We’re back with pastor and author Ray Ortlund, filling in for John Piper, who is on an extended writing leave. Ray, in your Proverbs commentary (which is outstanding; I commend it to every listener) you write, “I have never seen adultery send a whole church into meltdown. Gossip, by contrast, is often perceived as a little sin. But it destroys churches” (131). Strong words. Explain the devastating power of gossip.
Yes, well the Bible says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). What an amazing thing. You know the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is not true.
Words Can Strike and Slice
But how does that actually work? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” As I have thought about it, Tony, it seems to me that we really experience reality within community. We figure out, as we go through life, we figure out who we are by the pingbacks we get from other people. We go to the Bible for the big question, Who is humanity? But when it comes to the smaller question, Who am I within that humanity? we have to notice how other people are responding to us and what they are saying to us, especially what they say to us about us. And the impressions that we pick up from other people by their words can be life-giving, or they can be life-depleting.
So in our churches, when we say to one another — especially when we say explicitly — “You don’t matter, and to the extent that you do matter, you are poisonous and you are radioactive and you are leprous,” and so forth, those words and suggestions and impressions kill the soul. Because even if we had the strength within to disagree with that assessment, we still can’t help but reel under those hammer blows. So to be cautious and restrained and careful in what we say to one another is so important.
Give Life with What You Say
But words can also be life-giving. We can, by grace, in obedience to the Bible, to the glory of God, breathe life into one another. Romans 12:10 says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” I mean it is competitive. This is a win-win competition. So we have, for example, in our men’s ministry on Tuesday nights, Immanuel Theology for Men, part of what we do is take time for what we call honor time. And it is not flattery; it is honest. But the Scripture speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
So we open it up and guys will say, “Well, here is how I see Christ in you. Last Tuesday, when I faced this challenge, you stepped out of your way — at great inconvenience to yourself — and you helped me. I saw Christ in you, and I honor you for that.” And typically, Tony, when I throw that open, immediately guys start speaking, and it is hard to shut it down.
Beautiful. And really quick question, flattery is a word we don’t use a lot — what does it mean?
Well, flattery is telling a lie; it’s telling people something nice about them that just isn’t true. But in a real Christian, Christ, the hope of glory, lives in that person. And if that person is trusting him and walking with him, the glory is not hard to read; it is wonderfully obvious. And we need to talk to each other about that because, of course, our enemy Satan is accusing us and telling us that we don’t count, and we are failures and so forth. So this is one way we fight back to joy in the Lord.