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TEXT: Ephesians 4:29
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #25: Gossip
Everyone knows gossip is a serious problem in the world and in the church. It demeans the person doing it, hurts the people it is done to, and sows doubt and hard feelings where there should be love and trust. Everybody knows that gossip is a bad thing.
And just about everybody does it. Some gossip more-and more viciously than others-but hardly anyone is wholly free from it. Gossip is a sin everybody is aware of-and nobody repents of! It is so deeply ingrained in life as we know it, it is hard to imagine what the world and church would be like if it nobody did it, or if he did, he'd quickly confess his sin to the Lord, apologize to the one he hurt, and do his best to not do it again.
Thousands of books have been written and millions of sermons preached against it, and the good ones are highly effective-for a day or two. We see the truth in what they say, and feel convicted by our guilt. With tears, we tell the Lord what gossips we have been and promise that, from now on, we'll be new creatures in Christ.
While the ink is still wet on our promises to God, we've already broken them. We're right back at it: whispering, repeating rumors, suggesting evil, bearing tales and biting backs.
Gossip is a real thing, like cancer. Or death. We can find softer words to describe it, but it is what it is. And so is gossip. I can say, 'I need some advice about Tony', but, of course, before you can 'help' me, I've got to tell you what Tony's up to! Wanting to be sanctified ourselves, we sometimes put gossip in the form of a prayer request. You ask me to pray for Joanne. 'What for?' I ask, 'She doesn't take care of her husband or kids'. You've just told me Joanne's a bad wife and mother. Now, if you've already talked to her about it, and are seeking pastoral help, that's one thing. But have you? And are you? Not likely.
What is gossip? I could read from a dictionary or cite the Old and New Testament words that correspond to it, but I'm not sure that would add anything to our understanding. One verse really helped me to get it, Matthew 7:12-
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Gossip is talking about others in a way you would not want them to talk about you. If I don't want people saying I'm fat, I shouldn't be saying they're fat. If I don't want people speculating on what kind of father I am, I cannot not speculate on what kind of fathers they are. If I don't want people looking down on me, I mustn't look down on them.
Not all gossip is created equal, of course. The worst kind is born of pure malice. I'm talking about you because I hate you and I want others to feel the same way. Most gossip, though comes from a pinch of malice and a pound of boredom and thoughtlessness. We don't really hate the person or wish him ill, but we're chatting idly about one thing or another, the name comes up, and before you know it, we have revealed secrets and passed judgment on the person, sometimes with a frown, but more often with a laugh.
Whether the gossip is purely malicious or done half in fun, it's still better to not do it at all. Paul doesn't say, Let some corrupt communication come out of your mouth, i.e., as long as it's not too vicious, but Let no corrupt communication.
Speaking of Ephesians 4:29, let's revisit it in whole-
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
The verse is easier to explain than it is to obey. It starts with a negative-Let no corrupt communication. When we hear the term, 'corrupt communication' what typically comes to mind (my mind, at least) is four-letter words, dirty jokes, or lewd stories. These are corrupt in themselves, and corrupting in their effect on those who hear them. They put unwholesome thoughts into our minds and may incite us to follow through on them.
But the verse cannot be limited to this kind of 'corrupt communication'. The word means, corrupting, and I'd like to know what sort of words corrupt us more or more quickly than gossip? Proverbs 16:28 is to the point-
A perverse man sows strife,
And a whisperer separates the best
Gossip causes good friends to fall out with each other, and, on a larger scale, sows animosity and suspicion.
If this were not bad enough, the next verse down, Ephesians 4:30, suggests something worse-
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit by whom you were sealed to the day of redemption.
Not everyone agrees with how this verse fits into the verses that come before it or follow, but it seems clear to me that gossip and the hard feelings it provokes makes the Holy Spirit angry and sad. Why would we want to do this? Of all the persons you could offend with your words, why would you offend the very Person who guarantees your salvation?
Paul commands us to stop gossiping, but he doesn't order us to wire our jaws shut! He says nothing about the quantity of our words, but only of their quality. He wants us to replace the gossiping words that used to characterize us with life-giving words, words that are good and edifying, the kind that uplift the people we talk to and not drag them down into the gutter.
On this point, Paul is not being creative; this is not a new doctrine he just came up with. The Bible everywhere forbids and denounces gossip. Leviticus 19:16 is a prime example-
You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people; neither shall you stand against the blood of your neighbor.
The verse is more potent than you might think it is. To stand against the blood of your neighbor means to testify against him in a capital crime, to say, 'He murdered the man' when, in fact, he didn't. This is high perjury, a kind of murder itself. Moses links the notorious crime to gossip, a sort of murder in its own right. Gossip is not an innocent mistake; it's an infamous crime. Of which nice, church-going people (like you and me) are guilty.
In light of the both Testaments, therefore, it is our duty to stop gossiping and to hate it in ourselves more than we hate it in others.
This is what we ought to do.
NOT THE LAW
How do we move from what we ought to do to actually doing it? This is where Christians usually go wrong, especially the ones who really mean to do their duty.
They turn to the rules, to the Ten Commandments, to the Proverbs, to the Sermon on the Mount, to Ephesians 4:29, and so on.
The verses they turn to do a wonderful job of defining gossip, forbidding gossip, and warning of the evil consequences of gossip. They give us everything we need to stop gossiping once and for all.
Except the power.
Paul says the Law exposes sin and stirs up sin, but never, ever does it free us from sin, that's what-
The Law could not do because it was weak according to the flesh.
I'm quite the authority on stupid diets, and you can see the results for yourself. After trying a hundred diets, but finding no lasting results, I swear off the stupid things. Until the next banner pops up on my computer screen. Ah, now I see- the Acai Berry diet!
Sometime has defined insanity as 'doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results'.
Christians are dumber than dieters! We find a Law and we promise to live by it (forgetting, of course, how often we've made that promise and failed to keep it). But this time will be different! Of course, it's the same.
The clearest rule attached to the highest blessing for keeping it and the hardest punishment for breaking it won't give us the power to obey it.
Gossiping is not my problem. My problem is wanting to Gossip! The problem, in other words, is not in my mouth but in my heart, for-
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Only the Gospel purifies the heart. That's why only it can save us from gossip. How?
In the first place, by telling us how bad we are. All gossip is tinged with a feeling of moral superiority. I can run you down because I'm better than you are; if not in every way, at least in the way I am discussing at the moment! I can call you a miser, because I'm generous; I can hint that you're a bad husband because I'm Mr. Wonderful at home.
The Gospel says, 'Get serious!' All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and every sinner is so alienated from God that nothing less than the death of His Son can reconcile us. I don't need a better program or a firmer resolve; I need an Atonement!
When I remember how bad I am, I've got nothing to say bad about you.
In the second place, the Gospel tells us how loved we are by God. I have to tear other people down so I can look good by comparison. But what if I'm already justified? What if God has declared me 'righteous'? What if I'm already 'accepted in the Beloved'? I don't need to make myself look good any more-Jesus has already done it!
In the third place, the Gospel reminds me of how loved my brother-in-Christ is. Like the rest of us, he has his share of faults-maybe more than his share. But if the Lord loves Him, who am I to hate him? If God justifies him, who am I to condemn him?
In the fourth place, the Gospel changes my focus. Every one of us is born selfish, keener on getting than giving, and more concerned with ourselves than we are with others. The Gospel gets us out of ourselves and our own petty concerns. It puts our focus on what's best for Christ, the Church, and the world. Then it occurs to us that gossip does not glorify the Lord or help anybody. Now loving Christ and others, we put their interests above our own.
Finally, the Gospel takes away the guilt and power of our own past gossip and offers a future without them. This frees us-not to be perfect in this life, we're never that-but to live godly and generous lives.
The Gospel changes everything. Even gossip. Amen.
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