I have heard the story of a mother whose oldest daughter was in her last year of high school. This daughter’s class had a trip coming up and were holding a bake sale to raise money for it. Because the mother was very competitive she decided she was going to make the biggest and best cake anyone had ever seen. She had ambitious plans for a huge three layered cake and everything was at first going along well. Then, when she tried to put the third layer on, the middle of the cake started sagging.
What was she to do? There was no time to start over and she couldn’t bring the cake into school as it was. So this mother did what any sensible person would do. She propped up that middle with something that was sturdy and the right size even though that prop was not quite edible. She took this cake into school and after dropping it off, she went to visit her daughter. She gave her daughter some money and told her to make absolutely sure to be the first one after school to get to the bake sale and buy that cake before anyone else does.
A couple hours later this mother got a text message: “Mom. I got there as quick as I could but the cake was already gone. Somebody else bought it before the bake sale even started.” The mother was horrified but what could she do? She could only hope and pray that whoever bought that cake did not notice who had made it.
That evening all the ladies from the church were to get together for a dinner. After the meal the pastor’s wife said, “I have a surprise.” Then she brought out this beautiful, three layered cake. Of course the mother who made it was mortified to see her cake. She was wondering what she could say or do that could somehow prevent what was about to be a horrible situation. Then one of the other ladies said to the pastor’s wife, “That is such a beautiful cake!” The pastor’s wife beamed with pride, “Thank you so much. It took me forever to bake it.”
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The title of my message comes from a song I remember singing way back when I was a little kid. “Oh be careful little mouth what you say. Oh be careful little mouth what you say. For the Father up above is looking down with love. Oh be careful little mouth what you say.” That pastor’s wife is about to learn the truth of this song.
I know I have been gone most of the time but I understand that this summer we have been going through the book of James and we have made our way up to James 4:11 but I would like to back up a little bit and read a few of the verses that came before:
And He gives grace generously. As the scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
James 4:6-7, 10
I wanted to back up here because this is a direct contrast of what we will be looking at today. Today’s scripture talks about gossip but when I was starting to prepare, I realized that the three things we are really saying when we gossip are also true about bragging so I will be talking about them both. In James 4:11-12 we read:
Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
A couple decades back I was working for my first of many summers as a counselor at a Christian kids camp. Things seemed to be going along fine when suddenly one of my campers got angry and started yelling at everybody about everything. We dealt with the issue but then later one of the older, wiser counselors pulled me aside. He asked me what the camper was really saying? At first I didn’t understand and so he taught me that very often there are words that are spoken beneath the words that we hear. Often what the mouth speaks and the ears here are not the same thing as what the heart is crying out.
Today I want to look at the words beneath the words. All too often we only deal with the words spoken and although that can correct the behavior it does not change the heart. Instead of saying, “don’t brag and don’t gossip” lets look at our motivations for sinning in these ways and what we are really saying when we commit these sins. Lets get to the heart of the issue.
The first thing we are saying is the easiest one to spot. We are saying, “I want you to think I am better than you.” Why do we brag? We want the world to think we are like that beautiful cake. We want to lift ourselves up in others eyes. Why do we gossip? We want to expose the toilet paper lurking hidden inside someone else’s cake. By putting them down we will make ourselves look nicer in comparison. Rather than walking in humility and letting God lift us up in His timing, we are trying to do it ourselves. We will use both the bragging cake and the slanderous paper to put ourselves on that pedestal and knock off any threats to our beautiful reputation.
What is going on in our heart that gives us the urge to do this? Do we even know how often we do it? Has it become so commonplace in our hearts that we do not even realize how often we sin in this way? Is it insecurity? Do we fear that this TP is what we are even though God has called us beautiful? Is it idolatry? Are we more concerned with the opinions of others than we are with our standing before God? Is it apathy? DO we think that these sins are not really a big deal?
That is at the heart of the second thing we are saying. In addition to saying, “I want you to think I am better than you” when we are bragging or when we gossip we are also saying, “The rules don’t really apply to me.” This is what James is talking about when he writes:
If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.
How many people think bragging is wrong? How many people think gossiping is wrong? How many people think that God says we should not brag? How many people think that God says we should not gossip? Those of you who aren’t raising your hands, well phooey. Next time play along. This isn’t a debatable issue. I could list out dozens of scriptures condemning both of these sins but here is just a quick sample:
He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets. Therefore do not associate with a gossip.
Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy.
No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will endure.
Let another person praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips.
Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of his gifts falsely.
Last week Partos Mark mentioned how we tend to rank sins. We might look at some sins and then think about how horrible they are while others like showing favoritism we tend to think are no big deal. All too often I think I put things like gossip and bragging right down there with playing favorites. I haven’t murdered anyone or robbed any banks so I must be doing good. What we don’t realize is that almost every time Paul lists the sins “evil” people do, he puts both bragging and gossiping right up there with others. One such example is found in Romans:
Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. (Romans 1:28-30)
We can’t think we only have to follow the easy rules. It is easy for me not to murder people. In fact, it has been over a month since I last visited my siblings and so I have gone at least that long without even contemplating it. Murder isn’t a struggle, but gossip? That isn’t so easy so I am just going to say that rule doesn’t apply to me. That way I won’t feel so guilty. No. It doesn’t work like that. When we hold this attitude we come dangerously close to the third thing we are saying when we brag and gossip.
Not only are we saying, “I want you to think that I am better than you” and “The rules don’t really apply to me” but also we are saying, “I am a better judge than God.” At this point, many might be thinking, “Wait a minute, stop. You are making this a much bigger deal than it really is. Nobody really thinks that.” If that is true, why does James write:
God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
When we show judgement through either boasting or slandering we are trying to take God’s job for ourselves. One day He will reveal to the world how valued we are so there will be no need to brag. One day he will expose what is in each person’s heart so we have no need of trying to do so now.
When that day comes we will also have to give an accounting of what we have said as well. No matter how small a sin we might think it is, we will then see it for what it really is. Jesus Himself said,
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
Now you might be thinking, “OK. You’ve convinced me, gossiping really is a big deal. But how do I quit it? I knew it was wrong, knowing it is worse than I thought doesn’t help me quit doing it.” I’ve got good news. James has already shown us how to do so. Let’s go back and look at verses 6-10:
And He gives us grace generously. As the scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourself before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
First we need to recognize that it is His grace. We cannot do it on our own. We need His help. So we come close to God. When we do so, He also comes close to us and we begin to better understand what it means to be holy. That brings sorrow. There are tears for what we have done. We realize that when we gossip and brag we aren’t just hurting others, we are blaspheming this holy God. But He has provided the way for us to be pure. Through His sacrifice on the cross a means for us to purify our hearts, not just from these sins but from every sin, has been provided. He can make us clean. Once we have accepted this, we need to recognize that our loyalty can no longer be divided. It can’t be God plus anything else. It is God and God alone. It is complete surrender. We are His. Finally, we need to learn to trust His timing. We must trust that when the time is right He will then divide the cake from the paper. Our job is to just humbly follow Him until that day.