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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gossip - Dealing with the Tongue and the Heart

In the past we’ve spend quite a bit of time in Eph 4:22-24 on the biblical principle of putting off the old self (v22), being renewed in the spirit of our minds (v23), and putting on the new self (v24).  In this post we’ll look at how to apply these principles to the sin of gossip, putting off and putting on both on the behavior and heart levels.
Dealing with the Tongue
Gossip could certainly be classified as a sin of the tongue.  As such, it has a number of cousins – lying, slander, clamor, critical speech, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh words.  Eph 4:29 calls us to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  So we are to put off gossip, and put on edifying speech.  It’s important to note that if we have made gossip a habit, it will take much effort to rid ourselves of it and make edifying speech a habit.  However, because the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we can make this change.
A first step in dealing with this sin of the tongue is to identify what the Bible teaches about it.  We must have this information because it is the Word of God that transforms our minds.  Eph 4:29 itself is a great reference.  According to this verse, as a believer my speech is to be only edifying.  According to Rom 1:29, gossip is a sin characteristic of the depraved mind.  Other references could be used as well, but the idea is to gather a collection of Biblical truths and either memorize these passages or meditate on them.  We need to use God’s Word to help us think rightly about the sin of gossip.  We also want to know these passages well so that they are available to us prior to and in the moment of temptation.  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psa 119:11).
Second, we must try to identify when and where we are most often tempted to commit this sin.  Is it on Facebook, at our kids’ sporting events, at work, or at church?  Once we have identified those trouble spots, we can prepare for temptation ahead of time.  How do we prepare?  Remember that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness praying just prior to being tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1-11).  He also exhorted His disciples to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane that they might not enter into temptation (Matt26:41).  We should follow their example and use prayer to prepare.  It would be wise to pray about this at the beginning of each day, since we never know for certain when temptation will come.  Then as we are approaching a time and activity when we know we will be tempted, we could pray again asking for the Lord’s help to be strong and put off gossip and put on godly, edifying speech.  It would be helpful to spend a minute meditating on those passages that we have stored in our hearts for the occasion.  We could also remind ourselves that because we are in Christ, we have been freed from slavery to sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6). 
Third, when temptation finally comes we must decide not to engage in ungodly speech and in the power of the Spirit engage in speech that builds up instead.  That may require changing the subject completely, or it could involve saying something positive about the subject or something encouraging to the listener.  If we are successful in that moment, we should glorify God and ask Him for help when the temptation comes again.  If we fail, we should immediately confess, repent, and ask the forgiveness of the Lord and whoever we were gossiping with. 
Our objective is to prepare for temptation as best we can through prayer and bible meditation, strive to use godly speech, and get into the pattern of immediately praising God for the success and repenting of the failures.  If this process becomes a habit, eventually we will see the character of our speech changing drastically.  If those you come into contact with hear you repeatedly asking for forgiveness for gossip, their consciences will most likely become sensitive to the issue, too.  You will be creating an atmosphere where gossip is not welcome and edifying speech is the norm.  Praise God for that.
Dealing with the Heart
Now, if we only deal with gossip at the behavior level, we will not adequately deal with the issue.  We can’t only address the fruit and not the root.  Jesus taught in Matt 12:34, For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Likewise, in Mark 7:21-22,  “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”  In our time in the Sermon on the Mount, we noted that Jesus was concerned that His disciples would apply God’s Word at the level of the heart.  For example, abstaining from the physical act of adultery did not make one innocent before God: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:28).
Clearly, if we want to remove the sin of gossip from our lives, we must deal with the heart motive behind it.  So what is at the heart of gossip?  Most often it will be some form of pride.  What would cause me to talk disparagingly about someone else or to talk about the sins of someone else?  A low view of my own sin.  You will never see someone experiencing godly grief about their own sin while throwing stones at others.  Isn’t this the heart of the Lord’s teaching regarding hypocritical judgment in Matthew 7:1-5? 
1 "Judge not, that you be not judged.
 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?
 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
(Matt 7:1-5)
This obsession with the sins of others is remedied by developing a realistic view of my own sin.  There are several ways to do this.  First, meditating on the gospel reminds me of the magnitude of my sin.  God’s forgiveness of my sin was only made possible by the death and resurrection of His Son.  I couldn’t redeem myself no matter how hard I tried.  Second, healthy introspection – examining myself for areas of my life where I am harboring sin – is an essential part of keeping my sin in perspective.  Those of you who were at the Bible conference know that examining yourself for manifestations of pride can lead to a heaviness and grief over sin that can only be relieved by reflecting on the cross.  An awareness of how far I still have to go toward Christlikeness will leave me far less likely to focus on and talk about the sins of others.  Third, beyond identifying sin, I must be actively seeking to kill it.  This too reminds me of the long road of sanctification I have ahead.
I believe there is another heart issue underneath gossip: a lack of love for the body.  Love for a brother or sister will lead me to address their sin with them alone (Pro27:6; Matt 18:15-17).  Love will lead me to keep that situation to myself (Pro 11: 13).  It is then a lack of love that leads me to discuss the sin of a brother or sister with others, or to disparage them behind their backs.  So how do I remedy this?  Again, meditating on the gospel is a helpful tool.  It reminds me that Christ gave His blood for my brothers and sisters in Christ just like He did for me.  His work on the cross served to unite us with one another (Eph 4:1-16). 
Second, Paul teaches that it is through serving one another that the body “builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).  If this is true, what better way to grow in my love for my brothers and sisters in Christ than to selflessly serve them any way I can? 
Third, we are called to pray for one another (Eph 6:18; Jas5:16).  We encourage our members to pray through the membership directory on a regular basis.  This is a good way to make their concerns our concerns and to care for them. 
Though gossip can get a strong grip on us, God has given us the resources to deal with this sin.  We just need to make sure that we are dealing with both the fruit and the root.  May the Lord grant us the grace to make strides toward Christlikeness in this area.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gossip - How Do I Identify It?

(Click here to read the previous posts in the series:  Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4)
So far in this series, we’ve worked to formulate a definition of gossip, we’ve considered the damage that gossip does, and we’ve identified God’s standard for our speech.  Now we need to move into the more practical arena of identifying gossip in everyday life.
Though we have defined gossip already, being able to recite the definition is not the same as being able to identify gossip when you hear it in real conversation.  That being said, the definition can serve as a starting point for devising a method for evaluating the things that we say and the things that we hear.  Our working definition is that gossip is secret slander or providing harmful information about a person in a secretive manner.
Last time we saw that gossip obviously falls short of God’s standard for our speech found in Eph 4:29, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  Gossip harms, corrupts, or tears down the relationships and reputations of those involved.  With that in mind, we can formulate some questions to use to test our speech.  Here are some suggestions:
Am I using edifying speech right now?  If I am only supposed to speak words that are good for building up, this question is great for holding up that standard.  I need to ask this question regarding everyone involved.  Will this lead to the edification of the person I am talking to?  Will she be encouraged in the faith?  Will her relationship with the subject be strengthened?  What at about the subject – will he be built up if I share this information?  If the answer is no, I should not share it. 
Was this information shared with me in confidence?  If the information was shared with me in confidence, I am not free to pass it along.  A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret (Pro 11:13).  Sometimes we try to cover ourselves by prefacing the information with “don’t tell anybody I told you this,” as if we are guilty only if we get caught.  Whether the person who trusted us with the information ever finds out or not, if we divulge something shared in confidence, we are guilty.
Am I just “venting”?  If you think about it, the only thing that distinguishes venting from gossip is that venting has the added element of personal frustration.  We think of venting as an innocuous itch that we may legitimately scratch in the presence of others, but there is no excuse for this biblically.  We call it “venting,” but God calls it “complaining” and “slander,” and He hates it (Lev 19:16; Num 11:1; Psa 101:5;Phil 2:14; Jas 5:9).
Is what I’m about to say about this person good or for their good?  The following quote from Stuart Scott’s “From Pride to Humility” identifies this manifestation of humility: “Talking about others only if it is good or for their good. A humble person will speak well of others, not negatively. He will convey something negative about someone only if he must do so in order to help that person.”  What reason might a person have for helping someone by sharing something negative about them?  Moving beyond the first step of confronting sin would definitely require someone to do this (Matt18:15-17).  Yet how often is this our motive?
Am I discussing someone’s sin who is not present?  This one is related to the previous one.  If I am not discussing someone’s sin for the purpose of their good, that is, graduated levels of confrontation, what justification do I have for talking about it? 
What is my motive for sharing this?  A word of warning: our hearts are deceptive (Jer 17:9).  We are masters at justifying ourselves, especially when it comes to our own motives.  We must consider whether or not our desire to share information is motivated by genuine love for the subject.  If it is not, we should end the conversation or change the subject.  If we think it is motivated by love and we are sharing for that person’s good, we need to be able to identify how it will do them good.  If we can’t do that, we should not continue.
Our primary concern should be our own speech, however, there are at least three good reasons to develop the ability to identify gossip in the speech of others as well.  First, the Bible condemns listening to gossip. He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip (Pro 20:19).  So we should be able to identify gossip so that we are not guilty of entertaining it.  Second, we have a responsibility to help brothers and sisters in Christ to walk in faithfulness.  The ability to identify gossip will enable us to bring loving correction, which is a blessing to the speaker and to the entire body.  Third, if enough people refuse to listen to gossip, it dies for lack of fuel: For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases (Pro 26:20).  If we are going to put out the fire, we need to be able to recognize it. 
In evaluating whether or not what I’m listening to is gossip, I really need to ask questions of the speaker.  I don’t know what their motive is, nor do I know where they are headed with the information they are sharing.  The only way to know is to ask them.  Suggestions:
I just want to make sure we are not veering into gossip – are we discussing this for this person’s good? (If yes,) How are we benefitting them?  (If no,) Why don’t we talk about something else then?
It sounds like you are sharing with me about another person’s sin – have you confronted this person one-on-one? (If yes,) Are you asking me to go with you to confront them again or are you asking me for counsel?  (If no,) I would encourage you to go and talk to them about it.
Are you telling me something that was shared with you in confidence? 
Do you think we are edifying one another by talking about this?
By asking these kinds of questions, not only are you confirming whether or not you are listening to gossip, but you are also making a statement that you do not want to listen to gossip.  Even if the person speaking was not engaging in gossip, they will know that you do not entertain such things.
If we are committed to glorifying God with our speech and we make it a habit to test ourselves with questions like the ones above, we will develop the ability to spot gossip very quickly.  But identifying gossip is not the ultimate objective – stopping gossip and replacing it with godly speech is.  So what if I’m a habitual gossip?  What do I need to do to change?  That’s what we’ll look at next time.
Until then consider the benefit of striving for obedience in this area.  Not only will our speech not be filled with harmful communication, but since we are only speaking words that build up, our every conversation will be edifying to the body of Christ.  And in that, our God will be glorified.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What is God's standard for our speech? (Gossip Series)

 In our time in the Sermon on the Mount, we have noted the high bar that the Lord has set for our lives as His disciples.  In our relationships, our personal devotion, and our dealings with the world, we are to live in such a way that we are set apart in our character and conduct so that the Lord is glorified.  At times this standard seems impossibly high, but we know that in Christ we have the ability to walk in faithfulness to Him (2 Pet 1:3-4). 
One area of the Christian life in which Scripture repeatedly calls us to holiness is our speech.  Like every other aspect of our walk, the Lord sets a very high standard for how we use our words.  Last time, we looked at Eph 4:29, a crucial verse for our understanding of godly speech.  In the 4th chapter of Ephesians, Paul begins to give instruction about how the members of the body of Christ are to conduct themselves.  It is here that he lays out the paradigm for biblical change that we talk about so often.  We are told to put off the old self, put on the new self, and be renewed in the spirit of our minds (vv22-24).  Paul then gives examples of this, including one regarding our speech: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29).
Here Paul tells us what not to do (what to put off) and what to do instead (what to put on).  He writes, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…  We’ve alreadylearned that corrupting talk is speech that tears down.  This could include any of the sins of the tongue mentioned in Scripture, like gossip, lying, slander, clamor, critical speech, insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and harsh words.  These patterns of speech characterize the old self, what we were before Christ saved us and set us apart for the glory of the Father.  Wherever we find such sins of the tongue in our lives, we must seek to put them off.
Most of us have heard the old standard, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  A great many believers use the principle underlying this saying as the foundation of their attempts to kill their own sin.  The idea is to identify what you are doing wrong…and stop it.  Find the sin and kill the habit behind it.  Many books have been written and many counseling techniques have been devised to help people “de-habituate.” 
The problem is that this is only half the job, biblically speaking.  We should de-habituate, but we also have to re-habituate.  We must replace ungodly habits with godly habits.  Or as Paul writes, we must put off and put on.  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…  In other words, not speaking corrupting words is not good enough.  We must replace them with words that build up.
The “put off” in Eph 4:29 may not seem too radical.  The “put on” is a different story.  It really raises the bar.  It cuts off any speech about which there may be any doubt: but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  The true standard for our speech is not to refrain from ungodly speech, but to engage in exclusively godly speech.
How many of us apply this higher standard to ourselves?  A good number of us are probably able to prevent ourselves from engaging in clearly corrupt speech, but how many of us can say that we only speak words that build up, words that benefit?  You see, our aim shouldn’t be to simply rid ourselves of the sin of gossip.  We should shoot higher than that.  We should seek to habitually speak edifying words.  And so, as we continue in this series we will discuss how to do both the putting off and the putting on in the area of our speech.
Until next time, consider this: in His entire life, Christ never spoke a single corrupting word, but only words that built up.  The task of becoming like Him may seem impossible, but it is not.  His very Spirit dwells in us, empowering us to obey.  Let’s trust in His grace as we strive to edify one another through our speech.
Posted by Greg Birdwell