Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 14 Unification of Logos & Houtkruis . The sin of slander (Part 2)

. The sin of slander (Part 2)

THE SIN OF SLANDER (PART 2)

 

Introduction.

Last week we started a mini-series on the ‘sin of slandering’.  I guess the importance of this topic became more of an issue with me since I have so greatly been the topic of slander, and that by fellow Christians.

I have never preached on this before, but if Dr John Mac Arthur is correct then I should have, as he says that it is the sin most mentioned in the Old Testament. At least we know it was a serious issue for Christ and His apostles as well. Slander is ugly, and its intention is normally to uplift self at the cost of others. Sadly, slander goes in at one ear and out at ten mouths, and the sad reality is that people will believe the rumour and spread the rumour simply on the basis of what they have heard without checking up the facts. Surely if somebody says something bad about somebody else it must be truthful. We then become like chickens who find the wounded and then we peck and peck at the wounded one till they die. Let me remind you of the words of the song that says: “don’t kill the wounded, because one day you might be one.” Sadly, I guess we have all been guilty of this sin on more than one occasion.

But do we really realise how dangerous it is? Let me tell you a quick true story. "There was a happy little family living in a small town in North Dakota in the USA. They were happy even though the young mother had not been entirely well since the birth of her second baby. They were a simple and a humble little family. And each evening the neighbours were aware of a warmth in their hearts when they would see the husband and father being met at the gate by his wife and two little children. There was laughter in the evening, too. And when the weather was nice, the father and the children would play together on the back lawn while mother looked on with a happy smile.

Then one day a village gossip started an entirely untrue story saying that the father was being unfaithful to his wife. It eventually came to the ears of the young wife and it was more than she could bear. Reason left its throne and that night when her husband came home there was no one to meet him at the gate, no laughter in the house, no fragrant aroma coming from the kitchen, only coldness and something that chilled his heart with fear. And down in the basement he found the three of them hanging from a beam. Sickened in despair the young mother had first taken the lives of her two children and then her own.” Three lives lost all due to slander. Slander has caused wars, and it has singlehandedly destroyed families, marriages, relationships, businesses, politicians, churches and their leaders and even lives.

I have said this before and I say it again. It is not always true that where there is smoke there is a fire. There might simply be a smoke machine blowing smoke. That is what a slanderer is to me. They are nothing but verbal smoke machines.

The question we need to ask this morning is; ‘who is the first one to ever be slandered?’ Maybe not such a difficult question. It was obviously God and His slanderer was ‘diabolos’ himself, the devil, whose very name means ‘slanderer.’ And the first person to believe slander was Eve and she was the first one to spread the slander to Adam.

Look with me at Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV) 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Now notice what Satan does. Firstly, he exhibits craftiness or deviousness. Whenever you are going to spread evil about somebody especially when it is a lie, you go about it in a crafty way. You turn half-truths into lies and pretend that absolute lies are truths, because ‘they say’. I so want to meet mister ‘Theysay’ because he knows everything about everything and everyone. All you need to do is say ‘they say’ or ‘I heard this from a reliable source’ or ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ and it has to be true, right? Secondly, Satan questioned God’s wisdom and God’s integrity: “Did God actually say?” Now, I do not think we have the whole discourse, but we have that which is important for us to understand. Somehow Satan convinced her that God is not so much a God of integrity, and that God had ulterior motives. For some reason Eve adds the bit that God said they cannot even touch the tree. Bad God, right? Now, look at the slander in verse 4 - 5: 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So, Satan questions God’s motives. Basically, he is saying that God by nature is selfish and insincere and cannot care two hoots for Adam and Eve, but simply for Himself. The integrity of God is questioned while it is actually the integrity of Satan that is on display. The sad thing is that Eve bought the lie.

In the same way when people slander today, the motive is always to call into question the integrity of another, while their own integrity is really the issue.  Have we not learnt from Eve? It is stunning how people will simply believe slander without checking up the facts. It is like we enjoy hearing somebody else’s integrity called into question. Why check up to see if I have the full truth, I will rather become part of the slander, and spread what I heard because there is much more fun in spreading a lie rather than establishing truth. Check your own heart today. Do you just buy into everything you have heard, or do you make sure that what you have before you are the unadulterated truth? And if it is the unadulterated truth, what motivates you to spread it, if you know it is going to be further degrading to the person? What do you gain?

I've found that in my own life and my own experience that when somebody picks up some slanderous thing and passes it on about someone, it's normally comfortable to those who have been looking for something evil to say about that person already. The lines have already been drawn and the camps have already been set up.  Something that horrified me over the last many years is how people, even pastors took things they heard about me, and spread it around the world without ever contacting me to hear my side of the information that was shared with them. You see, a wicked heart is proud, a wicked heart is self-serving, and a wicked heart is always jealous and always envious just as Satan was of God. So, pride and jealousy and envy move the mouth with hate and out comes malicious condemning defamation that really reveals the kind of character in the person who is slandering. The sad thing is that people have mastered the art of displaying such a holy, self-righteous demeanour in their slandering. They will in the very breath that they slander you tell the recipient of the slander just how much they care for you.

Based on what we saw last week slander certainly doesn't belong in the mouth of a Christian and obviously James is intending for us to understand that. Slander must be eradicated from Christian circles.

One of the lessons I have learnt about slander is that you must always go back to the source of the slander. That is exactly where the problem lies, because that is where you will find the real motive. When people slander you, whether it be based on truth or malicious slanderous lies, you realize that the source of all of this is pride, satanic temptation, envy, jealousy, hate that ultimately winds up in slander.

So, I think by now we have gathered that God is against it. No wonder God says amongst all the rules that He gave in Leviticus 19:16 (ESV)16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” What do you do when you have somehow become the recipient of slander? Firstly, do not spread it further. Secondly, if the issue bugs you and you feel that you need to say something about it, make sure that what you say about it is to the person who shared with you and nobody else. Determine if there is truth in the matter and if need be go back to the original source and admonish the originator of the slander. Sadly, people are too afraid to do that. This is actually quite Biblical. Deuteronomy 19:16-21 (ESV) 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you, 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

The mind-set here is simply this. The fact that there is an accusation does not simply imply that the accusation is truthful, or that the motives are pure. Godly leadership then, as it was under the Lord back then, and Godly leadership today should bring both parties together and diligently work through the issues. You do not meet behind the back of the person being slandered. All parties should always be around the table. Rather drag out the process and deal with it systematically and responsibly than rushing through it and judging badly. Let’s face it, in this way the slandered person and the slanderer are protected. Based on Old Testament teaching you do not want to jump to “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand or foot for foot” too flippantly.

God is serious about the tongue people. Look at Psalm 52:1-5 (ESV) “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2 Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. “

Now, does this all mean that we are forbidden to hate sin, that we are forbidden to expose sin or that we are forbidden to expose sinners who will not repent? Quite the contrary. That is why we have instructions as we find for example in Matthew 18. There is order, and the order starts in the narrow, and then only goes wider when the narrow does not work. However, slander normally starts wide and hardly ever gets to the narrow, and when it does the harm has been done. The rule is simple; talk to the person and not to others.

You should know it well, but let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV). I wish I had time to deal with it fully, especially in the light of other sections like 1 Corinthians 5 & 6, Galatians 6 etc. But let’s read from verse 15: 15 “If your brother sins against you, (Step 1) go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, (Step 2) take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, (Step 3) tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, (Step 4) let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

 

By the way Step 3 implies that the church says something to the person. This is not a public announcement, this is actual interaction between those called out to judge the situation and the person. This is not something happening in the person’s absence. In our day we have churches with thousands in membership. I simply smiled when I read one commentary and the writer who has close to 4000 people in his church per service says that the unrepentant person must be dragged before the whole congregation. They have two services, so is he really implying that he then gets the person on stage for the second service as well? I do not think so. If the person is really guilty and really unrepentant you will not get him before the church in the first place. And how will the church judge? Remember, they must say something to him, otherwise he cannot refuse to listen. And then, the million-dollar question is – for which sins? The famous selection, right? I believe on the basis of the Greek word here, as well as the context that the  ekklesia {ek-klay-see'-ah} or church can mean  ‘a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place’, ‘an assembly’ or ‘an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating’. This fits with Deuteronomy 19:16-21 that we saw before.

 

Matthew 18 does not allow you to slander a person, but forces you to deal with the person as it is a matter between you and him alone. Matthew 18 by the way is not a four-step discipline process as some churches apply it. It is actually a three-step loving but firm restoration process. I disagree with many well-known commentary writers that see the process from step one as a discipline process. The purpose of step one is clearly to gain your brother not to start a disciplinary process. And if you are going to be consistent and see this as a whole discipline process from beginning to end, then make sure you focus on all sins. The text does not allow us to be selective.

 

If you fail in steps 1 – 3 of bringing a brother or sister to repentancelet him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” It does not tell you what to do with him, it rather addresses your attitude towards him. I get so sick of churches that teach that step 4 is church discipline and then they ex-communicate the person, they ostracise him to the point that he cannot come back and repent as they through their attitude close the doors on the person. Dr Mac Arthur says in his commentary that the person must be ostracised. Ostracised means to detest, hate, dislike and to exclude.  Now again if we do this, all sins need to be treated equally right?  How long must this ostracising take place? Again, MacArthur says: “it should not end until the brother has either repented or died”. Read the verse clearly and tell me if that is not a meaning forced into the text. Now, what does it mean to treat somebody as a gentile or a tax collector?

Something we must not forget is that order and organization matters in the gospels. Look at what comes before and after this story in Matthew’s gospel. There are 14 verses before this section and 16 verses after this section. The gospel writers organized events and grouped incidents together to make important theological points. They want to help their readers understand who Jesus is and what he means for us and the world. We do the gospel writers a disservice when we ignore their careful and intentional organization and structure.

Right before this passage in verses 1-14 are Jesus’ warnings about the necessity to avoid being a stumbling block for anyone. Next is the parable of the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search the one lost sheep. Then we find verses 15-17. Right after this passage, Jesus tells Peter he is to forgive his brothers seventy times seven. And then Jesus tells the parable of the slave who is forgiven by his master but refuses to forgive his debtors.  Lots of stories about the importance of forgiveness. So, if verses 15-17 are surrounded by teachings about forgiveness then those teachings on forgiveness need to inform our understanding of verses 15-17. I believe that churches that simply kick out their brothers and sisters just because they have decided that the brother or sister is unrepentant are just like the slave who refused to forgive a fellow slave when he was forgiven so much himself. And for such a person Matthew 18:35 (ESV) kicks in:35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

So how do you treat somebody as a gentile and tax collector? The Jews hated the Gentiles and the tax collectors and disassociated with them. Is this what Christ had in mind here? It can mean, disassociation. I believe ‘ostracism’ is a strong word and based on personal opinion.  There is no clear instruction here, but we have the example of Jesus. How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?  Jesus heals the daughter of the Canaanite woman. He eats with sinners and tax collectors. He defends the fact that the temple will be a house of prayer for all nations. He heals the Centurion’s servant. He calls tax collectors to be his disciples. Jesus repeatedly invited tax collectors and Gentiles into the kingdom of God. Ultimately, he dies on the cross and through the cross removes the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile.

I do not believe that to “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” means to wash your hands of them. Yes, we cut off our brotherly association as fellow members of the body, but it means we need to continue to reach out to those with whom we have a conflict whether we see them as brothers or as lost. They need to feel like the prodigal, but they must know there is a home for them to return to.  We must continue inviting them into the fellowship of the kingdom of God. Even though there is a level of disassociation with their deeds, their unrepentance and their heart attitude, you never give up on a person. We are called to seek and save the lost. Unrepentance does not necessarily imply that the person is not a Christian. We are talking about a brother here. But if you do see him as an unbeliever, then evangelise him, but never let go of the person. Let’s be honest. If a person was truly unrepentant and now became repentant, why will he go back to a body that ostracised him? Surely his sin and repentance are both primarily before God. He can comfortably associate with the body of Christ in another place, than with an unloving, self-righteous bunch who selectively focus on particular sins and ignore their own.

I believe that at the centre of this whole section is a challenge to the disciples then and us now, to never give up on each other. We’re not to push people out because they are difficult or annoying or wrong or sinners. The church is to continually seek reconciliation. We are to be the visible witness of the steadfast love of God who pours out more grace where sin becomes more. The church is called to be a community of faith, of love and of care for each other. This doesn’t mean that no one ever sins against another person. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements. This doesn’t mean that any behaviour or action is fine. It certainly doesn’t mean this process is as easy as step 1, 2, 3 gone!

What it does mean is that we don’t give up on each other. Just as God doesn’t give up on us. Nevertheless, there is a process and slander is not part of that process. I know I have not covered the issue of Matthew 18 fully, but I will do a sermon on that in time to come.

The sad reality today is that those who use Matthew 18 as a four-step process of church discipline, instead of a three-step process of loving restoration are often those who want to be known as experts in the doctrines of grace. Sadly, they fail at being experts in the grace of the doctrines. Such people are often nothing more than Bible Police who are constantly watching to see if someone sins, and particularly someone who is not part of their immediate friendship circle.

At Logos we will not forget Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV)1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

And:

1 Peter 4:8 (ESV) 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Now, Peter, why would you cover a multitude of sins in love? Were you not there when Jesus gave Matthew 18? Peter was there, and he also heard the 70x7 bit and understood the heart and mind of Jesus. We now need to understand the heart and mind of Jesus. Love one another, but do not slander one another.

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: - 19 November 2017