We’re gathered around, enjoying a moment of relaxation following a satisfying fellowship meal. Everyone here is a believer, of course—we’re all members of the same church. The weather outside is a little chilly, so it’s more comfortable just to stay indoors, sitting for a while. After all, today is God’s day of rest, so we figure we can take it easy. As mentioned, since it’s God’s day of rest, we also surely intend to keep the topic of conversation focused on church things, of course. So, the flow goes something like this:
Hmmm, church things. So, someone asks how Bro. Brown is doing over in the next state. Haven’t seen him for a while. Oh, so he hasn’t been coming to church. Hmmm, maybe he got annoyed at someone. Yeah, he always was a temperamental person. Surely he must be, since after all, he doesn’t seem to look up to me as much as he should. He ought to realize that I know a lot and have a lot of experience. Doesn’t he realize how knowledgeable I am? . . . And that wife of his, that’s another story. She doesn’t ask my wife for advice and she dresses in such a worldly way. And those children are pretty wild. But it’s no wonder with parents like that! And what about the Smith’s? Those quiet people who probably think they’re better than the rest of us. Yeah, I’ve seen people like that. I know what they’re thinking. . . . And the story goes on. . . .
Then the conscience gives a little nudge, so someone says we need to talk about missionary work. So, the conversation moves on to how we need to go out into all the world and preach the gospel. And we get to talking about how the church isn’t doing this as it should be. Nobody seems to discern this like we do, that’s for sure. Why not? Well, that pastor of ours is so lazy and the missionary leader always seems to be on vacation. No wonder we don’t have much outreach going on! How he can afford to spend money like that on all those fancy vacations is anybody’s guess. And the complaints go on. . . .
Time flies, and since it’s wintertime, the day is short, so sunset comes before we even realize it. Time to close God’s holy day. Already, hmmm, amazing! Well, we’re pleased because we talked so much about the “Gospel” that it feels like we actually did something about it.
(But was that G-O-S-P-E-L or G-O-S-S-I-P?)
Is there something wrong with this picture?
Regrettably, the type of scenario depicted above might end up occurring in a church of any denomination. Although those seated were religious people, the conversation ended up drifting off to be not about the religion itself—which was supposedly their common ground—but rather about various people within their religious group. Technically, these people were part of their circle of friends. Those not present probably trusted the ones speaking and would likely have been surprised and hurt to hear what was being said about them by their friends.
But was this group sitting around really behaving like members of a church?
The word “church” comes from the Greek word ecclesia, meaning a “calling out,” an assembly that has been separated for a specific purpose, set apart to be pure in the sight of a holy God. The word was originally used in reference to the followers of Jesus Christ as a body—depicted as a loving, charitable body in. Why is it loving? Because it is founded on the life and teachings of Jesus. The principles and faith of Christ are the motive power of the body, composed of “such as should be saved” for eternity ( ). A club, on the other hand, typically is a group composed of people who have something in common that connects them—yet without the eternal aim of sanctification through the Holy Spirit.
The Lord gives instruction on how to handle difficulties within His body, the body of Christ:
“If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and publican” (). So, if someone behaves in a way that you think is offensive:
Talk to him/her about it privately.
If the person refuses to heed, ask one or two others to come along when you try again—but don’t prejudice them in advance! It’s only fair to let the one you are visiting get a chance to be heard without bias.
If the person still refuses to heed, only then should the matter be taken to the governance of the church, which might choose to exercise its authority to place the person on church discipline—and eventually disfellowshipment if necessary. But even if the case would come to such a point, the person would then become as a heathen man and a publican. (By the way, how are we supposed to treat the heathen man and publican? We should be eager to win them to Christ, of course!)
Such a plan illustrates the love of Jesus for the precious souls for whom He died. We can only have this love if we realize the inestimable value of a soul—and nurture respect and care in our heart for fellow human beings made in the image of the same Creator as our own.
When we erring mortals approach a holy, just, and righteous God, it is not all that extraordinary for us to bow readily into submission, since we know we’re not perfect and He is. And we also know that we are not to bow down to mortals as if they were God—that would be sacrilegious. But what is to characterize our relationship to them?
The apostle Paul warns concerning a problem attitude:
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God” (–11).
Diotrephes considered it his right to look down on others as a way of exalting himself. Yes, he was in the church, he was “among them,” but what was the problem? He loved to have the preeminence; he enjoyed being the focus of attention. As a result, when anyone might seem to be a potential threat to his status, he prated against them with malicious words. To “prate” is to chatter or speak foolishly or idly—and the words that came from Diotrephes were also spiked with malice—typically a bitter fruit of jealousy.
“Let every one attend to his own work, and not regard himself as appointed by the Lord to watch for something to criticize in the work that his brother does. If a worker sees that a fellow laborer is in danger of doing wrong, let him go to him, and point out his danger, listening kindly and patiently to any explanation that may be offered. He dishonors the Saviour when, instead of doing this, he tells others of the mistakes that he thinks his fellow worker is making.
“My brother, my sister, you are forbidden to make the mistakes of a fellow worker the subject of conversation. By speaking evil of another, you sow the seeds of criticism and denunciation. You can not afford to do this. Go to the one who you think is in the wrong, and tell him his fault ‘between thee and him alone.’ If he will hear you, and can explain the matter to you, how glad you will be that you did not take up a reproach against him, but followed instead the Saviour’s directions.
“Let us refuse to bear evil reports concerning our fellow laborers. The reputation of men and women is held of high value by him who gave his life to save souls. He has told us how those in fault should be dealt with. No one is sufficiently wise to improve on God’s plan.
“Parents should teach their children to speak ill of no man. Insinuations, words that hurt the reputation of one who is doing the Lord’s work, grieve and dishonor the Saviour. And God’s Word declares, ‘By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.’ To those who have educated themselves to speak unadvisedly, I am instructed to say, Unless you cease encouraging evil-speaking, unless you guard as Christians should the reputation of your fellow workers, you will endanger your own soul and the souls of many others. No longer talk about the wrong that someone is doing. Never, never repeat a scandal. Go to the one assailed, and ask him in regard to the matter. God has not appointed any man to be the judge of another man’s motives and work. He who feels at liberty to dissect the character of another, he who intentionally detracts from the influence of a fellow worker, is as verily breaking God’s law as if he openly disregarded the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.”1
“We think with horror of the cannibal who feasts on the still warm and trembling flesh of his victim; but are the results of even this practice more terrible than are the agony and ruin caused by misrepresenting motive, blackening reputation, dissecting character?”2
When asked about the wounds in His hands in the earth made new, Jesus will explain that He was wounded in the house of His friends (). We might be inclined to assume that such wounding might be expected in view of the great controversy existing on our fallen planet, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. But, in clearer reality—in the sight of God—woe to such friends! Such is the type of “house” that Christ identified not as His Father’s ( ), but rather was one of which He said, “your house is left unto you desolate” ( ). And He walked away, never to return—in a similar verdict as when He spews the lukewarm out of His mouth in our era ( ).
So, in the scene at the beginning of this article, were the people who had just eaten indulging in cannibalism for dessert?
What should have been done about the Brown family? And the Smith family? Did anyone think to give them a telephone call or visit, praying with them, trying to understand their life and perspective? Or would it be easier just to try to let their situation run its course until they would just eventually leave so we could be rid of them?
“Preaching is a small part of the work to be done for the salvation of souls. God’s Spirit convicts sinners of the truth, and He places them in the arms of the church. The ministers may do their part, but they can never perform the work that the church should do. God requires His church to nurse those who are young in faith and experience, to go to them, not for the purpose of gossiping with them, but to pray, to speak unto them words that are ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ ”3
The wise talk about ideas, the foolish talk about people. Was that meal and conversation spiritual “health reform”? Hardly. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” ().
“In Scripture, backbiters are classed with ‘haters of God,’ with ‘inventors of evil things,’ with those who are ‘without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful,’ ‘full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity.’ It is ‘the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death’ (4, , , ).”
In contrast, Psalm 15 outlines the prerequisites involved citizenship in Heaven—he that “speaketh the truth in his heart;” “that backbiteth not with his tongue,” “nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor” (, ).
Many a professed Christian has fun being witty—but too often the style of wit could grieve the Spirit of God. We are well familiar with the command: “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (), but we may not notice the verse just before it and the one just after it: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. . . . Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” ( , ).
Just as the flavor of our food is based upon the ingredients that compose it, so the flavor of our words is based upon what’s in our heart. That means even our motives and intentions must be pure from the inside out, even living as we do on a planet corrupted by sin—tainted by the legacy of Lucifer.
Before the creation of the earth, the covering cherub, Lucifer, had malicious intentions even against his own Creator, as he inwardly plotted: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High” (, ).
Higher and higher was his ambition—not to be like God in character, but rather in preeminence. How do we know this? He did not cultivate the character of God as manifested in Christ, who humbled Himself in service to the world. Instead, he always tried to belittle Jesus and has continued that fiendish course on our planet.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” ().
“Bring Christ into all your associations; then the dark, sinful soul will have chapters of the love of Jesus open to its contemplation. When you partake of Christ, His goodness, His way, become yours, His will subdues your will.”5
We, in contrast to Lucifer, are bidden to become the way Jesus is:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” ().
Considering others better than ourselves. . . . What a rare quality! Yet this is the culture of Heaven. Without it we would never be at home there or pleasing to God on earth. God the Father says to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom” () and, in turn, self-sacrifice is the keynote of Christ’s example and His teaching as well. This attitude is to be ours.
So, as we’re learning to live and speak the language of Heaven, our thoughts and words take on a new flavor, a refreshing savor of life unto life. May this be our experience!
“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” ().