Sunday, June 26, 2011

Offline (Again)

Starting an online fast to go along with my writing week this week.

Trying to get deep into chapter 3 Tuesday-Friday and then write a sermon on "regretting gossip" on Saturday for Sunday.

Thanks for your prayers--see you after the 4th of July.

[Matt's Messages] "Instead of Gossip: Listening"

“Instead of Gossip: Listening” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip - Summer 2011
June 26, 2011
Proverbs 17:4

We’re returning this morning to our Summer sermon series on “Resisting Gossip.”

I’ve been sharing with you some of what I’ve been learning as I’ve been reading for and writing my doctoral project on the problem of gossip.

So far, we’ve learned together a definition of sinful gossip, that is, bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart; we’ve talked a lot about that bad heart and the different kinds of gossips that come out of it, and last time when we were in this series together we began to think about what to do “Instead of Gossip.”

Last time, we learned what to say instead of gossip, instead of speaking gossip.

Today, we turn to the other side of the coin–listening.  Instead of listening to gossip, what should we do?

Because listening is very important.

We’ve already learned that the words of a gossip are like choice morsels they go down to a man’s inmost parts.

They are a delicious poison.

But not only can listening to gossip be harmful to us if we do it, but it can be downright evil to do, as well.  Look down at Proverbs 17:4.

“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.”

Hmm.  There is a category in Scripture of evil listening.

Not just evil talking, but evil listening.

“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.”

Some of the most popular paraphrases of the Bible see gossip in this verse.

The New Living Translation puts it this way, “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; / liars pay attention to a destructive tongue.”

The Message paraphrase renders 17:4 like this, “Evil people relish malicious conversation; the ears of a liar itch for dirty gossip.”

“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.”

We can sin–not just in what we say–but in how we listen when others are gossiping to us.

We’ve all been there, right?

We’ve all been in a conversation that all of a sudden has taken the turn into gossip.

What to do then?

About a month ago, I was talking with a nurse who said that that’s about all they do among the staff where she works.

Any chance to talk about other people and talk them down gets taken.  And it’s hard to escape.

She said that recently they have been talking about a particular new employee, about what they’d heard about her personal life and how deficient she was in doing her job.

And here’s my friend in the circle of people talking about her.  What to do?

We can sin, not just in what we say, but in how we listen when others are gossiping to us.

Now, not all listening is evil.  Right?  Of course, not!

The Bible commends and commands listening.

James 1:19.  “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...”

So listening is important, and we’re supposed to do it, regularly.

And sometimes we have to listen even to bad news about other people when they are not present. Especially if we are in a position of authority or responsibility.

But there is listening and then there is listening.

There is an evil kind of listening that receives sinful gossip and is just as bad as being a liar itself.  Proverbs 17:4–“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.”

The difference, of course, comes down to the heart.

How we are listening is determined by why we are listening.

And the key, again, is to listen in love.

Just like we saw last week with the law of love.

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Listen to your neighbor talk about another of your neighbors as you would want your neighbor to listen to stories about you.

Now, that’s not easy, but it is possible.

It’s possible to listen to your neighbor talk about another of your neighbors as you would want your neighbors to listen to stories about you.

Let me give you four biblical strategies for doing just that.


Let me start off by saying that there is no one-size-fits-all action to take when someone is trying to share what seems like sinful gossip to you.

Some teachers might give the impression that whenever gossip starts to flow, the only response is a righteous, “Stop!  This conversation is now gossip, and I will not be party to it!”  As if we’re the “gossip police!” 

Now, there may be a time for that, though probably never in that tone of voice, but there are several biblical strategies that a believer can take.  It’s not one-size-fits-all.

There are a lot of factors to consider.

What’s the situation?
What is my relationship to the person talking?
What is my relationship to the person being talked about?
How serious is this gossip?
Is it a lie?  Is it true?  Is it just a rumor?
How serious is the bad news being shared?
Is it just a foolish thing that someone did or is it really shameful?
Is this the focus of the conversation or is it going to just move right on?

Those are just a few of the factors involved.

It’s not one-sized-fits-all.

So, we need wisdom and discernment in those gossip moments to know how to respond.

And where are we going to get that?

Pray and Weigh.

One of the best things in the whole world for Christians is that the Holy Spirit of God lives inside of them.

The Lord Jesus promised on the night He was betrayed that He would send the Spirit to take His place in our lives.

And the Spirit came and now indwells every genuine believer in Christ.

One of the Spirit’s ministries to us is to give us that kind of wisdom.

In Ephesians 1, Paul says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

The Spirit of Wisdom.

The Spirit loves to give that wisdom to us.

We just need to ask.  James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask for it, and God will give it generously!

That WISDOM is also found in the Bible.  And we should be ransacking it for its teaching to guide us when we get into these gossip situations.

So, pray and weigh.

What do I mean by that?

I mean, we should have an inner dialogue going on with the Lord all of the time.

Our lives should be on speakerphone.

But especially in those times and situations when we think we might be getting into trouble.

When that conversation starts to go down a dark path.

Shoot up a signal flare prayer.

“Lord!  Help!  Help me to discern here and know what to do.”

And as we’re listening, we need to weigh carefully what we hear.

Turn to Proverbs 15:28. 

Proverbs 15:28 says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

It’s one of those think-before-you-speak proverbs.

The wicked person just says what comes to mind.

But the righteous person ponders, considers, weighs what they are about to say before they say it.

As people are talking to us, we need to weigh what they say in our minds.

We need to be careful to not fall into judgmentalism, like we saw a few weeks ago, right?

We need to not jump to conclusions.
We need to consider both sides–sometimes we don’t get both sides.
We need to suspend judgment.

We need to weight what we hear.

Many years ago, I received a warning about a neighbor and was told some stories about them.

The person that was telling me these stories was telling me out of love.

They weren’t gossiping.

It was bad news behind someone’s back, but it came from a good heart.

It was a biblical warning.

So, I weighed that out.  And I’ve taken that warning to heart even though I have nothing but stories to go on with my caution about that person.

Pray and weigh.

The Bible calls for us to be discerning.

Now, sometimes that doesn’t take long.  You don’t always have to pray and weigh for long.

I have a friend who gets anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night that are a just voice calling to tell her something bad about her husband.

The only good thing to do there is to hang up and maybe get a trace on the call for harassment.

I sometimes get anonymous notes about people, including our people here at church.

I just tear them up.

It doesn’t always take long to weigh what is being said.

And if it does begin to seem like sinful gossip, then we have to take action and not just passively receive it.

#2.  AVOID.

Turn over to Proverbs 20, verse 19.  That’s to the right a couple of pages. 

Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so AVOID a man who talks too much.”

That’s pretty straightforward.

Avoid a gossiper.

Here’s one way to not listen to gossip–don’t go near someone who gossips!

That might mean for you and me, skipping some social situations because we know that that’s all there is going to be is sinful gossip.

And that might be a sacrifice, but it might be worth it.

Pray and Weigh.  And sometimes avoid.

It definitely means to avoid the gossip television show, the gossip blog, the gossip magazine, the gossip column, the gossip channel, the gossip Facebook page.

Those things are no good for our souls, and we need to avoid them like the plague.

I’ve read enough gossip doing my study for this doctoral project, to last my lifetime!



Now, sometimes you can’t avoid the person because of your relationship to them.

Like my friend, the nurse, she can’t just skip the breakroom and always eat on her own.  Sometimes, she needs to be there with the other staff.

I have other friends who are part of social circles that fall into gossip, but they are there strategically to be salt and light and influence those people for Christ.

They don’t avoid those people, because they are trying to reach them.

What about then?

Sometimes, I think we need to avoid, not the person, but the topic.

We need to re-direct a conversation and avoid the gossip in it.

That’s something I encouraged my friend the nurse to do with her group.  When the topic turned to their co-worker’s faults, I encouraged her to simply change the topic.

Ask them about their plans for the weekend or about their family or about something they love.

Just avoid the topic.

That’s biblical, too.

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

Just removing the gossip can change the temperature in the room.


#3.  COVER.

Turn back to Proverbs 17 and look at verse 9 now.  That’s Pew Bible Page #642.

Proverbs 17:9 – “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

That should sound familiar.  It’s sister verse is Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

The opposite of gossip is “covering.”

Proverbs 10:12 – “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Now, what does that mean, to cover over wrongs?

Again, it does NOT mean to pretend or to sweep something under the rug.

This does not give perpetrators of crimes a blank check.

Sin needs confronting.

But this is talking about people who are uninvolved in the case.

Or people who could overlooking an offense.

It is covering over the wrong.  Drawing a veil over it.

Do remember what Noah did after he came out of the ark?  Genesis 9?

Well, first he praised God and worshipped.

And then he grew a vineyard.

And then he got plastered.

And there was some shame in his tent.  Not quite sure what it was exactly.

Well, one of his sons blabbed about it to his brothers.

But the other two sons took a garment, laid it across their shoulders and walked backwards covering their father’s nakedness.

And covering his shame.

They did something right and beautiful.

They covered him.

And we can do that for other people.

Not make an excuse for them but cover over their shame so that it is not exposed where it need not be.

This weekend, Heather and I went out for dinner with some friends, and the dinner conversation turned towards some people whom we both knew.

And Heather and I knew something bad about those people that the other couple didn’t.

And I really struggled at the table to figure out how much to say and how much to not say about that situation.

I think we did okay.  But my goal was to be honest and forthright but also to not share more than was needed.  Because it wouldn’t help anybody.

And “he who covers over an offense promotes love.”

Joe Stowell says that we can do that from the get-go.

In his book The Weight of Your Words, he says, “Many times at social gatherings someone will get just far enough into a story have everyone’s attention and then say, ‘You know, I really shouldn’t be telling you this.’ [Ever had that happen to you?] And of course, the listeners all respond, ‘Oh, come on, you can’t stop now!  We won’t tell.’  It would be refreshing to hear someone respond instead, ‘Good for you. Don’t tell. I admire your self control.’ We need to do what we can to stop negative talk before it gets spread’” (pg. 138).

This kind of “covering,” I think, includes defending someone else’s reputation, especially if you know the story is false.

I was at a table once where someone’s name came up and a story was shared about that person that was, as far as I knew, patently false.

And I had to say, “No, that’s not true.”  And that was awkward, I’ll tell you!

Unfortunately, it turned out to be true.  And I had to apologize.

But it’s right to defend someone’s reputation.

Sometimes, the right thing to do is to say, “I’m not sure about that, but I don’t think that it’s any of our business.”

That’s a loving rebuke.

And that’s covering.

My nurse friend and I brainstormed some more covering kind of strategies for her.

She came up with the idea of offering an alternative interpretation to the gossip about their co-worker.

“Well, maybe she hasn’t been trained very well on her new duties.

I remember when I was just starting out and how hard it was to get the knack of it all.”

My friend decided to offer mercy in the name of her friend next time the conversation came to around to her.

Isn’t that great?!

Not just passively listening to gossip but actively loving in the midst of it.

We also came up with the idea of suggesting ways to help that new co-worker get her job done well.

Now that would be even better!

Remember, the goal is to live a life of love–even when listening.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

#4.  GO.

And here, I mean go to the person that’s being talked about.

My wife reads this little book to the kids at bedtimes when I’m not there.

It’s called Bearing Fruit by Diana Kleyn.

Story number 38 says, “There was once a minister’s wife who had a very effective way of stopping a person from slander or gossip in her presence.  Whenever someone would say something unpleasant about someone else, she would get out her hat and coat.”

‘Where are you going?’ the person would ask.

“I’m going to visit the person you mentioned and and ask if what you said is true.’

People became very cautious about speaking unkindly about anyone in her presence.”  (Pg. 136-137).  I’ll bet!

But that’s good advice.

If you hear a story about someone, don’t just receive it.  If you think you need to know, then go to that person.

And it’s even more important if they have sinned against you.

Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

Don’t go to someone else and gossip.

Go to them.

And if they bring you the story, go together back to the horse’s mouth.

If they are in trouble, they need you!

Galatians 6 says “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Which we know is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Sometimes, it’s important to tell someone that others are gossiping about them.

Do it as carefully as you can.

Try not to gossip about the person that has been gossiping!

It’s best to encourage them to go personally to the subject.

But sometimes, if their reputations is being significantly harmed, it’s important to let them know what you’ve heard.

And pray for them that they can straighten it out.

Sometimes, we’re the person that has gossiped.

Next Sunday, Lord-willing, I’m going to talk about what to do when we are the one who has gossiped and are regretting it.

There is mercy and grace at the Cross of Christ.

Because his love covered all of our sins, not just drawing a veil over them so that they aren’t the subject of gossip–but paying for them, covering them with the precious blood of Jesus Christ who died for us.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "The Law of Love" Leviticus 19:18

“The Law of Love”
FBW Finale / Fathers’ Day
June 19, 2011
Leviticus 19:18

This has been a great week.

On top of it being Father’s Day today, we’ve enjoyed a great Family Bible Week.

I am so thankful that our church loves to serve so much.  That we have servants like Sylvia Gisewhite and her incredible team of servants who put on such a great week.

And I’m so thankful that this church prioritizes Bible teaching by providing a full supper for four nights.  That is no small accomplishment, and our ladies do it with style!

And not just supper, but games, and contests, and prizes, and fun, and loving each other because of Jesus.

On top of that, it was a week of anniversaries for me.

Yesterday was the most important anniversary.  Heather and I celebrated 17 years of her being patient with me in holy matrimony!

And, joyfully, we love each other more today than we did then.

And most of those 17 years have been lived out right here at Lanse Free Church.

On Tuesday, I celebrated the completion of 13 full years as the pastor of this church.

And, joyfully, I can say that I love you more today than I did then.

And love is what I want to talk about this morning.

I’m going to do something now that I have never done in 13, now going on 14 full years of preaching ministry here at Lanse Free Church.

I’m going to say, “Please turn in your Bibles with me to the book of Leviticus!”

Chapter 19.

I’ve never preached even one message out of the book Leviticus in 13 years here.

In 2003, I preached Genesis, every verse. In 2005, Exodus. In 2007...Numbers!

We skipped over Leviticus.

And there was a good reason for that.  In odd numbered years, I’ve been trying to preaching the Big Story of the Old Testament–not every book in it but the Big Story.

And we got off track this year, we should have been in Judges, but I’ve had to adjust my plan.

Leviticus doesn’t have much story in it.

Our Family Bible Week Adult Class has been studying Leviticus all week, and we found that out.

Leviticus is not a story book, it’s a book of Law.

Laws for the Israelites.

And lawbooks are just not that exciting.

And I don’t think that even lawyers find law books all that exciting.

But laws are necessary, aren’t they?

And laws (even if they are not exciting) can be really, really good.

Laws can be bad, but they can also be really, really, good.

And that’s what Leviticus is.  It’s book of really, really good laws.

That’s what the Old Testament believers thought.

In Psalm 119, the writer says, “Oh, how I LOVE your law!  I meditate on it day all day long. . .”

He says, “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. . .Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.”

He says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”

Now, that’s not how we typically think about the law, is it?

We think about the law like lawbreakers do.  We don’t like constraints.

We don’t like to be told what to do.

And sometimes the law we have to deal with isn’t just and good, so it is hard to love.

But this law was exceedingly good and full of love.

And it commanded love.

That’s what we’re going to see this morning.

Now, our adult class learned this week that one of the other reasons why we find Leviticus so difficult is that we forget where it falls in the story.

Leviticus comes AFTER Exodus.

I know you know that, but we often make the mistake (and the Pharisees made the mistake) of acting like Leviticus came before Exodus.

What happened in Exodus?

The Red Sea Rescue, right?

The Passover.  The people of Israel were saved from Egypt and brought to the LORD, and He made a covenant with them.

He made them His people.

And then He moved into their neighborhood.

At the end of Exodus, they built the tabernacle according to God’s blueprints.

It was tent-temple for God to manifest His presence and move into the midst of His people.

They lived in tents, so would He.

And Leviticus explains how those people should live with a holy God in their midst.

We often act as if the law was given before the rescue.

“If you straighten up, then I’ll save you!”

But that is not how it works.

The law came after the salvation.  And it taught the people how to live with a holy God.

Leviticus 19 starts in verse 1 with these words:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’’”

These laws are based upon relationship.

The LORD was THEIR God.  They were HIS people.

And because of that, they were to be holy.

So, chapter 19 is full of holy commands.

Some are strange and hard to understand.

Some very straightforward.

And one of them, sums just about all of them up.

Now, we know that the believers in the Old Testament loved Leviticus because of how they talked about the law.

But how about the New Testament writers?  Did they like Leviticus?

Oh yes.  Read the book of Hebrews sometime. We’ve been reading it on Wednesdays at Prayer Meeting.  It’s all about Leviticus and now the New Covenant that has come that is even better than old one!

In fact, Leviticus is #6 of Old Testament books quoted in the New Testament.

Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah.

And then, Leviticus.

And one of the biggest reasons for that is that Jesus thought that chapter 19, verse 18 was one of the most important verses in the whole Bible.

Look down there and read it.   Leviticus 19:18

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.”

The New Testament quotes Leviticus 19:18 at least 9 times.

And probably the most important is when Jesus said it was at the top of the commandments.

The gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, says, “[T]he Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' [That’s in Deuteronomy.] This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it [Leviticus 19:18]: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Christians have for centuries seen how the first 4 or 5 commandments of the 10 Commandments relate to the “Love the Lord your God with all your heart...”

No other gods, no idols, don’t take the LORD’s name in vain, keep the Sabbath holy.  And honor your parents, who are in authority like and teach you about God.

And then the last 5 commandments of the 10 big ones are about loving your neighbor.

Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the kind of thing is that’s here in Leviticus 19.  Look up to verse 11.

It sounds like the 10 commandments.

“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. 

Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. [By the way, that’s another of the resisting gossip verses.  Remember the spy that I told you about a few weeks ago?  The rakil in Hebrew?  This says to not go about as a rakil.  Don’t go rakiling about.  Spying out bad news and spreading it around town.]

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. 

Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Now, it might seem strange at first to have law to love.  A command to love.

But that’s because we don’t know what love is.

Love is not (primarily, or ultimately, or necessarily) a warm fuzzy about someone.

That’s how the radio uses the word, “love,” and it’s part of love, especially romantic or family love.


But most of the time, biblical love is not a feeling at all.  It’s a committment.

It’s a seeking.

It’s a action.

It’s an actively seeking the best for someone else.

It involves the heart, but it’s a heart bent on doing good by someone else.

1 Corinthians 13 gives us a description of love in action.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Nobody has to teach us to love ourselves.

We already seek our own good.

We don’t always do it wisely.  We don’t always seek what is truly good.

But we are always bent on a mission to seek the good we think we should have.

And God says that we should bend that energy not only to ourselves but to our neighbors.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why?  “I am the LORD your God.”

Don’t miss that motivation.

Again, it’s because of our relationship to God that we obey Him.

Not to earn brownie points and get into His good favor.

We are there already through Jesus, now we need to live like it.

Right?  Like we learned last week with the two coats?

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s the law of love.

This how we’d want to be treated, right?

Does anyone here want to be lied to?

Does anyone here want be defrauded?

Does anyone here want to be on the wrong end of favoritism?

Does anyone here want someone to nurture a grudge against them?

Of course not.

So, the LORD says, don’t do it to others.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, of course, that raises the question of “Who is my neighbor?”

In verse 18, it seems to be fellow Israelites.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor, as yourself.”

It seems to mean family here.  Israelite family.

And some rabbis began to teach that this obviously meant to love fellow Israelites, but to hate non-Israelites. 

“Hate your enemy.”

But Jesus came along in the Sermon on the Mount and corrected that misunderstanding.

Matthew 5.

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Love your neighbor (even if he’s your enemy) as you love yourself.

Your neighbor is the one who has the need that is near you.

That was the point of the Good Samaritan story, wasn’t it?

Luke 10?

Jesus asked the law expert, “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, let me say three brief things in application of this verse.

#1.  DO IT.

It’s not that hard to figure out.

God wants us to live this way.

We ought to.

We’ve seen it again and again in the resisting gossip series, haven’t we?

Don’t talk about people in ways that you wouldn’t want to be talked about.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Talk about people in ways that you would want to be talked about.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But it’s bigger and better than just gossip, right?

Do this on the job.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Treat your co-workers and your boss and your employees and your clients and your competitors as you would have them treat you.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Dads, this is your day.

“Love your kids as yourself.”

Try to give them the childhood that you would want if you were in their position.

If the kids were in this room, I’d say the same thing to them.

“Love your Dad as yourself.”

Do this out on the open road.

Love that other driver (the one that cut you off!) as yourself.

Now, that doesn’t mean let them off the hook.

Love doesn’t pretend that everything is alright.

Love hardly ever pretends anything!

But love seeks the good for someone.

And that often means rebuke.

Did you see that in verse 17?

“Do not hate your brother in your heart. [Okay. What does love look like?] Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.”

Love rebukes frankly when it is in someone else’s best interests.

Do it!

Dads, rebuke your children.  IN LOVE!

Not in hate.
Not because they bug you.
Not because they get on your nerves.

But because you love them and want what is best for them.

Most of the time, they won’t figure that out on their own.

Rebuke them in love.

Rebuke me in love.

Last Sunday, I said that I am so thankful for my wife’s loving rebukes.

You might think I’m joking, but I’m deadly serious.

Proverb says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

I’m glad my wife does both.

And has for 17 years.

You folks are invited to rebuke me, too, as long as it is in love.

I remember when I candidated here 17 years ago, that was one of the questions that was asked of me in my Q&A Session with the congregation.
“How do you handle criticism?”

I remember saying something like that I didn’t like getting criticized but if it was offered in love, I’d listen carefully.

Because Proverbs 15 says, “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Do it.
However, #2.  YOU CAN’T DO IT.

Not perfectly, at least.

Whenever I come up against this verse, I am struck with how simple it is and yet how so very hard it is.

It’s simple but not easy.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not that easy to do.

How many times have I failed at this one?

How many ways are there to get it wrong?

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from someone who didn’t believe in the Trinity. 
And was cold-calling me to debate me on the topic.

And, I, like a fool, allowed myself to get dragged into a debate on the phone.

I should have realized what I was doing and gotten out sooner.

He wasn’t teachable, and I was going to best him a battle of skillful arguments.

And as I got drug further into the conversation, some really bad things started to come out of my heart.

I started to hate him.

I started to want bad for him.

So, I started to jab at him instead of humbly loving him.

He wasn’t right, and I wasn’t enjoying this at all.

But I wasn’t loving him as I loved myself.

If I had been trapped like he is, then I would want a Christian pastor to treat me differently than I did him.

I did humble myself and ask for his forgiveness.

I didn’t compromise on what I believed, but I did try to start living it out more.

It didn’t help our conversation at all, and I felt terrible about the whole thing for a whole weekend.

Mainly because I had failed to love.

I didn’t do it.

I found that, on my own, I couldn’t do it.

But here’s the good news.

Jesus did it.

Jesus lived out Leviticus 19:18 without fail.

In fact, He fulfilled it.

And when Jesus went to the cross, He took His perfect record of keeping the law of love with Him.

And gave it to us.

Isn’t that good news?

Our sinful shortcomings on Him.
His obedient covenant keeping on us.

What a deal!

Jesus died for our sins and gives us His righteousness.

Jesus did it.

Have you trusted Him as your Savior and Lord?

Have you put your faith in His sacrifice for you?

He came back to life to give you life.

And to teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In fact, we’re to love them one step more than just as ourselves now that Jesus has come.

We’re to love our brothers and sisters in Christ like Jesus loved us.

John 13:34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


Love your neighbor as yourself BECAUSE God has loved you in Jesus.

You won’t do it perfectly.

Only Jesus could.

But by faith, in the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting in the promises of God, you and I can love our neighbors as ourselves.

Old Testament scholar Jay Sklar says this about Leviticus 19:18.
The Lord redeemed his people in his patient and merciful love and called them to reflect that love in their relationship to him and to one another. Indeed, just as his love was radical towards them, so must their love be radical to one another, being as quick to care for and forgive one another as they were with themselves. So too with us: Jesus’ love for us is inexhaustible in its mercy and it is this same love he calls us to show one another (John 15:12). It is by remembering his radical, merciful, and undeserved love for us that we are able to show the same radical love to others (cf. Matt 18:21-35). Go then, as those who have been loved with a love indescribable, and share that love with the world!

Vroom, Vroom.

What are you going to do differently today, tomorrow, this week...because you’ve heard the Lord give us His law of love?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


17 years ago today, Heather Joy Lundeen and I said, "I do."

And we still do.

I love you, Dearheart.

If you think you need some lovin',

well, ooooooooooooooooooo

that's fine.

    -Matthew Charles

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bob Kauflin on Sojourn Music

In cast you haven't heard me say it, I am just about addicted to Sojourn music right now.

Bob Kauflin gives a few reasons why that's a good thing.

And here are a couple of videos of the Sojourn folks in action:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Teaching Leviticus

Every year at Family Bible Week, I pick a biblical genre, and try to teach our adult class how to understand and apply it to our lives.

2010 Proverbs
2009 Psalms
2008 Epistles
2007 Parables
2006 Gospels

This year, I picked Law, and chose Leviticus as our text.

It's been hard, as I'm probably the least comfortable with this genre of all of the biblical genres except apocalyptic and the least knowledgeable of the contents of Leviticus.

But it's also been good.  I always learn a lot, and I think our students are, too.

I was especially helped by these online resources:

Daring to Delight in Leviticus by Jay Sklar.  Wow!  What a great (re)orientation to the book.

Leviticus: Sacrifice and Sanctification by Bob Deffinbaugh  There are about 15 helpful lecture mansucripts here.

Good books
  (though I don't agree with everything in each one--who could--they don't agree with each other all of the time!):

Leviticus by Louis Goldberg (I had Dr. Goldberg for Pentateuch at MBI).
Leviticus by R.K. Harrison
Notes from The ESV Study Bible and the NIV Study Bible on Leviticus
40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas Schreiner
Be God's Guest: Feasts of Leviticus 23 by Warren Wiersbe
The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern Poythress

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Pound Cake of "Evangelical Convictions"

I just finished reading the new book that explains the 2008 Statement of Faith of our EFCA family of churches.

It's called Evangelical Convictions and is a team-written project from the EFCA Board of Directors and the EFCA Spiritual Heritage Committee, especially Bill Kynes and Greg Strand.

Here's my one sentence review:

Evangelical Convictions is a pound cake.

The book is a very dense systematic treatment of 10 major Christian doctrines.  It is full of scripture references, theological reflection of each phrase in the statement, explanations of historical theology and the development of Free Church teaching, the drawing of clear boundary lines (affirmations and denials), and much more (including a very helpful appended explanation of how congregationalism functions in the EFCA--great to see that in print).  It is the first place I will go to show anyone what we believe.

And it's written in a winsome, humble, warm and yet courageous prose.

It won't be easy for everyone to read. Evangelical Convictions is not full of folksy stories and anecdotes (though there are good illustrations made to explain various points).  It is dense, but like a pound cake--thick, rich, and theologically sweet.

Evangelical Convictions is encouraging to me, not just because I agree with everything in it (even the various "balances" struck throughout seem judicious and well put).  But also because it points to some theological health in the EFCA.

When the leaders of the EFCA engaged our whole family of churches in a process of revising our statement of faith, I was ultimately encouraged.  There were some rocky spots in the process, of course, but the leaders handled the whole thing with strong integrity, humility and courageousness.

I was really pleased to be a part of a family of churches that (among other things) valued doctrine enough to spend a lot of time on it, to improve what was already good, to include as many as could be included without compromising the gospel, and to move from theology to doxology.

Now, there is a book that captures it all.

I chewed on wonderful resource for over a month, reading it in snatches.  

That's just the way to enjoy a theological pound cake.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Instead of Gossip"

“Instead of Gossip: Speaking” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip - Summer 2011
June 12, 2011
Ephesians 4:29

Have you ever heard the story about the busybody who sat down next to her girlfriends at the restaurant and announced, “I never repeat gossip.  So listen closely the first time!”

We’ve been learning this Summer, not how to repeat gossip, but how to resist it.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been sharing with you what I’ve been learning through my doctoral studies on the problem of gossip.

The first week, we learned a definition of sinful gossip:

Sinful gossip (not necessarily what others define as “gossip” but what God is concerned about, sinful gossip) is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.

Bearing Bad News (both speaking and listening to stories about others that are bad–bad in the sense of false, or bad in the sense of shameful, or in bad in the sense of evil that’s going to happen to someone).

Bearing Bad News Behind Someone’s Back.  The subject of the gossip is not there.

Out of a Bad Heart.

And the second week, we started talking more about the heart.

The Lord Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart our mouths speak.

It’s because of what’s inside of here that we engage in sinful gossip.

We’ve learned about a gallery of gossips and the kind of hearts they have: the spy, the grumbler, the backstabber, the chameleon, the busybody, and (last week) the judge.

Gossip starts in the heart (almost always with a sinful judgment of someone else) and then trips off the lips.

Today, we’re going to turn the corner and start getting really practical.

Each week, we’ve gotten a bit of hope about resisting gossip.  That it’s possible.

That we don’t have to give in to the temptation to gossip.  God always provides a way out.

We’ve learned that God has provided everything we need for life and godliness through our relationship with Christ and His great and precious gospel promises.

We’ve learned that if we humble ourselves, the Lord will lift us up.

But today, we’re going to go beyond that and learn a little bit about what we should and CAN do “Instead of Gossip.”

And I figured out late in the week that I have too much to share to get it all out in one message.

So, this one is going to have two parts.

This week, we’ll talk about speaking, and next time, we’ll talk about listening.

Because, as we’ve seen, resisting gossip is about both of those.  Resisting speaking gossip and resisting receiving it.  Both are very important.

But we’ll start today with speaking.  What we should say instead of sinful gossip.

And that “instead of” is very important.

For at least two reasons.

#1.  Because we feel it.
I don’t know how many people have said to me, “Well, if we didn’t gossip (at work, or school, or with our friends) then [what? ... ] we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”

If we didn’t talk about people, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

And, of course, that’s not true.

It might feel like it sometimes, but it’s not true.

So, we feel this question, “What should we do instead?” 

And God has answer.

In fact, #2. God tells us.  God cares about this.  His word is all about “instead of.”

God doesn’t want us to just stop our sinful behavior.  He wants us to live righteously.

And that’s the point of Ephesians chapter 4.

Would you turn in your Bibles with me to Ephesians chapter 4?
And look at verse 29.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

That’s pretty straightforward and practical, isn’t it?

The word for “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros.

It means something rotten.  The King James says, “corrupt.”  Sapros used to talk about fruit that’s gone bad and fish that stink. 

Rotten words.  Yucky words. Words gone bad.  Bad news.  Gossip fits into that category.

It’s not the only thing in that category, but it is definitely in that category of rotten, unwholesome words.

So, we could say Ephesians 4:29 this way, “Do not let any unwholesome [gossip] talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Notice the “instead of” here.

Not only are we to refrain from unwholesome talk, but we are to use our words to bless others.

It’s not just what not to do, but what to do.

Resisting gossip is more than just saying, “No” to sinful gossip.
It’s saying, “Yes” to upbuilding words.

Does that make sense?

Now, to really understand this verse (and especially to live it out!), you have to understand it in its context.

For the first three chapters of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explains the gospel–God’s amazing eternal plan.

And then in chapter 4, Paul turns a corner and begins to apply the gospel.  Three chapters of what the gospel is, and then three chapters of practical application–what the gospel means worked out into our lives.

And in a word, it means change or transformation.

The truth of the good news of Jesus Christ changes us.

And now, we live differently.

Let’s back up to verse 17 and we’ll see a few things together.  Ephesians 4:17.

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord [that sounds strong!], that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. [We can no longer live as unbelievers.]  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” Stop there for a second.

That’s what we were before we came to Christ.

Sounds like an awful prison, doesn’t it?

That last bit sounds like Proverbs 26:22 doesn’t it?

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

“[T]hey have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”

That’s how addictive gossip can be.  “A continual lust for more.”

Now, here’s the good news.  V.20

“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. [That’s the not the truth about you now. Something has happened to you. V.21]  Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. [That’s the gospel!  That’s the good news about Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection and the gift of His Spirit and promise of His return!  Now, let’s apply that. V.22]

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Now, let’s stop and think about that for a second.

The Bible is saying to us that our relationship with Jesus has changed everything.

And, get this, we need to become who we are.

Become Who You Are.

Everything has changed now because you and I are in Christ.

So, we need to live out that truth.

We have a new identity.  So we need to live out of that new identity.

Paul likens it to changing clothes. V.22

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires...”

That word for “put off” a normal word for throwing off your clothes to change them.

When they stoned Stephen, they tossed off their cloaks at the feet of Saul?

Same word.

What is the cloak that need to go?  “The old self.”

That’s the old you. Your old way of doing things.  Your former way of life.

I’m going to put a jacket now. [put on jacket]

This symbolizes the Old Matt in his B.C. days.  “Before Christ.”

The Bible says that now that I am in Christ, something has changed, and I need to become what I am.

Putting off the old self. [toss off jacket] “which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” It’s still there, hanging around, corrupting whatever it can.

I am (by faith) supposed to toss it off.

Is that it?

No.  V.23.  “To be made new in the attitude of your minds.”

Now, that’s what we’ve been talking about the last two weeks.

That’s the heart stuff.  That’s the what is going on in my heart and mind that needs the truth of the gospel to make me new stuff.

That’s the heart-level stuff that can’t be ignored.  V.24

“...and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” [put on new jacket]

Now, that new self is yours by grace. It’s a gift from God.

But you and I need to put it on.

Daily. Hourly. Minutely. Secondly.

We need to become who we are.

Now, Paul takes that pattern of “put off” and “put on” and starts radically applying it to life.  V.25.

Notice the “therefore.”

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

See the pattern?

“Put off falsehood.” That would include gossip that is also slanderous lies.

And put on truthfulness. “[S]peak truthfully to your neighbor.”

Put off.  Put on.
Put off.  Put on.
Put off.  Put on.
    [I thought about doing that a lot, but that’d be dopey like the Karate Kid.]

We could call that: repent and obey.  Repent and obey.

Now, again, that’s not to earn God’s favor.

This comes after 3 chapters of God’s grace.

But in because of God’s grace, we become who we are.

Make sense?  V.26 applies that to anger.

“‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Remember that gossip is tied to anger.

Then he applies it to stealing.  “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Put off thievery.
Put on generosity.  It’s more than just not stealing. It’s working to live and then give.

And then our verse.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Put off.  Put on.

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of [put off] all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. [Put on]  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

See how it works?

Now, how often to do we have to switch coats like that?

It’s not a “one and done” sort of thing.

It’s a “as often as needed” sort of thing.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Again and again and again.  Again and again and again.

Now, let’s get really practical.

What does this look like in practice?  In real life.

Let me suggest five things to do instead of speaking gossip.  Five new coats to be regularly putting on.


How does the saying go?  If you can’t say anything good...don’t say nothing at all.

If you are in a gossip situation and you don’t know what to say.

Often, the best thing is to just zip your lip.

Silence is golden.

Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Often, discretion is evidenced by silence. 

Proverbs 17:27&28 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Abraham Lincoln said it this way:  “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Say nothing at all.

And goes not just for talking, but also texting, emailing, messaging, every kind of communication where gossip could be flowing.

And it also goes for secret-keeping.

Keep that secret.  Say nothing at all.

One of you asked a very insightful question.

“Is it gossip if someone confides in you about something and asks you not to tell anyone but pray for them?  You in turn have a Christian friend [a prayer warrior] whom you trust and would never repeat anything you tell them.  Is it [sinful] gossip if I repeat what someone confides in me to my Christian friend only for them to pray about the situation?”

What do you think?

If they ask you not tell anyone but just to pray, then you should not tell anyone but just pray.

Proverbs 11:13 “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”

Now, you could ask that initial person if you could share it with a safe prayer warrior friend, but don’t do it if you’ve promised not to.

They are trusting you to not repeat it, so don’t.

Oh, I had this problem last week. I learned a really scandalous secret–and I SO MUCH wanted to tell someone.  Not someone involved, but just someone!

But I held my tongue because I wanted to be a trustworthy man, not a gossip.

Now, there are exceptions, of course.  And those exceptions are mainly if someone is going to be harmed by the keeping of that secret.

No secret is absolute if it will bring harm to someone, for example, a suicidal situation.

But most of the time, silence is truly golden.

Say Nothing at All.

And that’s in verse 29 with the word “only” in your NIV or your ESV.  The word ei in the Greek.

If all that you can think of it is unwholesome talk, then hold your tongue.

But most of the time we can do better than that.


And by that, I mean say true things (v.15 says to speak the truth in love, that’s our calling, without truth, it’s not really love, without love, it’s not really truth, say true things) about someone else that are commendable.

V.29 “only what is helpful for building others up.”

Most of the time, that’s encouragement, commendation, affirmation, and never sinful gossip.

If you are tempted to talk about someone, then talk about their good points.

I’m serious.

That’s what the golden rule would say.  That’s how you’d want them to be talking about you.

Not that people don’t have bad points, but those are often obvious.  Let’s commend the commendable.

For example, have you ever heard a kid complain about their mom or dad?

I mean, behind their back.

“My dad never lets me do anything.”

In most cases, that’s gossip.

But God says, “Honor your father and your mother.”

Say, “My Dad does this really well–” whatever it is.  Fill in the blank.

He takes me places.
He’s kind to me.
He is the best mechanic there ever was.
He’s funny.


If there is nothing good to say about them, don’t say anything (point #1), but if there  is, then let’s hear that.

Build them up when they aren’t there.

Bear good news about people instead of bad.

Aren’t we all attracted to people like that?

Not people who pretend that everyone is good.  That’s wrong and bad.

But people who build others up and not tear them down.

A friend from far away (not anybody here) sent me a comment page from Facebook of a wife complaining about her husband to her friends. 

Now, you could say it wasn’t behind his back, because he probably had access to it himself, but definitely wasn’t building him up, it was tearing him down.

And she sent me this to say, is this gossip?

I think so.

Now, I don’t often complain about my wife, because there is just so little to complain about.  But I know that I’ve been guilty of complaining to her about people.

One night, early in our marriage, one of Heather’s family came to visit us in our apartment, and I got a bee in my bonnet about something and complained about her relative in our bedroom for a loooong time.

And you know what?  Her relative could hear me through the doors and walls.

It was Summer, but it was icy chilly the next morning at our house!

How different that would have been if I had put that off and put on upbuilding talk.

The old word for it is “edification.”

Now, I got this phrase, “Commend the commendable” from an excellent little book that I read last month called “Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise for Those Who Are Not God.”

This book will transform families, and churches, and communities if the principles are followed.

It’s not a book about flattery.

Don’t commend the uncommendable.

But find what you can and then build from there.

There is actually a list of 100 practical ideas in here for those who feel stuck.  Excellent!

Speak the truth in love.  Commend the commendable.


Talk to people, not about them.

Because, obviously, we can’t just say nothing at all all of the time.

Sometimes (often!) there is a problem between us.

But the way forward is not to talk about each other to other people.

But to go to each other in love.

And sometimes, that’s really hard to do.

But, remember, the new you that you’re putting on, is greater and stronger and more real than the old you.

You can do it.

Put off gossip and put on loving confrontation.

Kids, this means no tattling.

Being a tattletale is one way to be a gossip.

“Little Timmy hit me!”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“To get him in trouble.”
“You need to go to talk to Timmy. If you can’t resolve it, then I’ll get involved.”


When it says in verse 29, “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs...”

Sometimes, what people need is a loving confrontation.

I know I do.  That’s why God has given me this wise woman right here.

I would be in such a mess if she didn’t lovingly rebuke me.

But I’m awful glad that she doesn’t run around to her girlfriends and confess my sins to them!

That’s what gossip often is.  Confessing your sins to someone else!

So, not about people but to people.

And, yes, get help if you can’t yet do that.  Or if it’s not going well.

It’s not gossip to report a crime to the police.
It’s not gossip to report an unresolved conflict to your pastor or the elders.
It’s not gossip to get your parents involved if you don’t know what to do.

But the general rule is, “Talk to them, not about them.”

Now, as we’ve said before, there are also times when you have to talk about someone who isn’t there to someone else to warn them.

Warning others is a biblical category, and you don’t always have to have the other person present.

In fact, you often wouldn’t.

But, you still have to love them even when you are warning someone about them.

Do everything you can to protect their reputation as far as you can with as much fairness and charitable judgments as you can as you warn someone about them.

Because, again, that’s what you’d want others to do for you.  Jesus’ Golden Rule of Thumb.

Put off the unwholesome talk about people and put on the loving talk to people (even your enemies!).


And here, we’re emphasizing the last part of the verse.

“Only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Say things that benefit others.

The King James brings out the Greek even better.

It says to use words that “may minister grace unto the hearers.”

Words that give grace to those who listen.

Don’t we just love people who talk like that?

Don’t you just love people who dispense grace like it’s going out of style?

People like that are wearing Jesus’ coat.

They get who they are in Christ.

And they are so much fun to be around.

They are not lying.  They are not pretending.  They don’t have their heads buried in the sand.

But they use merciful words.  They dispense grace.

They say things that help others.

Proverbs 10:21 says, “The lips of the righteous nourish many...”

Doesn’t that sound good?

Maybe not to you.  Maybe all of this sounds kind of boring to you.

But it’s anything but boring!

I had a brainstorm this week about boredom.

Get this.  Do you know that there is no boredom in the Trinity?

There is no boredom in our Triune God?

That’s a mindblower.

No gossip, no dirt, no tittle tattle, no rumors, no prattle, no talking about someone behind their back.

But never bored.

Always something good to share within the triune love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Let’s be like God!  V.24, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Or verse 1 of chapter 5.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love...”

Merciful words.

And we could say so much more.

I’m almost out of time again.

But we could add here instead of unwholesome gossipy talk, just tell a good story, tell a good joke, teach someone something useful, share a joy of yours, even share a loving concern for someone so that you can help them, but do something that benefits them!

Most gossip has no benefit.

And yes, this will take work.

It takes imagination to see how righteousness works.

But we can do it because that coat is ours.

It is our identity now that we are in Christ.

So all we have to do is put it on.

Offer Merciful Words.

Now, yes, there is a time for very hard words.

I’m sure that Paul takes his own advice when he writes his epistles and they have some words that are much harder than any words that I’ve ever shared.

He even has to use ridicule, irony, satire, and name-calling at points.

And I don’t believe that he ever violates Ephesians 4:29 (in scripture).

So, there must be a time and a way of obeying Ephesians 4:29 and using words that don’t immediately strike somebody as edifying (which might help us to not fall into the sin of judging again like we talked about last week).

But the key there is that Paul is never using it for himself and his own personal reasons.  He’s always doing it for God and the gospel and for the good of the church and even the good of those he’s using such strong words against–to shake them out of their complacency and hard-heartedness.

But for you and me most of the time, Ephesians 4:29 says offer words of mercy that it may benefit those who listen.

If we don’t, v.30 says that we will grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

Let me give you one more and then we’ll close.



Talk to and about the Lord.

Jump down the page to chapter 5, verses 19 and 20 and see what Paul says that we should do with our mouths.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Pray, sing, praise, thanks, give testimony, talk to one another in songs.

I have been so encouraged recently by a song from a band called Sojourn.

It’s called “The Water and the Blood” based on a hymn by Isaac Watts.

And the lady singing it just soars when she says, “It’s not by the works of righteousness/Which our own hands have done/But we are saved by our Father’s grace/ Abounding through His Son/ Abounding through His Son!”

And that just speaks to my heart.

We need to speak to each other about the Lord!

And tell the world.

One of my old professors from seminary used to say that we need to “gossip the gospel.”

The good news of Jesus should just trip off our tongue.

Can I tell it to you one more time?

Jesus died for sinners.

And He came back to life!

And He has made us new (has he made you new?)!

To truly resist gossip, you have to believe the gospel.

You have to be in Christ for all of this to be possible for you.

You have to put on Christ in the first place.

And then each day.

Putting off unwholesome talk.

And instead of that...

Putting on grace giving, people building, truth-in-loving, God-imitating, Jesus-like talk.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A Big Milestone

On the first Tuesday of January, I started my project writing in earnest.  On that day, I created a checklist of 7 next steps that I need to take to complete this big deal.

Yesterday, I put the last checkmark (that I can do) on that list!

I finished reading Patricia Meyer Spacks' book Gossip (a dense academic tome about gossip in literature and in life).  As far as I know, the last book I need to read for my research--the last book that I said (in my proposal) that I would read.

It is read!

The only thing I don't have from my checklist from January 4th is 150 more gossip stories, and for that, I still need help from you.

There will be many more milestones still to pass, but it feels good to be making progress.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Gossip and Judging"

“Gossip and Judging” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip
June 5, 2011
James 4:11-12

Is anybody here already tired of this series on gossip?

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that it’s cramping my style!

Really and truly.  Has anyone noticed a change in their speaking or listening habits yet since we began to think together about resisting gossip?  I know that I have.

I’m hopeful that this is not just good information but that God uses it to transform us as people.

After two weeks of this you might be wondering what we are supposed to talk about if gossip isn’t a godly option for a Christian. 

Well, next week, we’re going to get really practical with some of how-to’s about resisting gossip and the title of the message will be (I think), “Instead of Gossip.”

So, if that’s you, come back next week.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been sharing about what I’ve been learning in my doctoral studies about resisting gossip.

Two weeks ago, we learned a definition of sinful gossip.

Let’s see if you can remember it.

Sinful gossip is...

Bearing Bad News
Behind Someone’s Back
Out of a Bad Heart

Bearing Bad News.  It’s always bad news.  Bad information, bad things someone’s done, or bad things that are projected to happen to someone.  It’s always bad news.

It’s always behind someone’s back.  The bad news is about someone isn’t there.

And it comes, out of a bad heart.

Last week, we talked about that, about the heart.

The Lord Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

That was so much fun to pour water over the stage. 

I was trying to think of that would fit this week’s message, so I could do it again!

But there was water on the floor because there had been water in the bottle.

There is gossip in the air because there was something bad going on in the heart.

If the heart is good, the overflow of the heart–the words–would be good, too.

Can you imagine Jesus gossiping?  With sinful gossip?

I can imagine talking with Jesus about someone who is not present, but I cannot imagine Jesus greedily swallowing down the choice morsels that are the words of a gossip (Prov 18:8, 26:22).

Because He didn’t have a bad heart.

Then, last week, we also talked about different kinds of gossipers.

5 Kinds.  Not that gossips only come in these 5 kinds or that we can’t be a mixture of them in some ways.

But we classified gossips into 5 different people that you meet when you’re walking the street and run into gossip.

#1. The Spy.  This person loves to poke and prod and trade secrets.

#2. The Grumbler.  This person is unhappy, probably jealous, and wants to complain behind others’ backs.

#3. The Backstabber.  This guy is really mad and uses the worst method of getting revenge, tearing people down when their backs are turned.

#4.  The Chameleon.  This person just wants to fit in.  They are afraid of being excluded, so they play along with the gossip game because of their fear of others.

#5.  The Busybody.  The idle person with too much time on their hands.  And what’s more fun than to meddle with other people’s business.  Especially if they are foolish people who obviously deserve it.

Did any of those hit home with you last week?

I hope that we’re all getting encouraged each week with the powerful promises that we’ve been hearing.

The first week, the powerful promise was that no temptation has seized you except that which is common to man and God is faithful and will always provide a way out of those temptations.  Gossip is resistible even when it doesn’t seem like it.

You know, I got those buckeyes!  Heather made that candy for me, and there’s still one left!  Don’t ask how many I’ve eaten!

Gossip is resistible even when it doesn’t seem like it.

Last week, the powerful promise was that the Lord has provided everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us and through His gospel, His good news.

So, no matter what the heart-level temptation is to gossip, there is a remedy for it in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Well, today, we’re going to talk about one more kind of a gossiping person–one that is, I’m sorry to say, in all of us.

#6.  The Judge.

The fact is that most (if not all) sinful gossip comes from the sinful judging of others.

Most of the time, before we go bearing the bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart, our bad heart has already “passed sentence” upon that person.

We have sinfully judged them.

The title of today’s message is “Gossip and Judging.”

And I’m going to ask you to turn with me to the book of James, chapter 4:11-12.

And this is what God’s Word says: “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?”

I don’t think that I need to prove to you that sinful judging is a problem.

Or that it’s connected with gossip.

Do I?

Think about the last time that you shared some sinful gossip with someone.  Either  listening or speaking.

Was there some judging going on?  I thought so.

The spy tries to get you to feel judgmental enough to wangle a secret out of you.

The grumbler has decided in his heart that the person he’s talking about is clearly wrong and deserves a complaint at least, and probably some really strong words.

The backstabber is certain of their judgment and knows that their target deserves the retaliation that is on the way.

The chameleon listens in to the judgments of others and doesn’t speak up for fear of reprisal.

The busybody escapes from boredom by issuing entertaining but damning judgments about other people. They snicker at the “stupid people.”

Sinful judging is behind most, if not all, sinful gossip.

The connection between the two is clear here in James 4:11.

Pastor James begins by saying, “Brothers, do not slander one another.”

Now, the word translated “slander” in verse 11 is a favorite Greek word of my kids.

Not that they know Greek, but they’ve heard me talk about it and love to say it, too.

It’s “katalaleo.”  And it means more than just to lie about someone–that’s how we tend to use the English word “slander.”

The King James says “Speak not evil one of another, brethren.”

Katalaleo means to speak against someone.  It means to talk them down.  To speak ill of them, to disdain someone.  To run somebody down verbally.

Tim Keller and David Powlison say, “It is not necessarily a false report, just an ‘against-report.’  The intent is to belittle another. To pour out contempt. To mock. To hurt. To harm. To destroy. To rejoice in purported evil.” 

That sounds a lot like gossip, doesn’t it?

This word “katalaleo” appears right next to the chief Greek word for gossip in both New Testament lists where gossip is said to be really bad.  Romans 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 12:20.

It seems to me that katalaleo is the larger category of evil-speaking against someone (sometimes taking secretive forms) and then gossip itself is a sub-category that always refers to doing katalaleo behind someone’s back.

Does that make sense?

So do you see the gossiping here?

“Brothers, do not slander/run down/disdain/sinfully gossip about one another.”


“Anyone who speaks against (that’s the same Greek word, katalaleo, speaks against) his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.”

Do you see the connection?

When you speak against someone like this and run them down, James says that, you are judging them.

And he means, “sinful” judgment.

Because not all judging is sinful.

We have to make judgments all the time.

We have to make decisions about other people.  We have to make assessments.

The Bible calls for us to be discerning people.  People with what we call “good judgment.” Right?

Ken Sande says, “Judging is necessary but dangerous.”

So, there is a kind of judging that we have to engage in.  Have to.

But there is also a sinful kind of judging, too, and it leads to sinful gossip.

It’s the kind of judging that Jesus means when he says, “"Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

It’s the kind of judging that we would call “judgmental.”

It’s mostly an attitude, a heart disposition to be condemnatory, to be censorious.

To be judgmental.

Where do we go wrong with judging?

Let me suggest three interrelated ways.

#1. Rush to Judgment.
#2. Pride in Judgment.
#3. Lack of Love in Judgment.

First, Rush to Judgment.

Have you ever formed a conclusion before you had all of the facts?

Ken Sande, in his excellent article, “Judging Others” tells this story:
    “I knew he was too proud to take criticism,” thought Anne, “and now I have proof!”
    On the previous Sunday, Anne had dropped a prayer card in the offering plate asking her pastor to stop in and pray with her when she went to the hospital for some minor surgery. When he failed to come by, she called the church secretary and learned that her pastor had already been to the hospital that day to see another church member.
    “So he has no excuse!” she thought. “He was in the building and knew I needed his support, but still he ignored me. He’s resented me ever since I told him his sermons lack practical application. Now he’s getting back at me by ignoring my spiritual needs. And he calls himself a shepherd!”

    After brooding over his rejection for three days, Anne sat down Saturday evening and wrote a letter confronting her pastor about his pride, defensiveness and hypocrisy. As she sealed the envelope, she could not help thinking about the conviction he would feel when he opened his mail.
    The moment she walked into church the next morning, one of the deacons hurried over to her. “Anne, I need to apologize to you. When I took the prayer cards out of the offering plates last week, I accidentally left your card with some pledge cards. I didn’t notice my mistake until last night when I was totaling the pledges. I am so sorry I didn’t get your request to the pastor!” Before Anne could reply to the deacon, her pastor approached her with a warm smile. “Anne, I was thinking about your comment about practical application as I finished my sermon yesterday. I hope you notice the difference in today’s message.”
    Anne was speechless. All she could think about was the letter she had just dropped in a mailbox three blocks from church.

I like that story.  Not because the pastor is a good guy in the story[!], but because I see myself in Anne.

How many times have I rushed to judgment before getting all of the facts.

Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.”

That’s making a judgment before getting all of the facts–folly and shame.

It’s important for us as believers to not jump to conclusions.

Here’s some ways we can do.

#1. Listening to only one side.

A lot of gossip is just passing on one side of the story.

I got a note from a pastor out West about a gossip situation in their church. Someone got up and gave a prayer request for a young lady in their community.

They said that this young lady had been kicked out of her home by her parents.

She then moved in with her boyfriend in desperation.

And everyone started praying for her.

But that wasn’t all there was to the story.

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

But you say, “Well, I can’t wait until I’ve talked with everyone to make a judgment.”

Actually, we often can.  We can suspend judgment until we have more of the facts.

And if we don’t get more of the facts, unless we are related to the problem, most of the time, we can just live without knowing something.
Suspend judgment.  And certainly don’t pass it on.

In this case, the truth was that this young lady had left because she wanted to live with her boyfriend, and her father has no legal recourse since she is of age.  Her Dad badly wants his daughter back and is deeply grieved by the circumstances.  She is a senior in high school. 

The pastor wrote me, “The well-meaning lady who asked for prayer was deceived by her daughter-in-law who helped this 18 year old leave and ‘covered her reputation’ by inventing this outrageous lie.  The members of our church spread the story before I knew enough to debunk it, and right now dozens, perhaps hundreds of people have the wrong idea about the father in question, a local leader well known previously for integrity.  Of course, the false allegation has hurt him badly and recovery, if possible, remains a long way off.  The church people were told by me and the lady that the story was false, but the damage is already done.  The fire started, and cannot be put out.  The young lady in question is now caught by the same lie, and her path to return home is now that much more difficult.”

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

Get both sides.

#2. Not considering the source before you jump to a judgment.

Hearsay and secondhand information should be treated with the utmost of carefulness.  Filling in gaps in the information through guess and speculation will get you into trouble so fast!

Questionable sources of information should be treated like hot uranium.

Let me say something about the internet.

Just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean that it is true.

I know that’s obvious, but how many times have well-meaning people believed something that they read in a forwarded email?

And then...passed it on?

Proverbs 14:15 says, “A simple man (read: a gullible man), believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. Don’t believe everything you hear.  Consider the source!

#3. Assuming you know someone’s motives.

You don’t.

Unless they tell you or it’s become obvious through a “pattern of incontrovertible facts that can lead to no other reasonable conclusion” (Sande, pg. 17).

I just read an excellent book on judging by I guy named Dave Swavely.

It’s called (this should sound familiar from verse 12), “Who are you to judge?  The dangers of judging and legalism.”  Excellent!

And Swavely says (arguing from 1 Corinthians 4) that most sinful judging is judging someone’s motives and/or going beyond what is written in Scripture.

God sees the heart but you and I don’t.

So it’s especially important in gossip situations to not assign a bad motive to someone if we can assign a possible good one.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we put our head in the sand and pretend we are ostriches.

We call sin, sin.  But we hold out hope for people and we don’t assume the worst about them.

That’s what sinful judging is at heart.  It’s assuming the worst about people.

And if anyone could do that, it would be us.  Because we have the doctrine of sin.

We know that people often have bad motives and do bad things.

But we are called to hold out hope for people.  And not assign bad motives to them until we have to.

That’s a rush to judgment.

The answer to a rush to judgment is to slow down.

Slow to reach your judgment.
And even slower to share it with anybody.  Keep it to yourself.

Now, if you and I did that, how much gossip would that cut out?

If you and your co-workers did that, how much gossip would that eliminate?

How about your family?

#2. Pride in Judgment.

This is where James really comes down.  Look at verse 11 again.

“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?”

He’s talking about pride, isn’t he?

When we judge our neighbors in a judgmental way, we are full of self-righteousness and self-exaltation.

We are prideful.

In fact, James is saying that we are playing God.

When you judge someone in this way, James says that you are judging the law, not keeping it but sitting in judgment on it.

In the context of James, that law is the law of love.  It’s the law of mercy that God calls His people to obey.

But when you and I judge someone like this we are saying that we are above the law, that it doesn’t apply to us that we can judge it.

But that’s not the way the it works.

James says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. [And it’s not you.]  But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?”

We need to ask ourselves the question, “Is this my place?”

Certainly, there are positions where we even have to serve as a judge.

Judges do, for example!
And parents do at times.
And elders and pastors even the whole congregation in the case of church discipline.

But in those cases, we serve as judges (small j), we serve the people we are called to.

We don’t play God and make up our own standard.

And we don’t pretend that we’d never do it ourselves!

That’s the worst kind of judgmentalism, isn’t it?

Acting like we’ve never done anything wrong, anything foolish, anything shameful, anything worthy of condemnation.

“No, it’s them that’s bad.

I’m good!”

As if.

Remember, God knows.

That’s why Jesus says that we need to apply the same standard to us as to those we are tempted to judge, because God will.

Matthew 7:1-5.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”

What’s your part in this?

Are you objective?

With a rush to judgment, we act as if we’re omniscient, which we aren’t.

With pride in judgment, we act as if we’re perfectly objective, which we aren’t.

How often do the Republicans judge what’s wrong with the Democrats but give the Republicans a pass with what’s wrong with them?

And vice versa.

Democrats finding fault with the Republicans over everything. They can’t do anything right.  But they don’t criticize their own Democrats.

That’s pride.  That’s picking and choosing and not being objective based on your own self-exaltation.

And we all do it.

We’re all prone to it.

Here’s where Jesus’ Golden Rule of Thumb is so golden.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

How would you have others judge you?

What standard?

What tone?

What attitude would you want to be judged with?

That’s the standard and tone and attitude to take with others.

And it should inform the way you talk about them when they aren’t there.

Heather’s aunt sent me this little story.
    A young couple moved into a new neighborhood.  The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbor hanging the wash outside. 

    ‘That laundry is not very clean,' she said.

    “She doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”
    Her husband looked on, but remained silent.
    Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.
    About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband:
    'Look, she has learned how to wash correctly.  I wonder who taught her this.'
    The husband said,'I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.'
    And so it is with life.   
    What we see when watching others depends on the window through which we look.
The answer to pride in judgments is humility.

It’s verse 10.  The context is really important here.  Look up at verse 10.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

That’s the powerful promise for today.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Judge your judgments.

Check your motives.

Remember, nobody died and made you God.

There is only one God, and you aren’t Him.

Humble yourself before Him and show others mercy and love.

That’s the last one.

#3. Lack of Love in Judgment.

We’ve already touched on it.

But the reason why we fall into sinful judgments is because we lack love for others.

If you love someone with a biblical love, a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love, then you won’t sinfully judge them and you won’t gossip about them.

Remember when we learned 1 Corinthians 13 together a few years ago?

Love is...

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. [See how anti-gossip that is?] Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [Love doesn’t sinfully judge someone and then delight to spread that around.]  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes [always thinking the best, always making charitable judgments, not critical judgments], always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Love doesn’t scorn people and tear them down.

That’s how God loved us, isn’t it?

We shouldn’t play God, but should act like Him.

We should have mercy on people.

And love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Love them.

Jesus lived 1 Corinthians 13 for you and me.

He didn’t rush to judgment–even though He is omniscient.

He was patient with us. Longsuffering.

He humbled Himself even though He wasn’t prideful.

He became one of us.  And then died for us as one of us.

He never gossiped but out of LOVE he paid the penalty for gossip.

For the wages of gossip is death.

The Bible says that those who gossip deserve death.

But He died for us.  So that we don’t have to perish but can have eternal life.