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The Christadelphian | August 2010

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Christ’s commands
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “I seek not my own glory” | T. J. Barling
  • The Bible 4 Life 1 – The Bible in English | Mark Sheppard
  • Information or gossip? | Bruce Gurd
  • The sons of Korah 6 – The outcome for Korah’s family | Jonathan Cope
  • “I am the good shepherd” | David Nightingale
  • The location of Mount Sinai | Malcolm Edwards
  • Ezekiel – prophet to the exiles 8 – The departure of the glory of the Lord | Andrew E. Walker
  • How long? | Dudley Fifield
  • Signs of the times Women bishops in the Church | John Morris
  • Israel and their land Syria – the path to war?
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Information or gossip?

The scriptures continually command us not to spread gossip. Moses, in Leviticus 19:16, is the first to record that, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” – and this is to be found in the same chapter as the command to “love thy neighbour”.

A serious matter

The spreading of gossip can do much destruction. So serious is the matter that the identical warning about gossip is repeated twice in the Proverbs:

“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” (Proverbs 18:8; 26:20)

James uses a metaphor of the destructive use of the tongue as a spark that rapidly destroys an entire slow-growing forest of a person’s or ecclesia’s character (James 3:5; see also Proverbs 26:20).

Rather than spreading gossip, these further words of Proverbs should be noted:

“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” (11:13)

Instead of letting everyone else know, we might focus on praying for them or asking if there is anything we could do to help. This avoids the self-elevation of pride in our superiority for not falling into the same snare on this occasion.

But should we never listen to someone express concern about the behaviour of a brother or sister or an ecclesia? Should we say that we never want to hear anything negative about anyone? Four examples from Paul’s writings may clarify the matter.

Example 1 – Reported contentions in the Corinthian Ecclesia

In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul says:

“For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” (verse 11)

This is information about what was happening in the ecclesia from one family – the house of Chloe. Paul is very careful to name his source; it was not some anonymous talebearer but a concerned family. Brother Barling, in his exposition of Corinthians, suggests that “the house of Chloe” may have been an official delegation from the Corinthian Ecclesia. They were bringing to Paul’s attention a widespread problem in their ecclesia of factions which needed to be addressed. Paul does not try to broadcast this to other ecclesias, but deals with it in the ecclesial context. It was not a matter for the Philippian or Thessalonian Ecclesias to meddle in: it needed to be fixed in Corinth. It is true that it is recorded by inspiration for our learning, but not to encourage us to meddle in another ecclesia’s problems.

Example 2 – Common knowledge about the incestuous brother

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says:

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.” (verse 1)

This second case concerns information about the immoral behaviour of a brother which was not being addressed by the ecclesia. Paul recognises this as widespread hearsay. The facts were apparently not in dispute. The purpose of raising the case of the unnamed brother is to ensure a response. Perhaps this distinguishes mere gossip from genuine care: a serious matter of immorality which necessitated action. The response of the ecclesia’s members was of great concern, for they were proud of their inaction as a proof of their own tolerance. Paul again treats this claim as if it were genuine. He never names the brother, again perhaps mitigating against gossip to a wider ecclesial world. Paul’s desire was to deal with the problem, not to destroy someone or simply to spread tittle-tattle.

Example 3 – Hearsay about divisions at the memorial meeting

In the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians we read:

“First of all, when ye come together in the ecclesia, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” (verse 18)

This third passage from Paul is again based on hearsay – hearsay which he has not been entirely able to verify but which he believed in part. His inability to substantiate it did not mean that he needed to ignore the matter; it still rang true to him. Unlike us, Paul was given a specific responsibility by Christ to care for and develop the Gentile ecclesias. The news coming to him was not consistent with expectations – however, some form of schism within an ecclesia is unfortunately far too common. It was also a matter on which the Corinthians needed guidance, even though the information was not necessarily rock solid. Paul wanted to deal with the lack of unity at the memorial meeting, because such division at Christ’s table was to the detriment of them all.

Example 4 – Advice of a brother having lost his love for Christ

The last example is taken from 2 Timothy 4:

“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” (verse 10)

The final quotation is a sad reflection on a recent event: a brother leaving Christ for the world. Paul offers no comment but provides a simple statement of the circumstance to help Timothy understand why he was alone. We scarcely view this sort of statement as gossip. It is helpful for others to know so that they can pray for the brother to return to Christ – thus we report them in the pages of The Christadelphian or other magazines. They also provide a warning to us all of how we must maintain our faith in Christ so that we do not wander away from him.

Some conclusions

Scandal, gossip and rumour are sadly interesting to the flesh. They elevate the flesh because passing on gossip often makes us feel better and more than a little proud that we have not made that mistake, or fallen into the same error. We might think about how we could have done better than the other brother; we can muse about how we have easy and obvious solutions to the other brother’s problem. All this can please our flesh but does not carry with it a genuine concern for recovery. Information about a problem should really be passed on to people who, by committing themselves to prayer, may be able to help. This can include fellowship action in the most serious cases or a change in ecclesial behaviour. If the problem arises from something done against us, then we must always address it to the person concerned (Luke 17:3,4) in order for him to repent and change his behaviour.

In three of the cases above Paul mentions situations that were widely known and needed to be addressed at an ecclesial level. In contrast, gossip just involves stories with which we have no particular connection or do not need to know and are titillating to the flesh:

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.” (Colossians 4:6)

Bruce Gurd

 

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