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Criticisms, Assumptions and Gossip

I recently faced an uncomfortable situation, one that I suspect most of us have faced at one time or another. There is a Christian brother with whom I disagree about a number of things. I am also sometimes uncomfortable with the way this brother expresses himself. I have never met this gentlemen, though we have a number of mutual friends and acquaintances. I recently made a remark to one of those mutual acquaintances about my opinion of this brother. I criticized the man and implicitely questioned his motives, even though I have never met him. I gossiped. As often happens in situations like this, what I said eventually found its way to the brother I had gossiped about. "Your sins will find you out." The brother confronted me on the issue, expressing regret that these were the circumstances we found ourselves meeting under. I apologized for my sin and he graciously forgave me.

After talking with this man, I began to think about the many times I have recklessly criticized a person, church, denomination or institution. I thought about the many times I have made assumptions about or questioned the motives of those with whom I differ. I thought about how frighteningly often I vocalize these thoughts and gossip about others.

Most of the readers of SBC Witness are involved in some type of ministry, be it local church, seminary studies or missions. This ministry involvement means you know how easy it is to become harshly critical of others. How easy it is to assume things about others. How naturally it comes to our sinful natures to question the motives of others. How easy it is to gossip about others, whether in the form of sermon illustrations, prayer requests or just old-fashioned scuttlebutt and breeze-shooting.

Time and time again I have had conversations with seminarians where a particular church, theological movement, political conviction or individual Christian was harshly criticized. Not just the stated convictions of churches or people (which I believe are public record and fair game), but the churches or people themselves. Sometimes falsehoods were even spread. This pattern of unhealthy criticism is repeated in sermons, books, articles, message boards and weblogs. Surely this does not honor God.

So having recently looked in the mirror and seen the enemy, I want to encourage you to be careful what you say about others. Even better–be careful what you think about others. Police your thoughts, question your own motives, mortify your sin; when this happens, you are unlikely to vocalize your thoughts to others, further sinning. Its a lesson I have been trying to learn for years, and as I was so shamefully reminded recently, a lesson I still need to learn. So pray for me in this matter; I am still on the way, with a long way to go. And if you struggle with this sin like I do, then ask someone to pray for you, even as you face your sin head on and seek to subdue it through the power of the cross and for the glory of Christ.