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Its Only Words

Proverbs 16:28 NLT

 

"A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends."

In Today's Christian Woman, Ramona Cramer Tucker writes about a moment in time that her friend, Michelle wishes she could relive. After a business lunch in a restaurant, Michelle and Sharon went to the Lady's Room to powder their noses. While they were fixing their makeup, their small talk took a sinister turn into gossip. Michelle and Sharon began lambasting a co-worker that drove them both crazy. For a full two minutes, Michelle reamed her. The quiet that followed was interrupted by the familiar sound of a bathroom stall door opening. Glancing into the mirror they watched in horror as an embarrassed, angry, red-faced co-worker walked out. According to Tucker, "Michelle and Beth stared at each other in embarrassed panic. Michelle knew she couldn't take her words back. In the instant their eyes met, Beth fled out the door."

Michelle never saw Beth again. Beth never came back to work. She resigned. Tucker writes, "While other staff members cheered wheat seemed to be good news, Michelle felt miserable. She wished she had talked to Beth instead of talking about Beth." (LE SP 2002, p. 69)

What side of that story did you immediately relate to? Michelle's or Beth's? Or both? Now I don't want to waste anybody's time this morning, so if you don't relate to either side-- if you don't have a struggle with gossip yourself, or if you've never been hurt by gossipers--you're free to go. But if you've found yourself being a gossip or if you've ever felt the sting from someone gossiping about you, then dig in because today's messages could change your life. This morning we'll deal with the problem from Michelle's perceptive-the problem of being a gossip, tonight we'll look at it from Beth's perspective-how to handle being gossiped about.

So what's the big deal about a little gossip? Our text makes is fairly clear, doesn't it? Gossip destroys friendships. Another Proverbs, one found in chapter 20 verse 19 warns against even associating with a gossip. "He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip." (NASB) Gossips destroy their lives, the lives of their friends and the lives of the people they talk about.

What's the problem with gossip? I can think of a couple more things. One, it sows seeds of doubt in another person's mind and two, it mutilates someone else's character. The scripture says, "a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord among brothers." (Proverbs 6:19 NLT) 

When I gossip to you, I either plant a negative idea in your mind about someone else or I confirm a suspicion you're having. Even if you argue with me and tell me I'm wrong about someone, my words will linger in your mind and create some doubt. And if I involve 3 or 4 other people in my gossip, before you know it, we've become a majority opinion. Our gossip can become the accepted sentiment of someone's character. Proverbs 18:8 says, "What dainty morsels rumors are--but they sink deep into one's heart." (NLT) Gossip is a big deal-our words sink deep into someone else's heart. Suddenly, a passing thought becomes someone's reality. I hate it when people trivialize and minimize my existence by doing that to me, don't you hate it when they do it to you?

Sometimes it doesn't even take outright gossip to sow discord-it can be a raised eyebrow or words left unspoken. About a decade ago I had a secretary that had a real problem with gossip. I'd written her up twice for inappropriate gossip while on the job and warned her that a third offense would lead to her termination. I was doing my best to follow employment law as I understood it, but in retrospect, I see that my discipline really hurt me. Let me illustrate. One late afternoon I got a call from one of my deacons telling me about a conversation he'd had with her that morning when he tried to get a hold of me. I was in a meeting across town and didn't make it into the office 'til late morning. Even though she knew where I was, she told him, "Oh he hasn't come to work yet today," when he asked to speak to me, leaving the impression that I was out goofing off. What she said was accurate, but the impression she left wasn't truthful. 

Not only does gossip sow discord, it also assassinates a person's character. Ezekiel 22:9 says, "Slanderous men have been in you for the purpose of shedding blood, and in you they have eaten at the mountain shrines. In your midst they have committed acts of lewdness." (NASB) Shedding blood? Man that's strong language, but that is exactly what our words do with a person's character. In Psalm 31:13 David said, "I have heard the many rumors about me, and I am surrounded by terror. My enemies conspire against me, plotting to take my life." (NLT) David certainly felt threatened.

So what's the cure for gossip? Let me suggest a few things from scripture, first, lighten up a bit! Remember, everybody-including you-makes mistakes. Proverbs 17:9 "Disregarding another person's faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends." (NLT) Even the best we have to offer is flawed. Next time you watch the Best Picture from the 1959 Academy Awards, Ben Hur, look for the tracks during the chariot races left behind by the camera trucks. Or when you put the '89 winner, Driving Miss Daisy in the DVD player, pause the picture when the Alabama police questions the driver. Look real close and you'll notice he is wearing a Georgia patch on his sleeve. And more recently, the 2001 winner, A Beautiful Mind has scene where the Nobel Prize speech is given, on the podium is the word Noble instead of Nobel. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html) Learn to overlook other people's faults-give them a rest will you? Nobody is perfect. Why is it that we are quick to overlook our own faults while noticing other peoples? 

The second thing you can do is, well, just stop doing it! Proverbs 26:20 says, "Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops." (NLT) What I try to do is imagine the person I'm talking about standing in the room, and if I start to feel uncomfortable, then I know I've crossed the line and have begun disruptive, destructive gossip. Really, who knows, they might just be within earshot, like Beth was with Michelle.

According to Tucker, "the situation between Beth & Michelle happened five years ago, Michelle's never forgotten it. She tried to reach Beth several times by phone, then wrote her a letter of apology. Beth never responded. Michelle says she learned her lesson about loose lips the hard way. What's worse is that Michelle's a Christian, and Beth, to her knowledge, isn't." (LE SP 2002, p. 69)

So what do we do when we've caught ourselves gossiping? We repent. More tapes from the days of Richard Nixon were released the first week of March 2002. On one tape, Billy Graham was heard telling President Richard Nixon that Jews had a "stranglehold" on the American media, which needed to be broken because it was controlling the country. 

When the tapes were made public, Graham apologized for his remarks. He did not deny them, but said he could not recall making them. Though many people were shocked, no one considers Billy Graham a bigot. Most people will forgive Graham because of his spotless record. However, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas says this 30-year-old example is a reminder that "Political power can be corrupting and can even seduce the clergy." 

In his commentary, Thomas asks an important question. "Who of us has not made a remark which, if recorded, might prove embarrassing?" He challenges believers who speak of revival to take their eyes off of Washington, and focus on personal renewal. 

Controlling our speech is a lingering challenge for every person-even righteous people. Even us. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)
 

Evening message:

How do we respond to being gossiped about?

We respond gently

1 Cor. 4:13 NLT

We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash--right up to the present moment. 

We live a blameless life

1 Peter 3:16 NLT

But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 
 

We forgive.

Jesus said, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Matthew 6:12NASB

Perhaps you've said it, "I can never forgive you for that." 

Actions of yesterday, last week, or even decades ago that are a cause for retaliation today, and, likely, tomorrow and who knows how much longer. Maybe forever. The hurt, the anger, the resentment, the hatred run so deep. Will they ever get past it? Ah, but then how many of us have also been hurt and have found it hard to forgive? 

Divorce, abuse, humiliation, being robbed, getting fired, being taken advantage of or stabbed in the back. People have hurt us. It seems so hard to forgive. People tell us, "This is going to consume you. Come on, get past it. Forgive. Forget."And we reply, "I would like to, but I can't." Why is that? Why do we find it so hard to forgive? When people wrong us it is like a debt that they now owe us. You could say they have robbed us. Love, joy, dignity, respect, and self-worth are things that people "steal" from us. They do this through abuse, gossip, taking advantage of, backstabbing, ridiculing, neglecting, cheating, leading us on, rejecting us and so on.

One theologian, Timothy Keller, suggests that our ability to forgive depends on the amount of emotional wealth we have. In other words, if I have a vast reservoir of self-worth or dignity or joy, someone might gossip about me, verbally assault me or walk out on me and I can say, "That's okay. I forgive him. There is plenty more where that came from." Thus our lack of forgiveness is not a matter of stubbornness but of emotional poverty. This then forces the question: Why am I so emotionally impoverished that I cannot forgive? What would it take for me to become a forgiving person? As far as I can see it is simple: Experiencing forgiveness. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html

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