Sunday, July 24, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Gossip and the Church"

“Gossip and the Church” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip
July 24, 2011
Psalm 133

This is the last message in our Resisting Gossip sermon series.

Thank you for bearing with me as I’ve test-driven the truths that I’ve been uncovering in my doctoral studies.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve finished chapter 3 of the doctoral project (all but footnotes and formatting), and I’m ready to start chapter 4.  I’ve written about 100 pages and have about 300 footnotes!

Many of you have asked, “How is your book going?” Well chapter 4 of the project IS the book. So, in sense, I’m now ready to start the book!

But we’ve been talking for 8 weeks about the things that will go in the book.  Five major things.

First, recognizing gossip.  Biblically speaking, sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back, out of a bad heart.

Second, the heart of gossip.  Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Sinful gossip comes from sin in the heart. And that includes judging others. Most sinful gossip comes from sinful judgments about other people.

Third, resisting gossip.  What to do instead of speaking gossip and what to do instead of listening to sinful gossip.

Fourth, regretting gossip.  What to do if we’ve failed in this area and the hope we have of forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus Christ.

And fifth, responding to gossip in both faith and in love.  Trusting God with our reputations and loving even our enemies when we are the target of sinful gossip.

That’s what we’ve been learning.

And I want to go one more step today and apply this teaching, not only to the every day lives of Christians, but to the local church.

“Gossip and the Church.”

Exactly ten years ago this week, we had a little event here at Lanse Free Church that we called “Wild West Day.”

I’m joking that it was a “little” event.

It was, for us, a very big event.  Our church of approximately 120 people at the time put on an outdoor family festival for the whole community and had at least 1200 guests on our campus in one day.

As events go, it was big and one of the highlights of my ministry here.

I think we gave away like 3000 hot dogs or something like that?  A concert, Lew Sterrett and the Sermon on the Mount, the guys from Miracle Mountain Ranch came down and did all kinds of things, there were carriage rides, kids stuff.  A day long.

It was awesome!

But I came to believe after Wild West Day that the biggest miracle of that day was not how big the event was was but how unified our church family was.

And after it was all over, I preached a message celebrating that from Psalm 133.

Which I called, “The Blessing of Aaron’s Oil Beard.”

You’ll see why in a second.

Psalm 133 is the second to last song of ascents in the Psalter.

It’s one of the psalms that the Israelites would sing to one another as they went up to Jerusalem in family groupings as they traveled to the great feasts of Israel.

Imagine it being sung by a large family of foot travelers.

"1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.
 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore."

God loves unity among brothers.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

Now, of course, in the original context, these are literal brothers, kinsmen traveling together up to the feast and enjoying the fellowship of being a part of corporate Israel brought together by the great feast and the goodness of the LORD that it represents.

But I think it is a very small “thought-jump” to see ourselves as Christian brothers and sisters in this verse. It is good and pleasant when Christian brothers and Christian sisters live together in unity.

That’s what the church is supposed to be.

God loves unity in His church.


David says that unity is good and pleasant.

It’s so good that it’s holy.


I think that’s what David means by the strange (to us) word picture in verse 2.

“[Brothers dwlling together in unity] is like precious oil poured on the head, running  down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.”

What does that mean?

Precious oil is a symbol in the Bible of the anointing, consecrating, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. And the picture that the psalmist is drawing from the historical memory of the people of Israel is the first consecration of the Levitical priesthood with Aaron (Moses’ brother) recorded in Exodus 29, Leviticus 8, and Leviticus 21.

[There’s Leviticus again!]

When Moses poured oil over Aaron’s head, he was consecrating Aaron and symbolizing his being set apart for priestly work by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

And this verse in Psalm 133 tells us that it was a total consecration. You get the picture of this fragrant, perfumey slick stuff sliding down Aaron’s head and into his beard (he’d never get the smell out of it!) and down upon the collar of his robes. 

Completely immersed in oily goo.

Now that probably sounds gross to our foreign and modern ears, but try to put yourself in an Israelite’s shoes.  Here is a description of one of the most completely consecrated people, visibly holy by the marking of oil.  And here is the psalmist saying that unity is like that.  When brothers and sisters live together with rare, good, pleasant unity, holiness is present.

Unity is Holy.

That’s one of the reasons why God loves it.

The second is that UNITY IS REFRESHING.

I think that’s what the second strange word picture means in verse 3.

“[Brothers and sisters living together in unity] is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessings, even life forevermore.”

Now, who is this Hermon guy?

It’s not a guy.  It’s a mountain.

They are both mountains.  Mount Hermon and Mount Zion.

Mount Hermon is huge!

Mount Hermon is actually a mountain range that rises 9,200 feet above sea level, and extends some 16 to 20 miles from North to South. It’s massive!

Mount Zion, on the other hand, is relatively small.  More like a hill upon which the city of Jerusalem was built.  It’s only like 2,500 feet above sea level.

And so the psalmist says, “Imagine the dew of Hermon falling, descending, really–flooding upon Mount Zion.”

Imagine the deluge of water, the wetness carrying life-giving sustenance to a drier, more weary land!  He’s saying, imagine how green and fertile and rich and refreshed Mount Zion would be if Hermon’s dew covered it!

Imagine if Hermon’s dew descended on us right now!  How badly we needly rain here.

Now, apply that picture in your mind to unity. Unity is refreshing, restoring, reinvigorating, life-giving.  It’s not just pleasant–it is refreshing.

It’s like stepping into just-right air-conditioning this week.



Unity is so refreshing, especially in a world like ours that is so fractured.

It is holy and refreshing and God loves it and blesses it. V.3

“For there the LORD bestows blessing, even life forevermore.”

Unity is a mark of God’s blessing and a mark of eternal life.

God loves unity among brothers. Amen?

And the flipside of that is true, as well.

Turn over to Proverbs chapter 6, verses 16-19. 

Proverbs 6:16-19.

“There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

The poetic device that Solomon uses here is a X+1 device.

He says that the LORD hates (that’s a strong word!) six things and then he adds another.  And the it’s supposed to emphasize that last one.  Not under-emphasize the others, but to especially emphasize the last one.

What does God detest?  (1) haughty eyes – looking around and being prideful, (2) A lying tongue - God hates falsehood because He is true, (3) hands that shed innocent blood - God loves justice and hates murder, (4) a heart that devises wicked schemes - a heart that makes terrible plans to do evil, (5) feet that a quick to rush into evil - a readiness to do what is wrong, (6) a false witness who pours out lies - not just lying but lying in court to do injustice, and then he adds one.  What does God hate? 

“A man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

God hates dissension.

Now, that doesn’t mean that God endorses unity at any cost.

No, He loves the truth and requires that we divide from others for the sake of important differences.  There are necessary times to divide.  Absolutely.

But He hates unnecessary division of His people.

God hates those who sinfully divide the church.


Sinful disunity is unholy and the opposite of refreshing. 

Sinful disunity drains, saps, sucks the life out of people.

God hates sinful disunity among brothers.

And you know where this is going, don’t you?

Because that’s exactly what sinful gossip does.

Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

Let me put it another way, “Loose lips sink fellowships.”

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

And that could be the end of a church.

It’s happened before.

One of the saddest parts of my research is to see how sinful gossip has spread through churches and brought them down.

Bearing bad news behind brothers’ backs out of a bad heart and dividing those who should be united in Christ.

I’m so thankful for the holy and refreshing unity that we have enjoyed here at Lanse Free Church for so many years.

It’s not always been perfect, and it’s not always been easy, but it’s been good and pleasant when the brothers and sisters here have lived together in unity.

I am so thankful for it.

Today is a church family meeting where we get together to discuss things that are important to the body.

In some churches, that’s a meeting that you wear a side-arm to.

But I look forward to our meetings and am not worried that we’ll fall into fighting.

Because there is a high degree of commitment here to holy and refreshing unity.

Aarons’ Oil Beard and the Dew of Mount Hermon.

Not that we will all agree on everything, but we will love one another through our differences.

This church makes it easy to write on gossip because it’s not a major problem of ours.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the other writers on the subject of gossip do so because they’ve had to deal with a lot of slander and accusations in their ministry.

We saw that Paul had to deal with it in his ministry.  In 2 Corinthians 12, he says, “I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”

That hasn’t been my experience.  Lanse is not Corinth. 

Not for me. Not that we haven’t had to deal with sinful gossip.

Everyone does, but it is not a characteristic problem of our church.

So, how do we keep it that way?

What is that we do that maintains a culture of peace?

Ultimately, it is the gift of the Lord. Psalm 133 says, “The LORD bestows his blessing.”

But what is our part in that?  And how can we keep cultivating that gossip-free unity?

I thought of six biblical points that I also see at work in our church.

Let me give them to you quickly.

#1.  BEAR WITH, DON’T BITE.  Each other.

Curt and Steph Quick had Colossians 3:12-17 read at their wedding last Saturday.

And Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

“Bear with each other...”

That’s especially important for a church family.

We are all sinners here and very different from one another, so church life requires forbearance.

Putting up with each other.

Being patient.  “Love is patient.”  The old word is “longsuffering.”

Love is longsuffering.

Instead of running to gossip about someone, we forbear.

The opposite of that is biting.  Turn with me over to Galatians chapter 5, verses 13-15.

The apostle Paul has been explaining the gospel again to a church that was in danger of losing it.

And in chapter 5, he’s applying the gospel’s implications to their lives.

He says (Galatians 5:13), “You, my brothers, were called to be free [the gospel frees us!]. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love [bear with one another]. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [There’s Leviticus 19:18 again!] If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Bear with, don’t bite, each other.

Now that simply means put to work all of what we’ve learned this Summer.

Do the necessary heart work to change.
Choose to resist gossip.
Love instead.

Bear with, don’t bite.

It’s simple, but it’s not always easy.

Go to the person that is rubbing you the wrong way and solve it between you, but don’t bite them in the back.

Bear with, don’t bite.

That’s what I see happening here at LEFC, and we need to keep it up.


Turn over to Ephesians 6:18. 

This is the last piece of the armor of God.

Remember, our battle is not primarily with flesh and blood, but with unseen powers at work behind the scenes.

And Paul tells us to (Ephesians 6:18), “[P]ray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Even the ones you’d rather talk about?

Even those.

“Always keep on praying for all the saints.”


I think there is tendency to stop praying for those we’re having trouble with.

But Paul tell us to be constant in prayer.

“Always keep on praying for all the saints.”

#3.  BE CAREFUL WITH REPUTATIONS.  Especially with leaders.

Turn over to 1 Timothy chapter 5. 1 Timothy chapter 5, verses 17-21.

1 Timothy is Paul’s instruction manual on how to do church.

And in chapter 5, he’s talking again about elders, especially those elders who are set aside for teaching and preaching.  We call those elders, vocational elders, or pastors.  He’s talking about me!

This is what he says in verses 17-21.

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”

By the way, this is another one of the ways that God has blessed me in this church.

This church does a phenomenal job at honoring me as a vocational elder.  From the way that you speak about me, to the way that you take care of my family and pay us and give us time off, and this year, to give us time to be pre-occupied and write.

We are very blessed.  I don’t know if like (v.18) being called an Ox, but am very glad that you don’t muzzle me. 

And that you are very careful with my reputation.  V.19.

“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.  Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.  I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

Now, it’s clear that the church is supposed to hold its leaders accountable.

Rebuke us publicly if we have fallen into unrepentant sin or heresy.

And do it without favoritism.  Don’t fail to rebuke us because you like us!

But be very careful and cautious with reputations.  V.19

“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”

That completely rules out gossip, doesn’t it?

Don’t listen to someone (especially an anonymous someone) who wants to bring some bad news behind the church leaders’ back and not bring it out into the open with two or three witnesses.

Church leaders can be destroyed by gossip.

I have a pastor friend whose whole ministry is barely hanging on right now because others have started a whisper campaign.

And that’s true for all church leaders, not just pastors.

But of course, a pastor’s livelihood and family often depend upon it.

I’m so thankful that this church is careful with reputations. Let’s keep it up.

This is the flip side of that last point.

Often gossip flourishes in situations where there are no open channels for people to share their concerns and problems.

And that is the leadership’s responsibility.

Sometimes if there is sinful gossip in a church, it is the leaders’ fault.

Church leaders need to regularly humble themselves and make sure that they are listening.

Here’s what Paul says to Timothy in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy, just two chapters before.

“Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife [a one-woman kind of man], temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”

I think that a lot of those characteristics mean basically: humble, teachable, and approachable.

That’s how leaders are supposed to be.

And they need to open up channels of communication.

And here I want to thank you, as church family, for being patient me as your pastor for the times when I have not being humble, teachable, and approachable.

I want to be a good listener, but I know that I haven’t always done that.

There have been times when I’ve failed to hear you.

And those are times, I’m sure, when the temptation has been strongest to gossip about me.

I’m trying to be humble and approachable.  All of our leaders are.

We all want to hear from you and be responsive to you.

We may not always agree, but we want to be listening.

That will keep up our unity as holy and refreshing.

Aaron’s Oil Beard and the Dew of Mount Hermon.


Turn over to 3 John with me.

John had a problem with a church that he cared about. It was being taken over by a Church Boss called Diotrephes.

And this is what he said.  V.9

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”

Diotrephes tried to take over and wasn’t even allowing missionaries to visit the church.

And he was gossiping maliciously about the apostle John!

If you think that being godly will keep you from gossip, then forget it.

You can be the apostle John and they’ll gossip about you.

So what does John do?

He calls him out.

He names the name and names the sin.

He’s not gossiping about Diotrephes. He’s holding him accountable.

“So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.”

And if Diotrephes refuses to repent, I’m sure that John would be forced to discipline him.

Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

And it might be a better translation to say, “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.”
The King James says, “so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.”

We need to call each other on it when we see each other maliciously gossiping, and as a last resort, we need to be willing to exercise church discipline.

Sometimes, unity is preserved by excluding someone who causes dissension.

It seems counter-intuitive at times, but unity is sometimes preserved by cutting out a part of the body that won’t function as a unit.

I give you all permission if you see me engaging in sinful gossip, to call me on it.

Number six and last.  You know what I’m going to say.


I think that one of the chief reasons why Lanse Free Church is by and large a gossip-free church is our unofficial motto is:

The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

And the main thing is the gospel.

One last turn of your pages.  Ephesians chapter 4.

Paul has spent 3 chapter explaining the gospel.

God’s great plan centered in Christ.

“Redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . . not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Paul has been explaining the gospel for 3 chapters and then he turns to application and says, Ephesians 4:1-6.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. [That “calling” is the gospel.  Live a life worthy of the gospel. V.2]  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love [bear with, not bite]. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Because we have all of this through the gospel, we have in common everything that is most important in life.

And we need to remember that and “make every effort to keep” that unity.

The gospel is what brings us together and holds us together in Jesus Christ.

The gospel defeats gossip.

We have Jesus in common, and that’s everything!

We need to remember that Jesus is enough to keep us living together in unity.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) live together in unity.”


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