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.