The Culpability of Silence

By Mike Willis

In Psalm 58, David brings his complaint to God against those rulers in Israel who allowed Saul’s unjust assault against him to continue. He wrote, “Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge uprightly among men? No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth” (58:1-2, NIV).The context of his complaint is described by Adam Clark as follows:

Saul having attempted the life of David, the latter was obliged to flee from the court, and take refuge in the deserts of Judea. Saul, missing him, is supposed by Bishop Patrick to have called a council, when they, to ingratiate themselves with the monarch, adjudged David to be guilty of treason in aspiring to the throne of Israel. This being made known to David was the cause of this Psalm (402-403).

The leaders of Israel should have spoken the truth to Saul. They should have told him that David had been faithful as Saul’s servant. He won a significant victory over the Philistines when he defeated Goliath. He was such a successful leader in Saul’s army that the women sang his praises. In all of his conduct, David had acted honorably as Saul’s servant. Instead, these rulers apparently encouraged Saul’s suspicious jealousy of David and charged that he was guilty of treason. When David spoke to Saul following his cutting off the hem of Saul’s garment at En-gedi, he said, “Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” (1 Sam. 24:9).

The Jewish commentator, Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch adds these words about the psalm:

It contains a reproach directed at those who, by virtue of their high position and station, should have deemed it their duty to intervene, both in word and in action, to put an end to the evil done in the land but who, instead, have kept complacently silent in the face of widespread lawlessness. David feels that, because of their complacency, they share in the guilt for all the evil that is done within their jurisdiction. If all the good men who condemn evil in their hearts were to rise up openly against evil both by word and by action, most of the crimes that have been perpetrated in this world would never have been committed (The Psalms 396).

Writing on Psalm 58:3, he frankly said, “David declares, `You of whom it would be expected that you act and speak out against evil, commit a crime simply by not attempting to stop the evil acts of others’ (397-398). This establishes a clear biblical principle which we need to consider both with reference to our society and to the church. When those who have the ability to do something to stop evil sit in silence, they are culpable for the crimes that are committed. The Mosaical Law stated it like this: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19:17). Let’s consider some applications of this principle.

In Society

The more familiar one becomes with the crimes committed by the Nazi’s against the Jewish community, the more he is moved to ask why the morally upright people in that society sat back and did little or nothing, allowing Hitler to continue his pogrom of the Jews. There must have been high ranking generals, lieutenants, governors, mayors of major cities, and others who, at one point in time, could have done something to stop the progression of destruction. There were some people in that society who did what they could under those circumstances to save those who mercilessly were being put to death, placing themselves in grave personal danger. Appropriately, they have been applauded as heroes.

As I think about the crimes being perpetrated in our society, I ask myself, “Have I done enough to stop the slaughter of the innocent, unborn babies in the abortion clinics in America?” There was a time when enough righteous people speaking up, enough powerful political figures in positions of authority, could have stopped what is now an accepted practice in our country. I think also of those liberal judges who have allowed criminals to be released in society to commit their crimes again and again because of their aversion to capital punishment. Have we done enough to protect the innocent? Are we culpable because of our uninvolvement in the political process?

Among Our Liberal Brethren

The principle that righteous people can sit back and do nothing when crimes are committed is equally true about spiritual crimes. Godly brethren become culpable when they do nothing when wickedness occurs in the church. I have witnessed the righteous sit in silence while strong-willed brethren destroyed the unity of a local church, trying to become the rulers of the congregation. The “silent majority” in such cases is culpable. They should have stopped the wickedness of the factious.

Max Lucado: Today is the first day you ever prayed a prayer like that. Could you do me a favor? Could you write me a letter? I don’t have anything I am going to ask from you. I do have a letter I am going to send you, I’d like to give you a word about the next step or two. I want to encourage you to find a church, I want to encourage you to be baptized, I want to encourage you to read your Bible. But, I don’t want you to do any of these things to be saved. I want you to do all of them because you are saved. You see, your Father has a great life planned for you, and I want to tell you about it. Give us a call, and drop me a note. And, thanks for making the greatest decision of your life. I’ll be back Monday, hope you will be too.

The tragedy is not that one preacher has apostatized from the truth, which is a tragedy itself. The real tragedy in what is happening among our liberal brethren is that the majority of them are saying nothing to oppose his error, continuing to use him in meetings, recommending his books, and otherwise supporting him. If a significant number of those who are in positions of authority would speak up and refuse to accept the one who has gone beyond the doctrine of Christ, the leavening influence of his apostasy could be stopped. However, the influence is spreading and will continue to spread. Preachers, elders, and other teachers who are keeping silent share in the culpability for the apostasy.

Among Us

What is true about the spread of false doctrine among our liberal brethren is equally true about its spread among us. In recent years, we have had several brethren publish books asserting that Matthew 19:9 (“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”) is not applicable to all men today. They argue theft position from a variety of presuppositions.

We should not be surprised that a few brethren would conform to the society around us and teach loose views on divorce and remarriage, although it is tragic to see brethren apostatize. However, the greater tragedy is witnessing how brethren react when influential men who, by their own ad-mission, have accepted and are propagating these loose views. Rather than speaking out about the false doctrine they are preaching, they sit in silence, continue to arrange up the opportunity. The number is 1-800-822-WORD. Next week, we will take a break from our series titled “The Great House of God,” giving way to an uplifting selection of holiday lessons specifically designed to help you grow stronger in your faith. As with today’s study, each of these lessons is available on extended audio cassette. The title of this week’s series, “When Your Heart Needs a Father.” Every tape contains an additional bonus message from Max on the reverse side. Cost is just $5 for each additional cassette. Max Lucado returns with a special word for those who received the gift of salvation just moments ago in prayer.

The same is true about the teaching of false doctrine. Men who know the truth sometime sit back and say nothing when men who have chosen not to abide within the doctrine of Christ are spreading their error. That is happening among our liberal brethren right now. A transcription of Max Lucado’s radio sermon in which he takes the Baptist position on baptism (baptism is not essential to salvation) is being circulated. In that sermon, Lucado said,

You can be sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now and nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, not any-thing else in the world will ever be able to separate us from the love of god that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. You see, in God, by virtue of your adoption, you have a divine affinity, you have eternal security, and you have a golden opportunity. I cannot imagine an orphan turning down an opportunity to be adopted. With one decision, with one raising of a hand, with one agreement to leave the orphan-age, that person all of a sudden goes from being abandoned to being claimed, from having no name to a new name, no future to a new future, he leaves the orphanage, and enters the house of the Father. That’s what God offers you. No quiz, no examination. All you have to do is to say “yes” to the Father. And many of you have done that. But I have a hunch that not all of you have. I have a hunch that there are a few of you listening, eve now, and God is using this to pull on your heart. The Holy Spirit is informing you of something you have never really heard before  that is, that God is ready to be your Father. Maybe you never understood that the invitation was for everyone. Maybe you thought you were unworthy. Maybe now you do understand. God will make you worthy, and the invitation is for you. All you have to do is to call Him Father. Just call Him Father. Just turn your heart to Him right now as I am speaking. And your Father will respond. Why don’t you do that?

“Father, I give my heart to you. I give you my sins, I give you my tears, I give you my fears, I give you my whole life. I accept the gift of your Son on the cross for my sins. And I ask you, Father, to receive me as your child. Through Jesus I pray, Amen.”

Announcer: And friend, if you prayed along with Max Lucado just now, here at UPWARDS, we want to welcome you into the family of God. We hope you will contact us and share your personal testimony. If you are already a believer, we thank you for praying for these new brothers and sisters in Christ. Because Christmas is an excellent time to receive God’s gift of salvation, and whether you are a new believer or a veteran of the faith, Max Lucado has prepared an uplifting new printed resource. He has titled it “When Angels Came Down.” You will want a copy for yourself or perhaps share it with a loved one about whom you may be concerned spiritually. With your December donation of any amount to UPWARDS, you may request a personal copy. The place to write is UPWARDS, Box 5860, San Antonio, TX 78201. Or, if you like, you may phone us toll free for added convenience, and it would certainly speed praise these men for their contributions to the cause of Christ. They also publicly and privately criticize those brethren who have refuted the false doctrines being promoted by those with loose views on divorce and remarriage. Some have even entered pulpits and/or written articles to justify an on-going fellowship with those who are teaching what they are admitting are loose views on divorce and remarriage. Such men are culpable for the apostasy that their silence allows to spread.

There was a time when men in positions of influence could have spoken up and stopped the leavening influence of this error among us. The leaven is spreading among us and the time when it can be stopped is quickly passing away. Those who do nothing share the blame for its spread among us.


David’s rebuke of the influential men in his day who could have stopped Saul’s crimes and did not contains a lesson for us, with reference to both the society in which we live and the church. Remember the words of Leviticus 19:17  “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev 19:17, MV). Will you be one of those who helped stop the liberal trends that are developing among us or one whose silence allows the continued progress of evil?

Guardian of Truth XLI: 22 p. 2
November 20, 1997