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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

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