Fire Starters

Experiencing the great bride of Christ on earth is a wonderful encounter that has enriched me in many ways in my life. I’ve been a churchman for many years and take pride in partaking in the beauty of God’s assembly especially its head. The body of Christ is an ongoing growing body that has yet to reach maturity and let’s face it, it has a long way to go. When we consider the local church, there are many ways which it has matured since the days of the apostles, but in other ways it has stayed the same. But the survival of a local church relies upon maturity, or we end up with a nursery rather than a church! Some need to be more spiritually grounded than others or else how do we exercise the great commission? I say spiritually here because this is not about age, but about wisdom and scriptural/spiritual soundness. When Paul wrote to the local churches (and to some of his helpers), he didn’t do so to convey to them a bunch of trivial slogans but wanting to share the inspired wisdom of his age. He understood human interactions well enough to write a manual on ecclesiastical comportment in 2023. The apostle wrote for his day and God knew it would apply for the rest of history.

While it is appropriate to try to correct wrongs in our society, we still need to keep a close eye on the inner circles of our own churches. Sometimes looking out too intently may blind us to what’s going on within. Interactions between Christians are encouraged and are a blessing to believers, but they come with dangers if not done with wisdom and soundness. One of the most dreadful of all these dangerous interactions is gossip. This is one problem that has hexed the local congregation in a very bad way in the early church and continues to set it ablaze. The language that the scriptures associate with unhinged gossip is enough the send a chill down a man’s spine. It’s not only Christians who know deep inside the insidious side of the slander but ask any business owner who has to deal with the backbiting and the repercussions of wide-spread slander. Notice that these warnings are more severe than some others we place at the top of the sin scale. People who commit sexual sins or those who gossip about it? Gossip ruins reputations and lives and I’m sure most of us have experienced firsthand leaving a church out of shame because of the chatter inside.

There are entire books written on why people gossip, whether it’s because it makes them feel superior or because they feel it’s a means of striking up conversation, regardless, the reason people truly gossip and tear apart a person’s life and reputation, is because they are sinners. They are harbouring sin and from the beginning God knew when giving His law that this would be a congregational problem (Exodus 20:16). One way to identify these notorious gossipers is that you’ll notice that they play the double agent where they gossip to you and rest assured, they are gossiping about you! They are like the hound of hell trying to sniff out your little secrets only to share them with the crowds. One of the most obvious indicators of a church gossip is when they issue a prayer request on behalf of another and go into excruciating details while a summary would suffice. They are not interested so much in the prayer as airing out the dirty laundry of the poor soul who is being piously prayed over.

Busy Learning the wrong things

One of the clearest causes of gossip is shared by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:13:

At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.

Paul explains that people (and in this context women) gossip because they learn to become idle or useless. Paul wanted these young women to receive instruction (1 Timothy 2:11) but they went on to become students of babbling rather than of holy speech (Colossians 4:6). These ladies spent their time being destructive rather than busy blessing others.  What we must recognize is that these travelling gossips were very intentional. This wasn’t sharing juicy stories during a run-in at the local Costco but premeditated and planned house to house gossip pitches. They were overzealous busybodies were creating a wave of rotten chatter. Rather than being engaged in serving the Lord, they were busy tearing others down. They were doing the opposite with their speech that the great apostle taught should be the norm in Ephesus (Ephesians 4:29). Simply put, they were creating a hate-fest by stirring the bad soup. While fellowship should be centered around Christ and His word, these ladies were looking for attention with the church story of the day. Sound familiar? The significance of Paul’s anti-gossip stance was so serious that a man could not become a deacon if his wife was a malicious gossip (1 Timothy 3:11). It wasn’t simply the young immature women who were gossipy but the older women as well (Titus 2:3). To alleviate the gossip, whether intentional or unintentional is to be a learned disciple, focusing on blessing others with our speech and keeping ourselves busy with the work of building the kingdom rather than tearing it down.

The Fire in the Tongue

While some of us picture gossip as a few old ladies chattering over tea until their false teeth fall out, we should try to utilize a more biblical comparable, mainly a wildfire. My father decided once during a beautiful spring day to get rid of the awful brown grass from the last year by doing what was somewhat popular in setting the old grass on fire to make way for the new. My dear dad didn’t realize the rapid movement of the fire and suddenly found himself surrounded by firemen after nearly burning down the entire neighbourhood. He underestimated the vicious destructiveness of fire and learned not to do that again. James clearly recognized its brutal devastation when he wrote in his epistle:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. (James 3:1-12)

The tongue, while so small, is more powerful than most of us take into consideration and for this reason it is terribly challenging to control it. The example of the horse and rudder demonstrate that it steers the rest of the body.  What the tongue truly reveals is the heart of men in their sin and how it leads them and those around them into destruction. While Christians are to guard themselves and practice control, unfortunately still today many congregations are cursed with the tongue of fire raging (Proverbs 16:27) and churches were left devastated and in ashes. This is serious and congregants and leaders alike need to be aware of gossip in their midst and just how quickly it can take over an entire church. The individual who wants to see the good days must keep his tongue and lips from speaking deceit (1 Peter 3:10; Psalm 34:12-16) and this can be applied to the congregation as a whole.

Your Words Matter

Brothers & Sisters, the world watches and if we are to engage the world for Christ, we need to be like Christ and not like the world. Our speech should not be like their speech, we should not engage in using our tongue to curse and to destroy, but to bless and encourage. Be warned that the Lord of the Church left us with a warning that by our words we would be justified, and by our words we would be condemned (Matthew 12:37). Perhaps you don’t see the harm in sharing information about another, but consider your intent and whether they want you to share this information.

With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor,
But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:9)

With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor,
But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 12:18)

The one who guards his mouth preserves his life;
The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (Proverbs 13:3)

Bothers & Sisters, much like you’d run from a wildfire, stay away from those who attempt to draw you into the fire and be destroyed:

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip. (Proverbs 20:19)


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