“Don’t Tell Anyone” – Jesus’ warning against always expressing right belief

Jesus and the twelve had made the 25 mile trek off the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and stopped to rest outside the district of Caesarea. They sat along the fallen rocks on the side of the dust-filled road, their cloaks musty with the sweat of travel.

Amidst their discussion and reminiscing of the miraculous discovery of the bushelfuls filled with bread to feed the crowds in previous towns, hunger had crept in. Lucky for them, the Sons of Zebedee had purchased an ample supply of figs for the journey.

Sitting in a circle under the nearly setting sun, they ate and laughed together.

Jesus, always one to turn the discussion toward something significant, asked His disciples ::

Who do people say I am?

A myriad of responses flowed from their lips ::

Some say John the Baptist, come back from the dead.’

Others claim you’re Elijah, reincarnated.’

Still others believe you’re Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet – or perhaps one of the other prophets, come back from the grave!

They sat in silence, considering the implications.

So many people had followed Jesus over these past three years. Thousands flocked to Him wherever He went, and sat under His teachings. Some came to question, others came seeking to find answers to questions. Others, looking for a miracle. Still others seemed to come just to see what would happen.

Would Jesus set them straight?

But…who do you say that I am?

Peter leaned forward, mouth full of figs, and blurted out his suspicions ::

You are the Anointed One! You’re the son of the living God, YHVH.

The others leaned in as well, anticipating their Rabbi to affirm Peter’s proclamation.

Don’t tell anyone.

<Yes, it’s true :: I skipped over the affirmation.>

Jesus does indeed affirm that He’s the Messiah in this passage, claims He’ll build His church on the rock of Peter’s declaration and states that even death will not overpower it.

He then gives the disciples the ability to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ with the keys of heaven, a tremendous responsibility the modern church has yet to come to terms with.

Brave New Films

And then He warns them not to tell anyone He’s the Messiah.

Really. You can read it for yourself.

Don’t tell anyone.

Is this odd to anyone else? In our western 21st century Evangelical circles, it seems we are defined by this proclamation, and we don’t do so secretly.

We make this declaration a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

And we do so not merely regarding Christ’s claims of divinity – we pontificate about our opinion on a myriad of other issues as well – continually driving a wedge between those who believe, and those who don’t.

We are a culture committed to conversion. Addicted to answers.

Our addiction to an answer culture dictates declarations of ‘Truth’ so individuals know what we believe – and we quickly become defined not by what we are for, but what we are against. We tragically live not as who we are, but become obsessed with correcting who we are not for fear of being misunderstood.

Jesus didn’t seem to care.

It’s not that he was unaware of who He was – nor did He shame Peter for his Spirit-guided insight into declaring his affirmation of Christ’s claims of divinity.

Yet it would seem it mattered less to Jesus what people believed about Him than it did that they follow Him and experience His way of life.

Jesus seemed quite comfortable with people following Him, some for long periods of time, while simultaneously being uncertain as to His divine nature. Jesus didn’t correct them or chastise them for not ‘getting it‘ – in fact, He told the disciples not to tell anyone once they did!

Spending time with the marginalized || the blind beggars and crippled people, lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards and the other ‘sinners’ of His day || no doubt Jesus heard proclamations of who He was that missed the mark.

Yet correcting those misconceptions was not as important to Him as doing life in proximity to and relationship with those who otherwise would not experience His abundant way of life.

In contrast, I often find our churches guilty of proclaiming preferred doctrinal positions while simultaneously lacking any compassionate or pastoral response to the very people we’re pushing to the outside.

Any expressed doctrinal or theological position apart from a compassionate and pastoral response castrates conversation.

Jesus seemed much more committed to the process – the conversation – the journey – the way – than we are.

Our obsession with cognitive conversion and admitted answers about Jesus renders our beliefs in Him obsolete if they are not couched in external actions of loving one another in his example, standing in solidarity with the Other… even when they’re ‘wrong.’

How does this change how we live out ‘following’ Jesus?

Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.

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Michael Kimpan

Michael KimpanMichael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ.View all posts by Michael Kimpan →

  • So often, I hear people laughing about the quote from Saint Francis of Assisi – “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” I hear so many people glibly reply “well of course it’s necessary to use words! How else are you supposed to preach?” But Jesus preached with His actions at least as much as, if not more than, with His words. And His words were very often an invitation to follow with our own actions – “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

    • Art

      The best response to the “use words if necessary” was the response I heard from a preacher who said: “That is like saying ‘Feed the poor, use food if necessary.'” Faith comes by HEARING, doesn’t it? Kinda hard to hear if no words are spoken.

      • Faith comes by experience – and as the body of Christ, the Church has more ways than just her voice to help people experience Christ.

        • Art

          My bad… I should have quoted the verse I was referencing:

          “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

          • “But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’” (Romans 10:18)

            “The heavens are telling the glory of God;
            and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
            Day to day pours forth speech,
            and night to night declares knowledge.
            There is no speech, nor are there words;
            their voice is not heard;
            yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
            and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

            This is not to say that words are not necessary – but they are not the only necessity. The message is “heard” in more ways than through the spoken word.

          • Art

            “but [words] are not the only necessity”

            I agree completely, without reservation.

            But the confusion comes when you say: “This is not to say that words are not necessary…” after affirming that we should use words “when necessary.” Pick one – both of your statements can’t be true at once.

            That God’s glory is declared through creation without words, while true has nothing to do with someone coming to faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus doesn’t come from simply seeing God’s glory revealed in nature – no one has ever come to faith “in Jesus” without being told about Jesus – with words (spoken or written.) Is the message of Jesus enhanced or seen as credible by the life of the one bearing witness? Of course. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the truth of Jesus and His redeeming work on the cross cannot be shared by a life alone without words.

          • “When necessary” implies that there are times when they are not necessary – it does not imply that they are never necessary. Take your lesson from Ecclesiastes: there is a time for words, and a time when words will not suffice.

          • Art

            Of course, but you have not shown how there could EVER be ANY time when words are not necessary to explain that Jesus is the Messiah who died on the cross for our sins without words. Exactly how is one led to a personal relationship with Jesus without any words? I suppose someone could be drawn to become a more moral person by watching the life of a Christian, but that is a far cry from saving faith in Jesus.

          • I did not say “bring them to Jesus without words.” I said “preach the gospel at all times, and when it is necessary, use words.” Your job is not to save people – that’s Jesus’ job. Your job is to be a faithful disciple. Sometimes that means using words. Sometimes that means using your actions. “Preaching the Gospel” is more than just “leading people to Jesus.”

          • Art

            You are straying from where we were to the point of putting words in my mouth. For example, nowhere in anything that I said did I imply or more that my job was to save people.

            The straw man you just pummeled has been destroyed. Fine. Now that you have accomplished that – answer the question of how we can “preach the gospel” without words? The gospel is much more than just what we do – for without words people will never be able to connect the dots from our actions back to the the heart of the gospel – Jesus, the One motivating our actions.

          • And you were putting words in my mouth by claiming that I said that you should attempt to bring people to salvation without words. So I guess we’re even now, and we can stop, yes?

            Except apparently not, because you are still claiming that I think we should never use words. Words have their place, but there is a time for them, and a time for action instead. Stop setting up these straw men (after complaining about how I pummeled a straw man – shame!) and go read James.

          • Art

            My apologies. I’ve said nothing that I can see that anywhere remotely suggests that believe we should “never use words.” I have not thought that at all, at any point, even before you clarified yourself. So, again, I don’t know why you are putting words in my mouth.

            The issue stems from a claim that I have challenged that the gospel can EVER be preached without words. Let’s just agree to disagree since we obviously agree on much more than we disagree.

          • That’s probably for the best. Pleasure speaking with you, and a shame that we hit those conversational snags.

          • Art

            It’s obvious that online religious discussions have not improved in the 20 years since I first ran a religion bulletin board with over 1,000 unique contributors a day.

      • So the deaf need their hearing restored before they can have faith? Doesn’t sound like reality to me.

        • Art

          Only if you somehow think the only way deaf people “hear” is through their ears.

          • otrotierra

            Then you are reversing what you just wrote above. Words do not have to be spoken, do they?

          • This is random, but are you and Otro Tierra the same person? And if so, what made you decide to have two accounts?

          • otrotierra

            Disqius software—-not sure why it made me register a second time, and not sure why it logs me in under one account and not the other.

          • Gotcha. Yeah, DISQUS is weird sometimes.

          • I am very confused as to why someone would downvote this – all you did was explain why you have two accounts. I suppose some are just so committed to disagreeing with others that they don’t even care what is being said. Shameful.

          • Art

            No, you are hyper-literalizing what I said. I was speaking in general terms about the use of words through speaking and hearing over against actions alone. I never dreamed someone would suggest that deaf people don’t use words because they can’t hear. They use words just like we do – to convey ideas and meaning – they just use a word language that doesn’t involve ears.

            My point still stands unrefuted despite the sidetrack.

          • otrotierra

            And thus we can conclude that words do not have to be spoken.

          • Art

            Is that what you took away from what I have said? Really? I said that words can be spoken and heard with ears and words can also be “spoken” and “heard” through sign language and you somehow took that to mean that I have reversed myself that words do not have to be spoken for the gospel to be “proclaimed”?

          • 22044

            Regarding deaf people,
            They communicate in sign language, so they could “hear” the gospel in that way. The principle of needing to hear the gospel does not get refuted by that example.

          • 22044

            Sorry, you already mentioned sign language. I didn’t see that initially. :)

          • Art

            No problem… I just took it to mean that great minds think alike. :-)

          • SamHamilton

            Why are you acting like such a jerk?

          • SamHamilton

            Deaf people can read. Reading involves words. Stop being so literal.

          • 22044

            Excellent point, reading is another form of “hearing”!

    • SamHamilton

      I like that saying. But generally when I hear it used, it’s used incorrectly. First, there’s no evidence Saint Francis ever said it. His name is usually attached because it lends moral authority to the user of the saying. Second, when I hear it used, it’s most used to criticize people who are using words to preach the Gospel. These two incorrect applications turn the phrase into a bludgeon to tell other people to “shut up, Saint Francis says your method is less worthy!”

      Jesus used both words and actions in his ministry and he intended his disciples to use both as well. It’s not an either/or. Different situations call for different methods. Some people are gifted with words, others are more gifted with actions. We need to stop dividing things as if one way is preferable to another.

      • Didn’t know the first part. Totally agree with the second part – as I tried to say multiple times in my discussion with Art, it’s not a call to never use words. It’s an invitation to assess each situation and do what is proper for that particular situation. Sometimes the situation calls for words of mercy. Sometimes the situation calls for words of repentance. Sometimes, the situation calls for no words at all. If the situation calls for you to preach the Gospel by feeding your neighbor, you should not instead seek to give them words. If the situation calls for you to preach the Gospel by rebuilding a house that was destroyed in a hurricane, you should not offer words as a substitute. But if the situation calls for you to explain to your neighbor that “nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus,” words must be spoken.

        So, in brief, you are 100% correct that the saying should not be a bludgeon used against those who preach with words. It should instead be used as a reminder to discern what is necessary and proper for each unique moment.

        • SamHamilton

          Sounds like we’re agreed! Peace.

  • BG

    Am I missing something here? Or are you? I don’t know. How do you figure the Messianic secret in all this?

  • JD

    And then you get to the Gospel of John and it not mattering to Jesus what you believe “about” him really ceases to make sense. Maybe these sort of things should be read with a bit broader of a scriptural lens than this article is willing to supply.

  • Frank

    Well this post certainly exposes a serious lack of scholarship and theological understanding. Wouldn’t people try to fully understand the red letters so that they are not simply pontificating?

    Good grief no wonder the church is in turmoil.

    • Perhaps you would like to provide us with the scholarship and theological understanding that is lacking, then, instead of merely complaining? I for one would be grateful to hear it.

      • Frank

        Sure it is in plain site for anyone who actually reads a bit further:

        “21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Matthew 16

        “9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Matthew 17

        It was not the right time to share the news. Ever since the resurrection its the right time to share who Jesus really was.Do I really need to post the words of Jesus commanding us to tell the world who He was?

        • “Do I really need to post the words of Jesus commanding us to tell the world who He was?” When your options are (a) proclaim the words of Jesus to people who have already heard them, or (b) complain while providing nothing useful, always pick option (a). Thank you, Frank. I appreciate it.

          • daithi duly

            Whoa Snommelp, you sure showed him!

          • I showed nobody anything. Stop trying to stir up trouble. It’s not nice.

          • daithi duly

            Right on both counts!

          • Thanks. Apologies for my earlier response being composed poorly enough that it appeared inflammatory.

            DISQUS shenanigans… this was labeled as being from Frank when I responded. Now it says it’s daithi duly.

          • Frank

            I don’t know what this means. You asked, I answered What are you looking for?

          • I was looking for exactly what you gave me. That’s why I thanked you for it. And you asked me a question, so I answered.

          • Frank

            Ok fair enough. Just seemed like you were unhappy with the answer for some reason.

          • I have poor word choice, sometimes. Once again, apologies.

          • Frank

            No problem.This is not the ideal way to properly communicate so confusion can easily rise.

          • Odd that someone’s downvoting us for apologizing to each other…

          • Daithi Duly

            Text based communication is riddled with issues, I may have incorrectly read some posts and responded in a non Christ like way. Please forgive me.

          • Forgiven

  • daithi duly

    “Yet it would seem it mattered less to Jesus what people believed about Him than it did that they follow Him and experience His way of life.”

    “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. “John 3:18

    People cannot become followers of Christ until they repent and follow Him. I cant believe this article is up here. It should be obvious that we need to live like Christ. However this article seems that you can reject Christ and be a Christian as long as you live like one.

  • MRT

    This guy no offense doesn’t know what he is talking about. He is obviously drunk on one of his sermons that he thought up despite what Prov 3:5 says.

    Lets back up.

    The OT was riddled with identifiers of the promised Messiah so the Jews could look for him and identify him. It wasn’t that Jesus didnt want others to know who he was like this clown thinks. It was so that those that sought him out can make the conclusion of who he was based on what he did and said and, based on the identifiers.

    This guy makes up stuff and runs and tells his flock like he knows what is what, while continuing to mislead them further.

    • SamHamilton

      I think you make good points, but I could have done without the name-calling. It detracts from your good points.

  • 22044

    This is an interesting lesson, but it does not connect to the cited Biblical account.

    The lesson from the text is that an occasion was coming for Jesus to proclaim His identity in the way Peter would have liked to at that time. Peter was an impulsive fellow, often saying & doing things before thinking, so Jesus gave him that instruction. The real lesson for us is to ask God for humility to line up our plans with His.
    We can rejoice that Peter changed and became a great apostle, and ended His live with great humility, but applauded by God as a good, faithful servant.

  • shadowsonnet

    Thought this quote would fit here.

    Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Savior” . The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great. -Fr. Rohr

    • SamHamilton

      I don’t know. Christianity must be more than a set of behaviors or “lifestyle.” And it is a religion. It’s a religion of Jesus. And it has doctrine. Jesus established that doctrine. If someone said, “God wants me to live a life that is simple, non-violent, sharing and loving and I will try to live that way” why wouldn’t we call that a religion? I don’t like how people are redefining the term religion to mean something bad, when it, at it’s heart, isn’t.

      • shadowsonnet

        I understand what you mean about the redefinition of religion but I actually see it as a healthy swing. For the past few centuries the (American) church has swung almost totally into the mindset of “right belief makes right action” . Religion has become synonymous with theology or a set of beliefs not actions. It’s a very Pauline mindset and there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is tempered by the understanding that Jesus and Paul taught from different ends of the spectrum. AND THATS OK. (capitalized for emphasis not to shout) Paul helped us understand why Jesus worked and what he was doing. But I think it’s much more important to follow the work of Jesus than to understand the theology of Paul. Paul was a necessary builder of Why we do. Jesus was the demonstrator of What we do. At the end of the day its the Samaritan with wrong beliefs that is the christian not the priest who does nothing, A lesson lost in our current world. So let us all strive to be people who jump to act first as the samaritan while at the same time learning the mysteries as the priest.

        • SamHamilton

          I think you can approve of an effort to make sure our works match our faith without disparaging “religion.” After all, you have a religion, it’s just a little different than some other people’s religion. Christians need to stop dumping on “religion” and focus on getting our religion in line with Jesus. Jesus is our religion.

          At the end of the day its the Samaritan with wrong beliefs that is the christian not the priest who does nothing…

          I don’t know if I agree with this. Faith without works is a dead faith and works without faith are merely good deeds. Good deeds are fine, but God wants our hearts, not just our hands. I don’t think it’s that important to completely understand everything Paul wrote about (I certainly don’t), but it is important to love God, pray, ask for forgiveness and repent, etc. This isn’t just the “theology of Paul;” it’s the theology of Jesus. Jesus admonishes us to do so. It’s not about getting every jot and tittle of theology down pat. But Jesus told us to “knock.” We need to seek God.

          • shadowsonnet

            I agree about seeking God but I don’t think religion is necessarily how we seek God. It can be, but it can also be just a blunt stick to beat people over the head with “rightness”. A “My religion is more true than yours” sort of thing. This is what most people who have a problem with “religion” are talking about.

            It’s a delicate issue because the word is used in two different ways. This is an issue that has been going around the church for centuries, just ask the Franciscans and Dominicans. And I honestly believe it is something that will always be in flux until Jesus returns.

            My experience in the American Church has been overwhelmingly the beat the head in sort of experience. I think the church is slowly but surely pushing back towards center. And may then swing in the opposite direction. Hopefully not too far. Balance in all things of course.

            Having spent years finding “right belief” I have found personally that it doesn’t mean crap without right action. Ghandi was more a christian than Vlad Tepes the “protector of Christianity” that he was. Of course this is an exaggerated example but it serves the point one was of the Christian religion one was not. Religion means nothing without action. Nothing. Because religion is not Faith. Religion is a built series of precepts, Faith is a different beast entirely.

            And religion is not a matter of the heart, its a matter of the mind. Important yes, but I find that actions are a matter of the heart not just the hands. After all the story of the Good Samaritan was part of an answer to “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

            Finally, as I will allow you final word and thank you for your comments they are appreciated, I think as far as religion goes I find the best summation to be by someone whose finer points of theology/religion I disagree with. Augustine- Love and do as thou wilt

          • SamHamilton

            Aren’t you using your religion as a blunt stick as much as the religion you’ve experienced in the American Church is used? In your comments to me you’re very intent on saying who’s more of a Christian than someone else. Aren’t you doing the same thing with your religion, just using different metrics? “Get your works right, or you’re not a true Christian!” “Get your beliefs right, or you’re not a true Christian!” What’s the difference?

          • shadowsonnet

            Good point. There really isn’t much of a difference. Works and belief are both important that’s why Paul and Peter fired shots across each others bow a few times. That’s why i think the Dominican’s and the Franciscans both had it right and wrong. What I’m saying (or at least think I’m saying) is that in our current environment I think belief has been overblown in proportion to the importance of works. Balance should be maintained and I will stick up more for works in this environment as I see it has fallen out of favor. God is not a god of either but of both. Both are blessed but I will emphasize what I feel needs more emphasis.

            And as Far as who is more Christian , If we could look on the heart maybe it would be easier but as it is, “you will know them by their fruits”

            Hope that clears up my stance a bit. Either way God Bless and thanks for the discussion.

  • Mark Munger

    I like your descriptive statement “cognitive conversion”, I am just in the begining stages of moving from belief to following the Master. Thanks

  • “Jesus seemed quite comfortable with
    people following Him, some for long periods of time, while
    simultaneously being uncertain as to His divine nature.” This affects me profoundly–such that I have yet to put it into words. Except…wow. Thank you.

    • Frank

      Unlike His followers at the time, we know about the resurrection, we know who Jesus is. That’s the difference and that’s why its important to proclaim to the world who Jesus exactly is.

  • I read this quote in the book “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde (about creativity and commodification) recently that said, “Partners in barter talk and talk until they strike a balance, but the gift is given in silence.” It’s been totally changing the way I think about relationships with people and Jesus and God. I think in 2013 America so much of our faith isn’t faith, but confidence in the things we’re talking about and seeing in each other — instead of just letting the mystery of the gospel leave us in awe and let that be enough.

    • Frank

      The Gospel is no mystery we know exactly what it is. And part of what it is, is to be proclaimed to the world. Anyone who tries to suppress that is working against Jesus.

  • Mike Jones

    I agree with ths article. I don’t believe in Jesus anymore than I believe in unicorns. But, if it turns out its real, I’ll make it to God. I don’t think a just God would send anyone to hell. I think this article stress that well. If Jesus is real, he could care less you believe in him. Good article.

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