Backbiters!

28Even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil habits, secret slanderers, 30backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32who, knowing the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them. – Romans 1:28-32 (WEB, emphasis mine)

[Love] doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. – 1 Corinthians 13:6 (WEB)

(This is Henry)

Yesterday while driving home with Jody from her work, I commented on the stories that have been passed around about Sarah Palin by anonymous staffers in the campaign. It’s not Democrats or liberals who are starting these stories—it’s people who are supposed to be on her side. There’s no benefit in it, whether the stories are true or not. How does one deal with anonymous stories? It’s impossible to respond. It’s simply malicious—saying nasty things because one is feeling hurt pride and, well, nasty!

This isn’t a political column, however. What occurred to me after that conversation is that I have seen things that are equally nasty in churches amongst believers. Gossip, and indeed slander, is pernicious. It’s so easy to get caught up in it. It’s so easy for stories to get twisted and even turn into something so false that one has trouble figuring out how it started. Gossip is often anonymous, or the names involved get into such a long change that nobody is sure any more. I like the word the World English Bible uses—backbiting. It really describes what’s going on.

And gossip is hard to resist. People come and tell us a story and it’s just so interesting, and we don’t really feel hostile to that person, so what’s really wrong with it. Besides, we don’t want to judge the person who’s telling us the story either, do we?

The political folks have a good excuse, at least in their view for passing on gossip. First, it’s “news” that the story existed. They’re not passing on unsubstantiated gossip; they’re telling the story of an anonymous aid and how he’s behaving. Then the next news outlet isn’t really passing on gossip; they’re just telling us how some other news outlet is passing on this unsubstantiated rumor. Horrors! Yet at the same time, the rumor is repeated.

Our church excuse is often prayer. “I don’t want to be a gossip; I’m just telling you this so that you can pray for the person more specifically.” Ask yourself whether God might not already know “more specifically” about that person than you do, and all you need to do in prayer is mention their name.

In Romans 1, Paul is pointing out how truly wicked the gentile world actually is. In chapter 2 he’ll get around to pointing out the failures of the Jewish world before making sure in chapter 3 that we understand that nobody—neither gentile nor Jew—gets it right.

That list of sins I quoted above is not designed as some catalog of things that are wrong. It’s the evidence Paul is presenting to show that the human attempt at righteousness is a failure. And one evidence of the failure of human righteousness is gossiping, backbiting, or slandering.

The response, of course, is the Holy Spirit in our lives, which will lead us to 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter many of us, myself certainly, need to read daily. We hear Romans 1 preached very frequently about homosexuality, but we need to hear it speak to us about our temptations and our sins. I’m going to guess that many more readers of this devotional are tempted to gossip than are tempted by same-sex lusts. In 1 Corinthians 12-14, we often hear the gifts of the Spirit as the topic, with efforts to catalog the gifts, decide how they are to be used. Alternatively, we hear love preached from 1 Corinthians 13 without regard to chapters 12 and 14. But here Paul is not talking directly about gifts; he’s talking about how the Holy Spirit works in a congregation.

In whatever case, he’s telling us, the work of the Spirit is characterized by love. If the Holy Spirit is working in you by love, He will not by gossiping and slandering. Self-sacrificing love is the defining characteristic of the true work of the Holy Spirit.

Conversely, the one way you can manifest true, self-sacrificing love is if God’s Spirit does it through you.

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