Ps Peter Prothero
14 August 2017
There is a new type of virus infecting the church and it’s becoming commonplace. It’s always been around but like many viruses today, this one has begun to build a whole new level of resistance to treatment. As a result I see the danger of this virus reaching epidemic proportions. The internet and free speech, designed to give marginalised people a voice, has taken this virus to a whole new level. I’m talking about gossip.
Proverbs says that gossip is like a tasty morsel.
“The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.” Proverbs 18:8 (NKJV)
Eugene Peterson paraphrases that text like this: “Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?” Proverbs 18:8 (MSG)
Solomon thought this topic was so important he repeated the same text in Proverbs 26.20.
Imagine your favourite dessert. Now imagine a big slice of it. It looks good. It tastes great. It goes down easy. There’s something satisfying about it. That’s what gossip is like. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it at some time or another. But just because it tastes good doesn’t make it healthy.
The problem is that gossip at its most innocent is a sure sign of immaturity. At worst it’s a malicious way of destroying others. I don’t blame immature people for falling into this sin, and that’s what it is, I just don’t want them to stay there. Our culture is obsessed with knowing the salacious details of those who are in the public eye. We can’t get enough of it. The Church needs to be different. We need to grow up. We need to put away childish things. It’s a choice.
Of course there are a lot of comments made in the Christian scene when someone falls. It’s not healthy. Some of it is done in the name of teaching. Really? Why not use a Bible character to illustrate your point or your own shortcomings if that’s your purpose. Transparency trumps pointing the finger every time and takes genuine humility. Exposing others publicly feeds our own sense of pride as we send the subliminal message, “That couldn’t happen to me”. Scripture speaks to this very issue:
“Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall…..” 1 Corinthians 10.12 (ESV)
“Take heed to yourselves and all the flock of God…..” Acts 20.28 (NKJV)
“Watch yourself……” 1 Timothy 4.16 (NLV)
The truth is that we are all vulnerable. We all need to watch what we say and what we listen to.
There is a place for bringing things into the light – I’m ok with that. Leaders have to deal with failure both in their flock and in other leaders. And at times the confession needs to be as wide as the transgression. What bothers me is when people feel the need to take their sense of personal indignation and throw it into the public arena for all to read. That expresses luke-warm Christianity and we all know how Jesus feels about that.
When someone fails we need to trust that those in leadership, to whom that person is accountable to, will deal with the issue biblically. They are responsible, not you. If you want to offer your help do so, privately. If you want to pray for restoration and reconciliation do so, privately. But don’t use public forums to make unwanted and unwelcome comments. It doesn’t help. This kind of gossip simply adds fuel to the fire.
“Without wood, a fire goes out. Without gossip, arguments stop.” Proverbs 26:20 (ERV)
When King Saul finally died you could be forgiven for thinking David would rejoice; the man who had tried to personally spear him on two occasions, pursued him as a fugitive and placed a bounty on his head (dedicating 3000 soldiers to the task of finding and killing him) – was finally out of the way. How did David – the man after God’s own heart – respond?
He wrote a song, 2 Samuel 1:19-24 (NKJV). “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon…” He did not want the tragedy of Saul’s failure and death known in the land of the Philistines. He wanted it kept from the public arena where the world could mock the people of God. That’s what God is like. Love covers.
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9 (ESV)
Our attitude to gossip says so much about us as people. It speaks to our character. It speaks to our spirituality. People who seek love cover the offences of others. When Noah, a great man of faith, got drunk, one of his sons looked on his nakedness. The son immediately told his two brothers – he gossiped, even though it was true. But how did they respond to this ‘news’? They walked into their father’s tent backwards and covered his nakedness. They refused to look. Noah was wrong but two of his sons didn’t add to his shame and embarrassment. They covered it. That’s what love does. That’s what God is like.
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (NKJV)
Fervent love is ‘love on fire’. It covers the failings of others. It deals with things privately. It refuses to expose the vulnerability of others. Gossip is ultimately a lack of love and Jesus said that ‘love’ is the only way people will know we are His disciples. Not through our doctrinal statements, the size of our church, the mission budget nor our Facebook status. Love is the issue here. Biblical love. God’s love.
“By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13.35 (KJV)
Consider this too. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees He warned them that the harlots and publicans would go into the kingdom before them. He’s speaking to religious people. People who do the right stuff legally. But His harshest words are reserved for this group of people. Why? My conviction is that He hated their religious pride – it was worse than being a whore. Think about that, a sin of the heart – pride – worse than sexual sin. Don’t be deceived, all gossip is rooted in human pride. We somehow think we are better than that, that we are above that. So we judge, we gossip, and we comment on Facebook. Pride. Pride. Pride.
When my friends fail I grieve, I pray, I offer help, but privately – because that is what I would want if I failed. Some claim to have an inside track on other people’s issues. This usually means that they’ve listened to someone else’s gossip but have not taken the trouble to go to those involved to substantiate the truth of what has been claimed. Instead they go to Facebook. They comment, they rebuke, they judge – all in the name of teaching others. Like the hypocrites who pray to be seen by men, they have their reward.
Love doesn’t do that. God doesn’t do that. Love covers. Covering is not ignoring. Covering is about giving space for the right people to do what’s right for everyone. Covering is not the same as a cover-up. Cover-ups try to hide the truth at all costs. We need the truth. It has to be faced. Peter betrayed Jesus and he faced his failure – then Jesus personally restored him. Do you think the other disciples kept talking about it and reminding him?
Wounded soldiers don’t need to be shot. They need to removed from the front line and helped until they are healed. Let’s get over the need to spread gossip and instead spread the good news. I want to know you’ve got my back, not that you’ll stick a gossip-knife in it. And don’t kid yourself by saying that what you’re commenting is true. All facts are true but that doesn’t make them ‘the Truth’. The facts are that a woman, caught in adultery, was taken to Jesus. The Pharisees presented the facts to Him and demanded a response. They knew the law – their facts were all true – but Jesus brought another perspective that humbled everyone standing there. They were all convicted. Like the Psalmist wrote, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130:3 (NHEB). We all know the answer to that rhetorical question.
I see a new generation of disciples emerging that will live differently. They won’t follow the salacious gossip, parading it as spirituality. They will actively seek to restore the broken. They will live redemptively seeking to see people healed. They won’t use public arenas to comment on people’s failure (leaving that to the tabloids). They will trust professional counsellors and/or pastors to bring about lasting healing and restoration to fallen saints. They will be too busy seeking first the Kingdom and championing the cause of Christ to get caught up in a practice best left behind in Kindergarten.
Ending on a really practical note, here are 5 questions worth asking those who want to share some juicy information about others with you.
1. What is your reason for telling me this?
2. Where did you get your information?
3. Have you gone to those directly involved?
4. Have you personally checked out all of the facts?
5. Can I quote you if I check out the facts?
Let’s be people who pursue love’s priority – to cover the faults and failings of others instead of spreading them about, trusting God and mature people to bring about reconciliation, healing and freedom to those who have failed.
Ps Peter Prothero
Senior Pastor - Equippers Church Surrey