage infidelity, business corruption and even church leader hypocrisy. You can insert the current names that come to mind here.  They are the ones who fuel the ratings of likes of TMZ and provide the material for the late night comedians.

Sin gets way too much public exposure!  It’s bad enough in private. And who in their right mind would want their dirty little secrets shouted publicly from the housetops?  (Luke 12:3)

This abrogation of the priority of private disclosure is needlessly devastating the lives of both individuals, and the affiliations and institutions they represent.  However, if things were dealt with properly behind closed doors, much of the multiplied pain and disillusionment could be avoided.  Reconciliation, restitution and restoration would have a much greater chance of becoming a reality. 

Since the Bible is a now book of wisdom for such things, here are three scriptural principles that illustrate the priority of private disclosure over public exposure.  Applying these simple truths can eliminate harmful public exposure, alleviate needless pain and promote healthy  personal lives and relationships.

1. In matters of sin – Private Disclosure Prevents Public Exposure.  The Bible says much about how to deal properly with moral failure and sin.  The clear priority is private disclosure – the confession and forsaking of sin before God and all those who have been sinned against.  Proverbs tells us that “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (28:13)

Dealing with sin quickly through private disclosure can head off the needless embarrassment of having our sins “shouted from the housetops” on the evening news.  That is why the Bible warns “be sure your sin (and the gossip media) will find you out” (Numbers 32:23)  

2. In dealing with offenses between individuals – Private Disclosure MUST Precede Public Exposure.  All interpersonal relationships are tested, disagreements arise and offenses do come.  But again Biblical wisdom pleads with us to make private disclosure the priority.  Jesus said if someone sins against you, first “go privately and point out the offense.” (Matthew 18:15)  And, if you have offended someone the advice is the same – “first go and be reconciled to your brother.” (Matthew 5:24) 

This principle is best summed in “one-on-one or one-on-none!”  In other words, sin and personal offences must be dealt with in isolation between the parties involved.  Exposing such things beyond that limited sphere becomes gossip and slander.  Just imagine how much more peaceful and loving our world would be if we all took this advice.

3. In problem solving  – Private Disclosure Prepares for Public Exposure  This is a great leadership principle – a successful boardroom secret if you will.  When problems must be addressed and solved, the best way to start is do it privately with the key individuals involved – those causing the problem and those who are responsible to solve it. That is why Jesus advised solving your differences with an adversary before you get to court. (Matthew 5:25)

A wise leader once told me regarding high stakes board meetings – “you should always know the outcome of the meeting before you meet.”  There is really only one way to do that.  It requires connecting privately before the meeting with each of the key people who will be involved.  Building a one-on-one rapport and understanding beforehand goes a long way in smoothing the way for conflict-free decisive action.  It not only works in corporate problem solving but also in taking new initiatives.  In a nutshell this principle is “No Surprises!”  Private disclosure goes a long way toward insuring that.

Have you learned some valuable lessons about the priority of private disclosure?  If so please share them.   

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