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Sunday, July 17, 2011

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

“Responding to Gossip in Love” [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip
July 17, 2011
Matthew 5:43-48


Last week we turned the corner into the homestretch of this sermon series on resisting gossip which I hope you’ve found to be helpful. 

I think that I’ve changed my mind (am I allowed to do that?) and have one more message to give you on this topic before we lay it to rest. Pray for me this week as I think about giving one more message on gossip and the church, next Sunday.

Last week, we began to think about being the target of gossip.
                       
What should you do if you are caught in the crosshairs of gossip yourself? 

How do we RESPOND to gossip?

Not just, how do we resist when we feel like sharing it or receiving it.

But how do we respond when we are the target of sinful gossip?

Last week, we talked about responding in faith.

The bottom line was that we should trust God with our reputations.

A reputation is a good thing. “A Good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”  Proverbs 22:1

But we cannot control our reputations and we need to entrust them to God.

Now, that doesn’t make it easy.  It’s still really hard to be gossiped about.  And the Bible does not minimize that pain in any way.

But we learned last week from Psalm 140 to take it to the Lord, to leave it with the Lord, to cry out to him for justice, and to believe that He will answer.

When gossiped about, we should trust God with our reputations.

But what about the other people involved?

How should we relate to them?

How do we respond to those who have gossiped about us?

And the answer that our Lord Jesus gives can be summed up in just one word.

Love.

“Responding to Gossip in Love.”

Have you found Matthew 5:43-48?

This paragraph is a part of our Lord’s teaching in what we commonly call “The Sermon on the Mount.”

And at this point in the sermon, the Lord Jesus has been masterfully correcting misunderstandings about the Law of God and setting forth not just His own correct interpretations of the Law but also His own divine statements of the Law.  What we might call the “Law of Christ.”

He has said 6 times in Matthew 5 something like, “You have heard it said...but I tell you...” something different. The Lord Jesus is setting forth His own authoritative teaching.

And it’s very different from what they had heard.
And it’s very different from what we hear from our culture.
It’s very different from what other religions say.
It’s very different from even what our instincts might lead us to believe.

Well, our paragraph for today is the last of those six.

And it’s a correction of what the rabbis had been teaching about Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Remember how we just studied that last month?

And not just a correction but a new dimension added to that law.

Here’s what our Lord Jesus says.  Matthew 5:43-48.

[scripture reading, prayer]

If someone has sinfully gossiped about you, then they are acting like your enemy.

Now, they may not be your enemy in any legal sense. They may be your friend.  They may be your closest friend.

But at that moment when they were bearing bad news about you behind your back out of a bad heart, they were acting like your enemy.

And our Lord Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

That was different from what the people had commonly heard.  V.43

“You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

The rabbis had taken Leviticus 19:18 which said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” and assumed that that must mean “Love your neighbor,” your countryman, your brethren, and of course, then that means hate your enemy.

But the Mosaic law does not say anywhere to hate your enemy.

And the Lord Jesus not only corrects that misunderstanding but adds a new dimension.  V.44

“But I tell you [and who is He to issue commands like this? He is claiming to be the Son of God here just by saying, ‘I tell you’”: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...”

Love your enemies.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to “like” them.

Think about the last person who gossiped about you...that you know of.

Of course, again most of the time, we don’t even know when people are gossiping about us.

We can’t control it.  We often don’t have a clue that it’s even going on.

That’s just a fact of life.

And I’m so glad that my God knows everything, because I can’t.

But think about that last person who you know gossiped about you.

Jesus is calling you to love them.

Not love in the touchy-feely warm fuzzy kind of love.  Affection, we might say.

But love in that actively-seeking-someone’s good kind of love.

Love is a verb, not primarily, a feeling.

It’s a seeking the good of another.

It involves the heart but it’s not the same thing as liking someone.

Love your enemy.

Do 1 Corinthians 13 on your enemy.

“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.”

That’s what we’re supposed to do, not just for our friends, but also for our enemies.

And when we do that, number one, we show the family resemblance.

#1. TO SHOW THE FAMILY RESEMBLANCE.

Look at verse 44.

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

Now, we know from what Jesus says elsewhere that you can’t become a son of God by being good.  You cannot earn your way into sonship.

We become sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus.

But we can grow into our sonship by acting more and more like our new relationship with God.

So, in that sense, we can become sons of our Father in heaven by imitating Him.

And when we do that we demonstrate that we are His children.

A couple people have remarked that I look a little like my father.

Bald is beautiful, you know!

My dad and I say that God only made a few perfect heads and on the rest He put hair.

I’m glad that I look like my dad.  Because we are related to one another in a special relationship.

Jesus is saying that if we love our enemies, then we are showing our family resemblance because we’re acting like our Heavenly Dad. V.45

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. [God loves His enemies. He shows love to His enemies.  Be like Him. V.46] If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? [Don’t even the drug pusher do that?  Don’t even the scum of the earth scratch the backs of those who scratch theirs?  That’s not being like God. That’s just being normal. V.47] And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

No. Jesus’ followers are called to show the family resemblance and actively love even our enemies.

Now, what does that look like, practically speaking, in terms of being gossiped about?

I’m glad you asked!

Loving your enemies is going to look differently in different situations.

It just is.

There is no one-size fits all for loving your enemies.

It depends on a lot of factors.

For example, what is your basic relationship with this enemy?

And what kind of gossip was it?

Remember, we talked about different kinds of gossip a few weeks ago?

There is a big difference between some idle chat about you shared by people you don’t know and a malicious betrayal by a best friend.  Isn’t there?

So, we’re going to need some discernment here.

Biblical wisdom dug out by mining the Bible for principles that apply and Holy Spirit given wisdom bestowed on us as a result of prayer.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

A few months ago someone out of love informed me that someone else had been gossiping about me.

And I hardly know that other person.

So, you know what? Loving that person who acted like my enemy doesn’t really change a thing for me.

I’m maybe a little more wary of them than I had been.

And the Bible tells us to be wary of our enemies.  Jesus said to beware of men.

So that’s okay. But I’m still supposed to love them.

Let me suggest four ways to love your enemy when they have gossiped about you.

A, B, C, and D.

The first comes right out of verse 44.

“Love your enemies and PRAY for those who persecute you.”

A. PRAY.

[By the way, some of your Bibles probably say, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you.”  And if you’re looking in your NIV, those words are down in a footnote.

Jesus did say those things, but that’s in Luke chapter 6.  It’s doubtful that Matthew put them into his gospel because only late manuscripts have it in there. Some scribe probably wanted Matthew and Luke to say the same thing, so he added it in here in Matthew.

We need to do all of that because it’s Jesus’ teaching, but we need to be careful not add to God’s word, so it’s probably not a part of Matthew.]

Let’s talk about praying for our enemies.

If you find out that someone has gossiped about you, then pray for them.

Have you ever done that?

It’s not easy to do.

They have hurt you.  They have talked about you behind your back.

And you didn’t find out from them!  You found out some other way.

Pray for them.  Before you talk to your enemy, talk to your God about your enemy.

Pray for blessing on them.
Pray for God’s conviction for them.

Many people have prayed for someone instead of confronting them, only to find that person being repentant without ever being spoken to.

Pray for them.

And pray for yourself that you would have wisdom to know how to relate to them.

I suggest Philippians 1:9-11 as a great scriptural prayer for smart-love.

It says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.”

Pray that for yourself when you’ve found out that you are in the crosshairs of gossip.

B. OVERLOOK.

Listen to Proverbs 19:11.

“A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

I would say that 90% of the times when we are gossiped about, the right thing to do is to just overlook it.

Now, it depends on a lot of things.

Like what kind of gossip it is.

Was the gossip a lie being told about you?  Or was it the truth?

Was the gossip a secret that you had asked someone to keep, but they spilled the beans?

Was the gossip just people sharing their bad opinions about you?

In many situations, you can just overlook it and act as though it didn’t happen.

And that’s love.

“It is to [your] glory to overlook an offense.”

Now, that assumes that you can just go on relating to the person the same way as you always did.  Overlooking is a kind of one-sided forgiving.

That’s what I did for that person that I heard about a few months ago.

It’s not hard to overlook it.

I trust God with my reputation and then just overlook the offense.

That doesn’t minimize the pain.  It still hurts.

But it just absorbs the pain and moves on in love.

Of course, we can’t always do that.

So another way to love our enemies is to loving confront them with their sin.

C.  CONFRONT.

And this is especially the case if you are brothers and sister in Christ. 

Jesus says in Matthew 18:15.

“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.”

Now, again, this is confronting IN LOVE.

Love doesn’t just sweep things under the rug, it also goes to the person who is acting like an enemy and shows them their fault so that the relationship can be restored.

“If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
       
One of the frustrating things about this series, is that I can’t use very many personal illustrations because I want to protect those I’m talking about.

I’ve promised not to gossip about anyone while preaching on gossip!

So, I can’t tell you the details, but one time I was gossiped about, and I felt that I had to go to the person who was spreading the bad news about me, confront them.

And they agreed with me and asked for my forgiveness!

And our brotherhood was restored and even improved!

Praise God!

Sometimes, people will repent, and you can forgive them.

Other times, they won’t repent, and you will need to be patient and forebear with them and hope for their repentance and lean towards forgiveness and release bitterness, hoping to eventually reconciled.

Lovingly confront.

Now, before you go confronting someone about gossiping against you there a few things to consider.

One is to consider whether or not the gossip about you is true.

And to consider if there is anything you can learn from their behind-the-back criticism of you.

Maybe they shouldn’t be sharing it, but could you be learning from it anyway?

Loving our enemies sometimes means learning from our enemies.

That takes humility, but humility is Christ-like, too.

Is there some truth in the stories going around about you?

Make sure that you don’t prove them right by the way that you live.

The apostle Peter put it this way. “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  [Well, some might because they are wicked.] But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Before you confront someone about their slander of you, make sure that the story that’s going around is not true.

Live with a clear conscience so that they they will (eventually) be ashamed of what they said.

Live it down.

Live the bad reputation down.

And, of course, that brings up the question of whether or not to defend yourself.

We heard last week a story of someone who decided to stop trying to defend themselves around town when they were being slandered.

And that’s wise because you and I can’t pick up all of those feathers spread by the wind either.

But there may be times to defend yourself and your reputation.

In the Fall, we’re going to read the book of Acts, and we’ll see that sometimes Peter and Paul and the other apostles defend their actions and other times they don’t.

So, sometimes it would be good to do a limited amount of defending, if it might help others, and other times it’s best to just let it go.

The Lord will direct our steps as we trust in Him.

If the gossip about you is Untrue, and it’s because you are following the Lord Jesus, then the Bible says that we should actually rejoice!

Jesus said in this same chapter, Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Rejoice and be glad and love your enemies.

Whether or not they ever repent, we need to love our enemies.

And that means).  D. REPAY EVIL WITH GOOD.

I think that the Apostle Peter was meditating on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, when we wrote 1 Peter 3.  

Peter has been preparing his people for persecution. 

Because suffering is normal for Christ-followers until Jesus returns.

And he says this in chapter 3, verses 8-12. Listen to this.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. [Like your Heavenly Father.] Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, [and here he quotes Psalm 34] “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

So, the point here is that Jesus’ followers are to love their enemies by doing good to those who do them evil.

To return beatings with blessings.
To bless those who curse us.

If someone gossips about us, we don’t gossip about them.

We seek their good.

Have you ever seen anyone act like that?

It’s awesome to see.

That person who responds with LOVE for their enemy, begins to look just like Jesus.

Because that’s how Jesus loved us, isn’t it?

While we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us.

Jesus was saying on the Cross, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

This seems crazy to the world, but so be it. Paul’s personal temstimony in 1 Corinthians 4 was “We are fools for Christ  . . . When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;  when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13.)

If someone has gossiped about you, make sure that your basic stance is FOR THEM.

That doesn’t mean to not be wary of them.

That doesn’t mean to trust them in the say way that you did before.

But it does mean to want what’s best for them even at a personal cost.

Do good towards them.

And you might win them back.

But even if you don’t, you are showing the family resemblance!

God sends rain on the good and the evil.

He is good to those who hate Him.

And we can be, too.

Repay evil with good.

Now, catch this.  We do all of this loving our enemies for great reward.

That’s point #2 this morning.

Love your enemies.

#2. TO ENJOY GREAT REWARD.

Now, it’s only hinted at in Matthew 5.  Luke 6 spells it out even more. And I think that 1 Peter 3 illustrates it the best.

Matthew 5 says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

Answer?  Nothing.

That’s just normal.

But what’s hinting at?

If you love your enemies, you will get rewarded!

If you love that person who gossiped about you, then God will reward you.

Jesus spells that out more clearly in Luke 6 in what we call the “Sermon on the Plain.”

“Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them witout expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”

And here’s how 1 Peter 3 says it.  Some of you are still there.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

That’s what I want.  I want the eyes of the Lord on me.

I want His ears attentive to my prayers.

That’s blessing!

And it comes with loving our enemies.

Do you want the eyes of the Lord on you?

Do you want your prayers to be answered?

Love those who gossip about you.

Now, again, that doesn’t make it easy.

Being gossiped about is suffering.  It is painful.

Jesus knows that.  He had it worse than anyone.

He never deserved any of the gossip about him, and they called a bastard, and they called him a son of the devil, and partner with Satan.

He knows how hard it is.  But he loved His enemies and He calls us to do the same.

Love your enemies. #3. TO BE HOLY AND PERFECT.

Matthew 5:48 ends that whole section of the Sermon on the Mount and that call to love our enemies by saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And I think that he’s echoing Leviticus 19 again.

“Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now, how does that make you feel?

One the one hand, it’s great to know what God wants, isn’t it?

This is what we are supposed to do.

There is no question about it.

When gossiped about, we respond in love.

But “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?”

I don’t know about you, but that drives me to despair.

I can’t do that.

I know that I can’t do that.

I can’t love my enemies perfectly.

I’ve been gossiped about, and I have not always responded in love.

And I’ll fail again next time.  At some point, I’m sure.

I think that Jesus wants us to feel that despair.

Because He wants us to not only see the gold standard, but also be driven to the Savior!

To feel our need for salvation.

To feel our need for forgiveness because of what He would do on the Cross on our behalf.

To feel our need for Him.

To feel our need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us to love our enemies.

We CANNOT do this on our own.

But Jesus did it perfect and gives us His perfect record on our account if we belong to Him and then gives us the power through His Holy Spirit to do it better and better as we trust in Him and Him alone.

If you are not yet a faith follower of Jesus Christ, you can’t do this, though you should.

You can’t love your enemy, not really, and not perfectly.

Turn from your sins and trust in the Savior.  He will forgive you and give you new life.

Don’t try to do this in your own power.  You can’t.

None of us can, not even the Christ-followers.

But we can do it in His power.

Love your enemies.

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