13th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, dear friends in Christ,
Do you know who I am? I’m sure you’ve met be before. I don’t care about justice, I can hurt without killing, I break hearts, I trash lives, I’m cruel, I’m mean, I get stronger as I get older, the more I’m talked about the more I’m believed, I can thrive on any level of society and with any person still breathing, my victims are entirely helpless, there’s no way they can protect themselves against me because I don’t have a name, don’t have a face. I have no friends, once I ruin a reputation it’s never the same. I shatter friendships, wreck marriages, and destroy careers. I cause heartaches and sleepless nights. I infiltrate churches. I divide Christians. I spread suspicion and make innocent people cry on their pillows. Do you know me? I’m sure you’ve met me, my name is gossip.
Finally, every sin of the tongue has horrid effects. Profane language, insults, lying, complaints, cutting criticism, they’re all harmful. But, perhaps it’s gossip that has likely destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships than any other. It’s quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread. But worst of all, it’s quickly believed.
Well, what exactly is gossip? We often think of gossip as talking about someone behind his or her back. But, really, gossip isn’t all talking about someone who isn’t present. There are times when we might talk about someone’s good news to others, or share some funny story, or share someone’s concern. So how do you know if it’s gossip? Well, would the person object to what is being said if they were present or not? Is what we are saying meant to honestly help someone or to hurt the person? Am I sincerely trying to build someone up or am I trying to discredit or tear them down?
The reality is that there is a part of each one of us here that absolutely loves to spread and listen to gossip. There is a part of us that is hopelessly insecure, that loves to harbor jealousy, pride, and anger, that loves to tarnish the reputations of others in order to try to make us look better, that loves to speak falsely and lie, that loves to let our mouths drip with “unwholesome talk.” Interestingly, the word translated as “unwholesome” here in verse 29 of our text is the word sarpo, the same word that Jesus used in the gospel lesson for “bad,” “Make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad.” Literally, it means “decaying” or “rotting.” There is certain speech that comes out of our mouths that is like a decaying, rotting piece of fruit. Like a piece of produce you might have left on your kitchen counter behind a box that you forgot about until you smelled something nasty and when you discovered it you saw a gross, mushy, stinky, rotting, fly-infested mess. There’s a part of each of us that loves to spew out such rotten words. And the first part of our text tells us just where those rotten words come from: our “old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.”
Each one of us has this multi-personality battle going on inside of our hearts between our old sinful self and our new spiritual self. Each of us, as we were born into this world was completely controlled by this old self, but through faith God worked inside of us a new self was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And our hearts are this continual battleground between our old sinful self and our new self. And Satan in league with our old self wants nothing less than to get us to fall headlong into feeding our old self with any kind of sin with the hope that it will defeat and drive out our new self and destroy our faith. It’s like two nations going into battle with each other and one side has a spy, a traitor who constantly feeds intelligence to the enemy. The devil plays on our sinful nature to get us to be self-centered, to get us to only be concerned about ourselves and what we falsely think will make us feel better about ourselves, to become angry, to steal, to let rotten words spew out of our mouths. Why? Because he wants a foothold in our lives.
So what does he do? He comes to us like a friend. He convinces us that sin is good and pleasurable. He tempts us to sin and to sin and to sin. Then he flips his hat accusing us and feeding this insecure self-talk that goes on inside of us things like, “I can’t believe I did that! I’m so stupid! I’m such a failure! I’m an awful person! I’m worthless, useless. Everyone else has it going on and I’m going backwards in life.” Then he flips his hat back and says, “Hey, don’t you want to feel better about yourself? Point out the sins and failures and mistakes of others! It will make you feel better! Spread it around so that others see how much of a better person you are at least than so-and-so!” No matter how much the devil may try to get you to think it, he’s not your friend, he’s your enemy. He knows that if we’re full of garbage inside, all we can give out is garbage. If I’m living according to my old sinful self all I can give out is garbage, falsehood, anger, stealing, rotten speech. Gossip stems from this insecurity inside of us that thinks we need to make ourselves feel better by tearing others down.
Think about it, if I’m not at peace with myself and with my God I have nothing to give you. If I’m not built up, I’m in no place to build others up. Rather, I try to bring everyone else down so that they can be miserable like me. Misery loves company. What comes from our hearts comes out of our mouths. “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks” Jesus said. If we are bitter and angry and upset and frustrated inside, guess what’s going to come out of our mouths? If we are insecure, frail, and troubled inside what’s going to come out of our mouths? And our words are a powerful way to tear other people down. And here’s the devil’s lie, we think it will make us feel better about ourselves to use our language to hurt others or spread gossip, but the truth is: it doesn’t help, it just hurts us more. And so the cycle continues.
Where does this cycle end? Right here: “You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” What is the truth that is in Jesus? It is the reality, it is the real historical facts, Jesus, God’s Son was born into this world, lived perfectly, never gossiped, used His mouth to always do what is right, Jesus died on a cross as God’s lightning rod against all sins, including every sin of the tongue, Jesus rose victoriously from the dead to prove that the payment for sin was made in full. And He did that for you! That is the truth, the reality. It is that truth, that reality that teaches us to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” If we can’t control our tongue, we’re failing to appreciate the gospel. God’s changed us. We don’t need to rip others apart to feel better about ourselves. God’s taken away our hearts of sin and given us hearts of faith, he’s taken our worthless rags of sin and given us Jesus’ perfect robe of righteousness. “I’m a forgiven, redeemed, baptized, eternal child of God and the devil can’t change that!”
It’s this gospel that feeds our new self, enabling us to put off falsehood and speak truthfully, to not become angry giving the devil a foothold, to not steal but work hard, and “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” God wants us to use our speech to build others up and literally the end of that last verse reads “to give grace to those who listen.” Where does grace come from? The ultimate source of grace and every blessing is God.
It’s only when we are filled with the grace of God that our lips will be filled with blessing, benefit, and encouragement for others. If our hearts are off, our mouths will be off. If the scope on your gun is off, it doesn’t matter how close you put the crosshairs on the bullseye, it’s going to be off. But If our hearts are centered on grace, our lips will drip with grace to build others up and encourage. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him” Jesus said. God has filled your heart with His grace and love. “It is by grace you have been saved” God has “justified you freely by his grace through the redemption that came in Christ Jesus.” “From the fullness of His grace we have received grace upon grace.” “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we now stand.”
Filled with His grace God commissions us to throw off mouths of gossip and to be His grace givers throughout our lives. And too many of us forget or underappreciate the great power resting in our mouths. It’s not enough just to like someone in your heart, it needs to come out of your mouth. People in our world are starving for encouragement, starving for affirmation, starving for something positive. The devil loves to tear people down, make them feel awful and use them to tear others down with harmful words and gossip. God, however, fills us with His grace. Encourages us by the gospel. Uses our mouths to be grace givers to share with people the ultimate encouragement which is the good news about sins forgiven in Jesus and he uses our mouths lift others up in their day to day lives: “You did a wonderful job! Dear, that was an amazing dinner! I really like that about you! I’m so proud of you dad! You do so much for us mom!”
Encouragement comes from the gospel. The more you know the awesome encouragement, the awesome grace God has given you, the more compelled, motivated, empowered, you will be to not use your words to tear others down, but to use them to build others up and drip God’s grace from your mouth! Amen.