Sunday, July 10, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Responding to Gossip in Faith"

“Responding to Gossip in Faith” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip
July 10, 2011
Psalm 140

We’re almost done with our sermon series on resisting gossip.

This week and next week should wrap it all up.

I hope that it’s been helpful to you, and I’d appreciate your feedback about that.  What has been helpful and what was confusing along the way.

Because the next step is to turn these messages with some other material into a ministry book which will become chapter 4 of my doctoral project.

So, I’m really looking for prayer and for your input about what has been and hasn’t been helpful.

For the first 6 weeks of this series, we focused on resisting gossip from the perspective of what we might call “the gossipers,” those who are tempted to gossip either in speaking or listening.  Bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.

This week and next week, we turn the tables and think about gossip from the perspective of the subject of the gossip.  The target of the gossip.

What if you are the target?

What should you do if you find yourself in the cross-hairs of sinful gossip?

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, get ready, it will.

What should you do if you find yourself in the cross-hairs of sinful gossip?

Of course, most of the time, you won’t know that you are.


Gossip happens behind your back.  When you aren’t looking.  When you aren’t listening.

When you’re not even there.

That’s one of the most pernicious things about sinful gossip, often the target is unaware.

But what if you get wind of what’s being said about you behind your back?

Someone else is bearing bad news about you behind your back out of a bad heart.

What do you do?

Well, next week, we’re going to talk about what you do with other people in that situation, especially those who have wronged you.

But this week, we’re going to start with what you do with God when you find yourself in that position, as the target of sinful gossip.

“Responding to Gossip in Faith”

One of the best and richest places to go in the Bible for learning how to survive being the target of other people’s sins is the Psalms.

The Psalms are songs of experience, including the experience of being attacked, being sinned against, being chased, being hated, being the target of other people’s sins.

There are dozens of Psalms that we could go to this morning to find out how to respond to sinful gossip in faith.

King David, especially, lived a life under attack and his prayers set down for us as songs in holy Scripture provide patterns for us to practice in our own lives today.

King David wrote Psalm 140.  Have you found it?

Let’s read it together.  As I read it, look for how David interacts with GOD about his situation of being slandered and attacked by others.

[scripture reading, prayer]

What makes it so bad to be gossiped about?

What makes it so hard and painful?

Well, a lot of things.

It IS painful.  It is a kind of suffering.  A trial.  And no trial is fun.

And especially because it’s going on behind your back, it can be really painful because there is a kind of betrayal going on.

I almost preached this message from Psalm 55, another Psalm where King David was wrestling with those who were gossiping about him.

And there it was a betrayal by his close friend.  He said, “If an enemy were insulting  me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.  But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God.”  Psalm 55:12-14.

That kind of betrayal always hurts.

And it leaves you feeling very vulnerable, doesn’t it?

You begin to be tempted to fear, don’t you?

Because you don’t know what’s being said about you.

You might have thought that all was good, but now you find out that there is all of this buzz going on around you and you can’t control it!

You can’t even know it, much less control it!

That’s scary.

In that same Psalm, David talks about how painful it really is.

Listen to this.

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly far away and be at rest–I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and the storm.”  (Psalm 55:4-8)

David is saying that if he could run away and hide, he would

And that’s the king!

How much more could we feel scared and intimidated and hurt and betrayed by sinful gossip?

And I think another thing that makes it so hard to be the target of gossip is that it affects our reputations.

And we care about our reputations.

Is it good to care about your reputation? [That’s a trick question.  Don’t answer too quickly.]

Is it good to value your good name?

Yes.  Look here at Proverbs 22, verse 1.

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

A good reputation is a good and valuable thing.

It’s a good thing to want. A good thing to value.

Something we ought, as much as its in our control, to cultivate.

Not through marketing and public relations or manipulating people’s opinions of you.

But through being a man or a woman or a boy or a girl of good character so that we gain a good reputation.

Proverbs links that good name to wisdom, of course.

A wise man or a wise woman will gain a good reputation, and that’s a good thing.

But what if someone is attacking that reputation?

That hurts!

Shakespeare captures that in the play Othello.  Look at this quote.

    “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
    Is the immediate jewel of their souls: [Sounds like Proverbs 22:1!]
    Who steals my purse steals trash; ’t is something, nothing;
    ’T was mine, ’t is his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him
    And makes me poor indeed.”

Sinful gossip steals from good reputations.

And that’s really painful.

So, what do we do?

Psalm 140 teaches us three things.


Notice where David goes when he gets in trouble.  V.1

“Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.”

David takes it to the Lord first and foremost.

And should, too.

But that’s not where we tend to go first, is it?

We tend to take things into our own hands.
We tend towards gossiping about our enemies.
We tend towards complaining about those who are complaining about us.

On one of your green survey sheets, I got back this story:

    “To try to piece together all of the events that happened several years ago [with someone I had business dealings with] would be impossible since I have attempted to forget. Not only forget as much as possible but to forgive . . . for what happened.
    This person, a professing Christian, went throughout the community, in business places as well as other churches attacking my character. 
    At first, I admit it was very difficult since I came from a background of wanting always to vindicate myself.  Not to get even but to be sure everyone knew my side of the story.
    It became evident that the task was overwhelming and was affecting my mental health.  Relief came when I surrendered the person to the Lord and myself as well.
    I had to take a hands off approach and let the Lord defend my character. It was not about me but rather about what the Lord was doing in me.  The burden lifted.”

Take it to the Lord.

Not just in principle, but in reality.  Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Talk about this with God.

David said, “Rescue me, O LORD, from evil me; protect me from men of violence.”

He talks to God about his situation.

And he doesn’t mince words. V.3

“They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips.”

Gossipers talk like snakes.
They bite.
Their words are full of poison.

Notice, again, how David acknowledges just how bad it is.

God isn’t looking for us to bear things stoically, without feelings.

"Just grin and bear it."

No!  Take it to the Lord and tell him how you feel.

“Lord, I feel attacked.”
“Lord, I feel betrayed.”
“Lord, I feel scared.”
“Lord, I hate being the object of gossip.”
“Lord, take it away!”  V.4

“Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from men of violence who plan to trip my feet.”

Now, David probably had it worse than any of us here.  He had enemies who actually wanted him dead. For the most part, those who gossip about us don’t want us actually to be killed.

But the principle is the same. Take it to the Lord.  V.5

“Proud men have hidden a snare for me; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for me along my path.”

“This is not easy, Lord. I don’t like it.”

Faith does not minimize the suffering.
Faith doesn’t say, “It’s no big deal.”
Faith does not pretend that it doesn’t hurt or that isn’t scary.

What faith does do is take the problem to One who really cares and can really do something about it!

Take it to the Lord.

Have you taken your suffering to the Lord?

Have you been attacked recently?  Have you talked with God about it?

I mean, really talked?

Have you said anything like this to the Lord?

“Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men.”

You and I can’t control what other people say about us.

That’s not in our “circle of control.”

It’s in our “circle of concern,” but it’s not in our circle of control.

But it is in GOD’s circle of control, isn’t it?

So, take it to the Lord!

Now, notice how these prayers of David are based upon his relationship with God. 

“O LORD, I say to you, "You are my God." Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy.  O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle...”

Do you see all of the “relationship” words?

“You are my God.”

David isn’t just asking some god out there to do something for him.

He’s asking his God.  The God with whom David is in covenant.

The God David belongs to.

“You are my God.”

And David has seen God work for him before. V.7

“O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle...”

“You’ve been there for me before, Lord. I know that you’ll be there again.”

Have you seen God work on your behalf?

How about in relational ways?

Here’s my testimony.

I don’t know about all of the times that people have gossiped about me.

I’m guessing there is a lot.

I’m a semi-public figure.  I’ve been involved in various difficult situations and been connected to various conflicts between people at times.

Some of the gossip, I’m sure that I deserve. That is, not that people should share the bad news about me, but that the bad news was true.  I am a sinner, and I have sinned.

But of all of the gossip that I know has been shared about me, and some of it has been deeply painful–I even thought about resigning as pastor during the most painful time of gossip so far–God has protected me and my reputation.

Again and again and again.

To my knowledge, it has not hurt me or our reputation here as a church.

And I’m profoundly thankful for that.

And it helps me to be ready to take it to the Lord next time.

He has always shielded my head in the day of battle.

Why wouldn’t I turn to Him this time?

Take it to the Lord, because you are in relationship with Him.

Of course, if you are not in relationship with Him, then you wouldn’t have this option of taking it to the Lord.

If you are not yet a believer/follower of Jesus Christ, then you can’t say, “You are my God” with David in verse 6.

And while, I’m sure that He’s been good to you, you can’t yet say, “O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer” with David in verse 7.

You see, there is something much greater for us to be delivered from than the snares of and traps and poisonous of other wicked people.

It’s our own sin.  Our own sin will condemn us to Hell.

But Jesus Christ died and rose again to deliver us from our sins and enter us into a relationship with Him that starts today and goes on forever.

Turn from your sin and trust in the Savior, and you can say with confidence, “You are my God. . . . my strong deliverer.”

And then, when you are attacked with clandestine verbal weapons, you have somewhere to god.

Take it to the Lord.


“O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle–do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud. Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise. Let slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down men of violence.”

This is a request for justice.

David asks that the plans of the wicked be thwarted.

In fact, he asks for a reversal, that the bad things they want for David come back on their heads. V.8

“Do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud [and the Lord opposes the proud]. Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused.”

That’s justice.

And David and the other psalmists ask for justice again and again in the Psalms.

They even ask that their reputations be protected.

That’s not a bad prayer.

Psalm 71 says, “In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.”

That means, in effect, “Let me not look bad.”

“Protect my reputation.”

Not, ultimately, for myself but for you, Lord.

But don’t let my reputation be unjustly bad.

Bring justice, O Lord!

Have you prayed for that in your situation?

Someone has gossiped about you, and everyone seems to believe it.

Take it to the Lord. And ask Him for justice.

Now, you might, at first, have a hard time squaring these cries for justice with loving your enemies, as Jesus teaches us.

Next week, we’re going to talk about loving our enemies–even those that gossip about us.

You and I might not yet be able to pray verse 10 and, at the same time, bless those who persecute us.

But I don’t think that they are actually mutually exclusive.

I think it’s possible to pray verse 10 without bitterness and personal hate.

And to ask for justice while still holding out mercy for those who would repent.

But it takes becoming like Jesus who is able to do two difficult things at the same time.

I think that if David’s enemies had turned around and asked for forgiveness, David would have granted it like that.

Because he would have been like his gracious Lord.

But the Lord is not just gracious.  He is also holy and just.

And that includes, for the unrepentant, retribution.

I believe that it’s a both/and sort of thing.

Ask for justice while still loving your enemies.

And we know that Jesus did that sort of thing and that He makes it possible for us to do through the Cross.

Because the Cross satisfies the demands of justice and while also dispensing mercy.
If that person who gossiped about you comes and asks for your forgiveness...give it.

Justice will still be done.  Justice will always be done.

Either in Hell or at the Cross of Christ.

So, don’t be afraid to forgive.

And don’t be afraid to humbly ask for God to bring justice in your cause.

And #3.  BELIEVE THAT GOD WILL ANSWER. Verses 12 and 13.

“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you.”

Believe that God will answer your request for justice.

Know it!

“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”

I know it.

That’s what God will do.

He will bring justice.

That’s the consistent message of the psalms.

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”  That’s Psalm 55:22.

God will settle the score.  God will see that justice is done for those who cry out for it.

Your reputation will be saved.

Now, you might have to wait some for that.

We live in an instant society where we expect things to happen now, on our time-table.

But God’s time-table and ours are not the same.

As one of my pastor friends says, “God is seldom early but never late.”

In a similar Psalm, Psalm 37, David says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways (aren’t we tempted to fret?!), when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath (and this is the same guy who prays verse 10 of Psalm 140!); do not fret–it leads only to evil.  For eveil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.  A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.  But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.”

You might have to wait “a little while,” but you can trust God to bring that justice.

Trust God with your reputation.  Don’t fret about it.  That’s taking something good like a reputation and making it “god.” 

A reputation is valuable, but it’s not worth worrying about.  Because, again, you can’t control it.

But God will.  You just might have to wait a “a little while.”

That “little while” might feel longer than you can bear.

For the Lord Jesus, it was [get this] after he died of the injustice that God made it all right again.

It was in His resurrection that Jesus was vindicated.

For you and me, it might get worse before it gets better.

But it will get better.  God has promised, and it’s in His very character, to bring justice. To restore our reputations. V.12 again.

“I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”

Jesus knows that, too.  He understands what you and I are going through.

If David understood what it meant to be under attack, how much more did Jesus–the fulfillment of the Psalms.

Jesus lives out verse 13 right now.

And so will we if we trust in the Lord.

“Surely the righteous will praise your name and the upright will live before you.”


When you are the target of sinful gossip, respond in faith.

Take It to the Lord.
Ask Him for Justice.
And Believe that He Will Answer.