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.