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We’re back in the gospel of Mark today, in chapter 4, looking at the parable of the seed and the soils, sometimes called the parable of the sower. Chapter 4 is one long teaching by Jesus centered on parables. And this teaching is a response to the rejection Jesus has just experienced from various Jewish leaders and even his family.

Such rejection raises the question, ‘Why have so many not believed in Jesus and his message of the kingdom?’ The teaching today helps explain this, and it gives a message to his disciples as well, which we will need to pay attention to.

We’ll be looking at the parable in vs. 1-9 and the interpretation Jesus gives in vs. 14-20 to his disciples in private.

Introduction

1Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them. . .

So once again there’s a large crowd gathered around Jesus. And it says he was teaching them many things in parables. Parables have to do with comparing two things to make a point.

3“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.

So we have a farming image, that, as we will see makes a point about the kingdom of God. These are the two things being compared.

From Jesus’ explanation to his disciples we learn that –

14The sower sows the word.

Jesus is talking about the good news of the kingdom of God that he’s sharing with everyone (1:15).

And then we come to the focus of the parable –

The four soils

The sower and the seed are all the same, but the seed lands on different kinds of soil. And these different kinds of soil represent different people in different spiritual conditions.

The first soil is that of the path.

4And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.

Jesus is here talking about ground that is a walking trail next to, or through a field. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground and so the birds eventually eat it.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation in v. 15 –

15And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

These people hear the words of the gospel but they don’t sink down into their minds or hearts. Their hearts are hardened. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom. The result is that Satan takes away the seed.

So here there’s no germination of they seed. These people dismiss and reject the message Jesus brings.

And then we have the rocky ground.

5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. When the sun comes out it withers away.

Next we look at Jesus’ interpretation starting in v. 16 –

16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

These hearers receive the message, but it doesn’t go deep into their lives; it doesn’t become firmly rooted in their heart. And so when things get difficult they fall away from the faith.

So here there’s genuine faith and there’s germination and life, but only for a short time.

And then we have the thorny soil.

7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

This soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds or plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there’s no fruit.

Then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

18And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

These people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” to their lives. They focus on worldly worries, trying to get more wealth and don’t have a single minded focus on the kingdom of God. These are the thorns.

The result is that the new life of the gospel in their lives is killed off and no fruit is produced. So here there’s real faith, there’s germination and life, but it dies before the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here – from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So let’s look at the good soil.

8And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Notice how the seeds here finish the process –

  • they germinate, unlike the hardened soil of the path
  • they continue to grow, unlike the shallow soil
  • and they bring forth a harvest, unlike the thorny soil.

And then we have Jesus’ interpretation –

20But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

These hearers fully accept the message of the gospel.

  • In contrast to the soil of the path, their hearts are not hard to God’s word. They receive it.
  • In contrast to the shallow soil, the word goes deep into their lives. It is nurtured through attention and study. It is firmly rooted.
  • In contrast to the thorny soil, they stay focused on the kingdom and not the things of the world: getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the busyness and going in all directions at once that this involves; seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth; and pursuing entertainment and leisure.

These people get it and mature as disciples of Jesus and are blessed in the fullness of the kingdom.

Notice the description of a bountiful harvest – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” So even though ¾ of the total seed sowed bears no fruit, here the harvest is abundant. Even though so many don’t respond to Jesus, the harvest on the final day will still be great.

This leads us to the question we began with –

Why have so many not believed?

 The sower is the same, Jesus. The seed is the same, the good news of the kingdom of God. What’s different is the kind of soils that the seed lands on; the spiritual condition of people who hear the gospel.

Jesus is teaching us here that God is not forcing people to receive his kingdom. He allows us all to choose to receive it or not. And so many, if not most, will reject it. And specifically with regard to the Jewish leaders rejecting Jesus, the explanation is hardness of heart. The seed of the good news fell on the hardened path in their case. (See Mark 3:5)

And then we come to –

Jesus’ message to us

Beyond an initial reception of the gospel, which his disciples and we have done, that is weren’t not hard hearted toward the gospel, we must continue to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. What are the two enemies of disciples identified in this parable?

1) Living a shallow Christian life so that when testing comes we fall away.

2) Being focused on this life and not the kingdom of God.

And Jesus really wants us to get this message because he begins his parable by saying, “Listen” and he ends it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Are you listening this morning?

Today I would like to share with you on the topic of honoring God’s name, specifically how we use God’s name in our speech. And this, of course, leads us to the third of the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:7 – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Also Deuteronomy 5:11)

This is the English Standard Version and is a fairly traditional rendering. The New Living Translation says, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

Now, we all know this verse, but let’s look at each part carefully so that we know what it teaches. First, we have the phrase –

Take . . . in vain

What does this mean?

  • “take” – means to lift up, utter, pronounce
  • “in vain” – means in a deceitful, empty, worthless or insincere way

As we saw, some newer translations put these words together and simply say “do not misuse the name.” The idea is don’t use the Name in a deceitful, empty, worthless or insincere way.

Now let’s look at –

God’s Name

God’s personal name is spelled YHWH. This is found over 6,000 times in Old Testament. In our translations this word shows up when you see “LORD” or “GOD” in all capital letters.

In the ancient world Hebrew writing didn’t have vowels, they were only added in when the words were spoken. And since the Name was eventually deemed too holy to speak (in part with regard to the 3rd commandment) its pronunciation was actually forgotten among Jews. So we just have the consonants – YHWH.

A little history here. When Jews read the Bible, they would say “Lord” or sometimes “God” in place of the divine Name in order to avoid saying it. Later, when vowel marks were added to the Hebrew Bible (ninth century), the vowels of the Hebrew word “Lord” or Adonai were put with the divine Name, as a cue to say “Lord.” This is where the word “Jehovah” comes from. When you put the consonants YHWH plus the vowel sounds of “Lord” together, you get “Jehovah.” But it wasn’t until, perhaps as late as the 1500’s in Europe, that people starting reading this as a real word, even though it was not. Now, of course, we have made it a real name or reference for God.

YaHWeH” seems to be the best pronunciation or the best way to add in the vowels. This is based on some early Christian texts that have vowels with the divine Name, the pronunciation of Samaritan priests who have pronounced the Name throughout the centuries, and archaeological finds with inscriptions that spell out the divine Name.

Well, it’s this personal name of God that is focused on in the 3rd commandment. It says, literally, “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

In New Testament times, Yahweh wasn’t used. But the concerns of this command are applied to other references to God:

  • In Romans 2:24 when Paul refers to God’s name being blasphemed, he applies the concern of the third commandment, not to misuse the Name,  to the word “God.” (Theos in Greek)
  • In Matthew 6:9, when Jesus calls God, “Father” and then prays, “Hallowed be your Name,” he applies the concern of the third commandment, to honor God’s name,  to the word “Father.”

So, the scope of the command covers all our references to God“God,” “Lord,” “Father” and certainly also to “Jesus,” “Christ” and “Spirit.” However we name God, that’s what’s covered by this command.

Now let’s look at –

Wrong uses of God’s Name

First, it should be noted that we can dishonor God’s name without ever saying anything. That’s because we bear God’s name as God’s people and we bear the name of Christ, as Christians. So when we don’t live up to this in our actions, when we sin, we dishonor and thus misuse God’s name (Romans 2:23-24). But we’ll keep to our focus and look at wrongful uses of God’s name with regard to our speech.

1. Swearing falsely. The basic idea here is that if you invoke God’s name in an oath and then, for instance, don’t tell the truth, you have misused God’s name. You use the name to give the appearance of telling the truth, but it is really being used as a cover for a lie.

Leviticus 19:12 makes the connection between swearing oaths and the third commandment. It says, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Swearing falsely profanes the Name.

2. Use of God’s name in profanity. You know how it works, adding the word “damn” to God’s name in anger or saying “Jesus” and/or “Christ” in anger. This is using God’s name to vent our anger or to try to be vulgar or to curse others or to get attention. We treat God’s name as a plaything that is at our disposal. We use God’s name for effect. This is not what God’s name is for.

3. Use of God’s Name to justify our ideas or actions. In Scripture this shows up when people speak in the name of God, for instance prophets, but are really only saying their own thoughts (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 22:28)

Today we have similar ways of doing this. For instance, politicians, who wrap themselves in “God language” in order to gain legitimacy for their ideas and agendas. And, has there ever been a war that wasn’t warranted by reference to God? And that, paradoxically, on both sides? These are examples of using God’s name to justify our actions, much or all of which have nothing to do with God.

We too need to be careful when we use God’s name to justify our actions. For instance, “I feel like God wants me to quit this job” – when really we just want to quit and don’t want to give the real reason. Or when we say, “God wanted me to tell you such and such . . ..” Well, if he didn’t, you have misused God’s name. You are using it to give more weight to what you have to say, when God doesn’t have anything to do with it.

4. Careless use of the Name. This is where we treat the Name as common, or use it in a casual way. This is, perhaps, where we have the most work to do. For instance everyday exclamations – “God knows!” or “O My God!” (texting OMG) or “For God’s sake.” These phrases may have all begun as real references to God, but that’s not how we use them. In these and in similar examples, what we are doing is trivializing God’s name into a kind of verbal punctuation mark for our conversations. This isn’t what God’s name is for!

Another example would be using God and God’s Name in humor. There may be differences of opinion on this, but it’s my counsel to you that it’s just best to stay away from this. We live in a very casual, informal culture and I am fine with that, but we still need to show deference to God. We need to treat God differently. I would encourage you to leave God out of your humor.

Well, we need to be careful with how we use God’s Name, especially as we look at –

Why this is so serious

A name in the Bible is connected to who you are. It has to do with your reputation and character. 1. So how you use a person’s name reflects how you view the personWhen we misuse God’ name we show that we have a low view of God. We don’t understand God’s awesomeness. We don’t have a proper reverence for God in our hearts, and so our mouth speaks out what is in our hearts – words that misuse God’s name.

2. This is serious because we will be judged for doing it. Exodus 20:7 ends with the warning, “The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.” (NLT). This is a promise from God that you don’t want to receive. God looks after his name. Rather, we need to ask for and receive forgiveness from God for our misuses of his name, and learn to be more  careful.

Let’s end with looking at –

How to use God’s Name rightly

  • Psalm 119:132 – We are to love God’s Name.
  • Psalm 102:15 – We are to fear his Name.
  • Psalm 113:3 – We are to praise God’s Name.
  • Psalm 103:1 – We are to bless God’s Name.
  • Matthew 6:9 – We are to hallow God’s name. That is, we are to treat it as special, not common. Just as God is holy, so is his name.

We should only use God’s Name reverently, sincerely, and thoughtfully.

When someone wrongs us a struggle is unleashed within us to see whether we will be overcome by it so that we respond in kind, or whether we will overcome the desire for payback and choose love. This is what we’re talking about this morning.

According to the world there’s really only one way to respond – we should strike back; we should harm our enemies in return. Now God put a limit on this when Moses taught in the Old Testament, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:17-2, Deuteronomy 19:19-21 in contrast to Genesis 4:23-24) That is, the payback has to be in proportion to the injury suffered. But still there is in our world an endless cycle of people harming each other through personal vengeance, the justice system and warfare.

But Jesus shows us another way; the way of love. For when Jesus’ enemies sought to kill him he endured the harm and suffering of the cross and returned good for evil. And in doing so he shows us how to overcome evil with good. He wasn’t overcome so that he did harm back to his enemies. He overcame through the power of love.

Paul speaks of this in –

Romans 12:19-21

And I want us to look more closely at this passage today.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

First we look at the negative side of this –

Being overcome by evil

This comes from the phrase in v. 21 – “do not be overcome by evil.”

This is how it works. Someone harms you. This can happen on a small scale, for instance, someone insults you. Or it can be something truly terrible – for instance, someone kills a loved one of yours.

How will we respond? It’s natural to be angry and to want justice; in fact, we usually want more than “an eye for and eye;” we want to give back much more harm than we got. Evil is very powerful. Once we fall victim to it, it gets into our system and tries to replicate itself through our anger so that we start doing evil as well; so that we start harming people.

The question is, ‘What will we do with our anger?’ 1. Usually we give in to our anger to one degree or another; our desire for justice. And when we do this 2. we return harm for harm. In various ways through our words and our deeds we seek to hurt and destroy our enemy.

How to overcome evil with good 1

The result is that you are now harming another person, just as your enemy harmed you. You are doing the same thing. You have been overcome. You are now caught up in the cycle of evil for evil; harm for harm just responding to others based on how they’ve treated you.

But harm for harm never truly satisfies, even, for instance, if someone kills your family member and the criminal is executed. It doesn’t restore what was taken away from us. It doesn’t give us peace.

You may even the balances and that might feel good on a certain level, but you will never overcome the evil done to you with more harm. So we should set this response aside. As Paul says in Romans 12:17 – “Do not repay anyone evil for evil,” or as it is better translated “harm for harm,” referring as it does to the teaching of “an eye for an eye.”

Let’s look now at the other side of this –

How to overcome evil with good

Paul tells us to do this in v. 21 – “overcome evil with good.” There are three steps in this process. When an enemy injures us:

1. Endure the harm without giving it back. Paul says in v. 19 – “Beloved, never avenge yourselves.”

Now, there’s a lot that we can do, within the limits of loving our enemies. That is to say, this doesn’t mean be passive and just take it. We can stand up for ourselves and for what is right. We can point out wrong. We can use force to stop an evildoer from what they’re trying to accomplish. There are redemptive things we can do in relation to our enemy. But fundamentally the point here is that we should not return evil for evil, harm for harm.

So let’s say someone breaks into my house and wants to hurt my family. If I could, I would stop them, let’s say disarm them. They have a bat and hit me hard, but I eventually take it away. What I can’t do is then take the bat and beat them. And I certainly can’t kill them because Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not destroy them.

2. Look to God for your justice. v. 19 goes on to say, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”

It’s normal to have anger when someone harms you. This is due to our sense that an injustice has happened. This is how God made us. We are not to deny this or try to suppress it. And indeed God gives us the capacity for anger to stir us up to act to make things right.

Anger is not wrong. It’s what you do with your anger that’s the issue. Paul teaches us that we are to place our angry desire for payback in God’s hands. This is the key to overcoming evil and breaking out of the cycle of evil for evil; harm for harm – giving the agenda of justice or payback over to God.

He can fight for us and judge our enemies according to his will. This is what God says he will do, “I will repay.” Not, “you will repay,” but “I will repay, says the Lord.” So when we suffer harm from an enemy, pray something like this, “God I have been wronged. Take note of this and act for me in a way that is pleasing to you. I give it into your hands and trust you with it.”

It’s our trust in God that sets us free. We know that God can handle it. It might not happen right away; it might not happen until the final day, but all wrongs will be righted by God. We can trust God to take care of us.

3. Love and do good to your enemies.  Once we’ve placed the agenda of payback into God’s hands this frees us up to love our enemies and do good to them. We can focus on mercy, since we know that God will take care of issues of justice.

Paul says in v. 20 – “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.” Rather than harming our enemies we return good for evil.

How to overcome evil with good 2

This is counter-intuitive. It goes against what our flesh desires, for sure. But we can only overcome evil by returning good for harm; by choosing mercy and love. This releases us from being captive to the cycle of anger, hatred bitterness and harm for harm. The circuit is broken. We’re set free! Our trust in God sets us free.

Now we hope that such acts of love will lead our enemy to repent, and we should pray for this. But if not, we know that God is more than able to deal with them. Such judgment is described in v. 20 as “burning coals” coming down on their heads. 

Let me end by pointing out that Jesus modeled for us these three steps of overcoming evil with good when he died on –

 The cross

When his enemies conspired against him:

1. He endured the harm without giving it backAs 1 Peter 2:23 says, on the cross, “when he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten.”

2. He looked to God for vindication. 1 Peter 2:23 tells us that while he suffered, he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” He gave the agenda of payback and justice into God’s hands.

3. He continued to love his enemies doing good to them. As Luke 23:34 tells us, while he was on the cross, he prayed for his enemies, for mercy and forgiveness. While they were busy murdering him, he was dying for their sins.

Jesus models for us how to overcome evil with good on the cross. As Peter says Jesus left us an example, “so that (we) should follow in his steps” – 1 Peter 2:21.

We’re continuing to talk about gossip this morning. As I said last week gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether family, friends, work or the church. Our focus today, however, is not on the one who gossips, but on the one who hears the gossip. It takes two to gossip and listening is just as crucial as the sharing, for gossip to take place.

We love to hear gossip, don’t we?

Proverbs 18:8 (also 26:22) says it this way, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels.” The Contemporary English Version says, “There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip!” Even if we might have qualms about dishing it out, we nevertheless love to consume it.

There are several reasons for this. We’re curious about the hidden lives of others. We also wonder if other people have weaknesses and problems like we do and, perhaps, take secret joy when their problems seem worse than ours. Also, as sociologists point out, sharing secrets is a means of social bonding. It makes you feel special if someone shares secrets with you; you’re on the in. And unfortunately, gossip can be a part of this bonding process.

So we like to hear gossip, but before we leave this “eating” metaphor behind – let me just say that when you consume gossip, what you’re actually doing is consuming the other person. In a church context those delicious morsels (Proverbs 18) are your brothers and sisters in the Lord, cut up and served in bite sized pieces.

In other words, receiving gossip is a form of cannibalism. As Paul says in Galatians 5:15, “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

Instead of consuming we need to learn new ways of responding when gossip comes our way. So I want to share with you three things this morning that will get us started in the right direction.

1. Learn to recognize gossip

As we saw last week, there are three kinds of gossip:

  • Groundless speculation about the affairs of others.This is when we know just a bit of information, but then fill in the rest with our ignorant conjectures; usually assuming the worst about the person and what’s going on in their lives.
  • Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone entrusts something to you, but you just can’t resist telling others.
  • Spreading negative information about others.Whether true or not, the sharing is done to tear down the person.

What I’m saying here is that we need to become attuned to gossip so that when you hear it a light goes on; you become aware of what’s happening. And you can respond appropriately.

And even just to ask the question is a good practice. After church last week several of us were talking and someone asked, “Hey wait, is this gossip?” That’s great! It shows that we’re trying to be careful and monitor what we say about others.

2. Don’t receive the gossip

That is, don’t let gossip shape your opinion and outlook toward others.

First of all, don’t receive it out of humilityIn humility we need to recognize that our ability to size up other people is quite limited. Only God knows their heart and all that is going on in their lives. And in humility we must make allowance for the fact that others who share with us get things wrong.

So accept that you don’t know the whole situation and neither does the person sharing. I have learned that there are always (at least) 2 sides to every story and the reality is usually much more complex than what’s being shared. Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t mean you really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

Don’t receive it out of loveAs we saw last week love always hopes the best for others and thinks the best of others, not the worst. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “love believes all things, hopes all things.” Also, love wants to build others up and is grieved when others are torn down. As I Corinthians 8:1 says, “love builds up.” And so our love for others keeps us from accepting secret dirt on them.

Don’t receive it and if you need to, talk to the person face to face: If you hear something negative either suspend judgment by accepting that you don’t really know what’s going on and so you don’t let it shape your opinion of the person. Or if it seems serious, check it out for yourself by going to the person or persons involved face to face, according to the principle laid out in Matthew 18:15. Only then can we come to conclusions on what’s going on in a situation.

We need to covenant with each other in this that we will not come to conclusions about each other based on gossip and mere appearances, but only after face to face contact. As Jesus says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

3. Help the gossiper to stop

Let’s just note first that it’s really easy to fall into gossip, and some people are not fully aware of what they’re doing; some are not being intentionally malicious even though what they are doing is very wrong. And we need to take all this into account in terms of how you respond. Some gossipers are intentional and malicious; perhaps most are not.

Remind them of humilityJust as you apply this to yourself, apply it to them. Remind them that they most likely don’t know the whole story. Ask, “How do you know that?” “Are you sure you know the whole story?” “Is that just your interpretation of what happened?”

Remind them of love: Encourage them to think the best and hope for the best of the person. Say, “That sounds serious, what should we do to help so and so?” Or say good things about the person which takes all the fun out of it and makes the gossiper uncomfortable. Or say, “This is a sensitive issue, I bet so and so wouldn’t want others to know about this.”

Send them to the person in question according to the principle of Matthew 18:15: Ask, “Have you talked to the person yet?” “Did you get permission to share that private information?” We have to work hard at breaking apart triangling, that is, going to a third party, instead of to the person in question. So we do this by sending the gossiper back to the person they’re talking about. Offer to go with them, if needed.

Tell them to stop: If there’s no response to previous efforts we will need to be a bit more firm, especially if it’s a pattern of behavior in their life. As Luke 17:3 teaches, “If your brother (or sister) sins, tell him (or her) to stop . . ..” Say it how you want, according to what fits with the situation, and your personality – as long as it is gentle and loving. But admonish them to stop. Say something like, “You really shouldn’t be saying things like that.” Or, “You need to stop before people get hurt.”

Finally remember –

It takes two to gossip

Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Well, if gossip fuels strife, as this verse teaches, it’s listening ears that fuel gossip. And if we take away the fuel of listening, gossip will fade away. So my appeal is – let’s stop listening to gossip! Let’s be a gossip resistant church. Let’s be gossip resistant people.

May the Spirit help us in this. May the Spirit cause us to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord more than we love to hear gossip.

I want to talk about gossip today. I want us to look at some scriptural teaching on this to remind us to avoid gossip; to stay clear of such poisonous whisperings. I think this is needed. Gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether it be with our families, our friends, or our work situations. And yes, it’s often a problem even in the church.

First of all, let’s work at some definition –

What is gossip?

Here’s a good start. It’s inappropriate sharing about others who are not present. Often the information is revealing or sensational in nature and gets responses like, “Really?” or “Wow!”

For sure, not all sharing about someone who isn’t present is gossip. There are two key parts that make gossip, gossip. First, it’s secretive, in that you don’t want the person to know what you’re saying. In other words, you would never say it to their face. I believe that much of our gossip comes from not knowing how to deal with problems and conflict with each other. Instead of going to the person who has offended you, seeking peace and resolution of the issue, face to face – as Jesus teaches, you go to someone else and tell them all about it.

Second, usually it’s negative in that what you say is meant to tear the person down. It’s not done out of love for the person or with respect for the person, nor is it a part of a process of trying to help them.

Today I want us to look at –

Three kinds of gossip

1. Groundless speculation about the affairs of others. The word for this is found in two verses. In 1 Timothy 5:13 Paul says of young widows in the church in Ephesus – “they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips (φλύαρος) and busybodies, saying what they should not.” In 3 John 10 John says of a renegade leader in a congregation, “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense (φλυαρέω) about us.” (NIV)

The word means babbling, or nonsense. It has to do with talking out of ignorance. You may have a bit of information, but you have no idea what’s really going on in a situation, but that doesn’t stop you! You fill in the gaps with your ignorant conjectures, usually assuming the worst about the person. These are silly, negative, meddling speculations about other people’s business.

Here’s an example of this kind of gossip: Fred has been struggling financially, but he comes to church in a new car. So someone says to another church member, “Wow, he doesn’t make enough to drive a car like that! He must have been playing the lottery! Either that or he’s found a way to cheat the IRS!” Here we see a toxic combination of ignorance and a malicious spirit.

2. Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone tells you something and expects you to keep it in confidence, but you’re just dying to tell someone! So you do and figure telling one more person isn’t that big a deal. But then that person think just like you did and so they tell just one other person and the pattern repeats itself on and on until everyone knows.

Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.” (NRSV). Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (NRSV).

With regard to Fred, an example of this might go, “Well, how strange is that, a new car! I just happen to know that last year he got a gift from the benevolence fund because he wasn’t able to pay his electric bill.” This is an obvious breaking of confidence; sharing what should be private.

3. Spreading negative information about others. The word for this shows up in two texts that list out various sins. Romans 1:29 speaks of “gossips” (ψιθυριστής – gossiper), and 2 Corinthians 12:20 talks of “gossip” (ψιθυρισμός – gossip). The word here means “to whisper” – in a negative sense; you’re telling tales about others and don’t want to be found out.

The content might be false information, in which case it would be secret slander or false rumor. Or it might be true negative information, but unnecessary to share. You share it to tear down and not with concern for the person’s well-being or reputation.

With regard to Fred, a false rumor could go like this, “Hey, did you hear that Fred used the benevolence fund money to help buy a new car! Can you believe that!” Here’s an example of true but unnecessary sharing, “Fred has always been poor, and his family was before him. It seems to run in the family.” This may be true, but it’s pointless to share, other than to make him look bad.

Poor Fred, the truth is that a friend loaned the car to him, while he’s getting his fixed. He’s actually doing better now financially than ever before. So you can see how he was unfairly picked apart and torn down by all this gossip. He really went through the shredder.

Now for many, gossip is an everyday thing; no big deal. But-

In Scripture gossip is deadly serious

Why is it so bad? It destroys the reputation and standing of another. If angry words are like murder, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:21, a kind of frontal verbal attack, then gossip is also like murder, but it’s like poison administered in secret.

Why is it so bad? It causes strife and broken relationships in a group. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Conflicts go away! Proverbs 16:28 says, “a whisperer separates close friends.”

If we ask, how bad is it in God’s eyes? Well, in Romans 1:29 it’s in a list of sins that evidences a “debased mind . . .” along with homosexual practice, murder and hatred of God. It’s one of the practices that “deserves death” as a punishment from God (Romans 1:32).

 What should we do instead of gossip?

1. Instead of groundless speculation about the affairs of others – we should shut up and get a life. I don’t mean to sound harsh. But I do mean it. I say shut up, because we are to stop our silly, ignorant, critical speculations about other peoples’ business. I say get a life, because this kind of gossip is associated with idleness in I Timothy 5:13 (as we saw earlier). It often happens when you’ve got too much time on your hands.

The answer comes in I Thessalonians 4:11. Paul says, “aspire to live quietly (shut up), and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands (get a life).” Get enough positive things going in your own life so that you don’t need to sit around and try to analyze others.

2. Instead of breaking confidences – have integrity. If something is entrusted to you as a private matter, ask permission before you share it with others. This is a simple rule that we can all keep.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’” (NRSV). If you indicate you will keep a confidence, keep it. Be trustworthy (Proverbs 11:13). Keep your word.

3. Instead of spreading negative information about others – speak the truth in love. This is what Ephesians 4:15 tells us to do, “speak the truth in love.”

  • If what you share is false, learn to speak the truth about your neighbor.
  • If what you share is true but unnecessary, learn to speak in loving ways about your neighbor.

This last one, when the information is true, is probably where we struggle the most, so let’s look at this just a bit more. Only speak when there’s a redemptive purpose. Perhaps you are working through something that involves the negative behavior of another person and you need input on how to respond. Or you are involved in a process that is seeking to help the person.

Have regard for the person’s well-being and reputation. Ask, “How would I want them to speak about me if the roles were reversed?” Think about this before and while you’re sharing. This will help you to be fair to the person. The key is that you are not seeking to tear down the other person.

Let’s end by looking at –

The real issue: Your heart

Jesus says in Matthew 12:34-35, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” We all have stored up in our hearts a treasure, whether good or evil. And when we speak it reveals what’s in our heart. If you’re struggling with gossip, you need a change of heart!

Do you have a negative spirit that assumes and thinks the worst of others? You need love in your heart so that you think the best of others. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love . . . believes all things, hopes all things . . ..” Love assumes the best in others; it gives them the benefit of the doubt; it hopes for the best.

Do you have a critical spirit that picks apart and tears down others? You need love in your heart for others so that your words build them up. As Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

May God help each of us as we seek to overcome gossip in our lives. And may God work deep in our hearts to change us from the inside out.

The literary structure of Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

Jesus’ early Galilean ministry – Mark 1:16-3:35

Jesus’ new community take shape

We’re in a section in Mark that I am calling ‘Jesus’ new community takes shape.’ Jesus has chosen the leaders of his new community – the 12 apostles, and today we see who makes up the rest of this new community; which is the remnant of Israel.

We’re dealing with verses 20-21 out of order because these verses go with vs. 31-35. Mark is famous for putting one story in the middle of another. A kind of story sandwich, if you will. He does this because he wants the two stories to be read together, because they have something in common. In this case we see that it is not just the scribes from Jerusalem who reject Jesus – his family does as well.

Mark 3:20-21; 31-35

20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.

So this verse starts just after Jesus has finished choosing the 12 apostles. When it says “he went home” (or into a house) it most likely means that he’s back in Capernaum, his home base and also it probably means that he’s in Peter and Andrew’s house again.

As always, the crowds gather around Jesus. In this instance there are so many people that “they could not even eat,” referring to Jesus and his disciples.

21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

His family back in Nazareth hears about the crowds and perhaps specifically that Jesus is not able to eat because of them and they decide that they need to do something.

What’s translated “family” here is literally “those of him.” It’s kind of a vague way of talking about his natural family. (That it is indeed is family is made clear in v. 31)

They come to “seize” him or take control of him. The word can have the sense of arresting or forcibly seizing someone. It sounds like they want to bring him back with them to Nazareth away from the crowds and the spotlight.

They do this because they think he’s out of his mind; he’s saying and doing things that they don’t understand and he’s so caught up in what he thinks is his mission from God, that he’s not eating.

Their charge that he’s out of his mind is not the same as the scribes’ charge that Jesus is demon possessed. But it’s at least analogous since demons were sometimes thought to cause insanity (John 10:20-21). As will become even more clear below – they don’t believe in him as the Son of God and anointed one at this point (See also John 7:3-5).

And so they decide to stage what we would call today a “family intervention.”  It’s unclear if their motivation is for Jesus’ own well-being or if they are primarily concerned about their family’s reputation. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly his actions reflected back on them for good or ill and family honor was a huge concern in that day.

What a painful rejection Jesus endures in our story. Can you imagine? You’re doing God’s will and your own family thinks you’re crazy. So when Jesus calls others to leave family behind or if their commitment to him causes their family to reject them just know that it happened to Jesus also.

Well our verse tells us that they set off for Capernaum. Then we skip down to v. 31.

31And his mother and his brothers came . . .

They arrive. That Joseph isn’t mentioned here suggests that he has already died. So Mary leads the delegation.

The word “brothers” can also mean more broadly “siblings.” In v. 35 Jesus mentions sisters and Jesus’ sisters may be in this group as well. Mark 6:3 – tells us that Jesus had four brothers – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – and more than one sister.

There’s no reason to think that the siblings here are anything other than Jesus’ actual step-brothers and sisters, that is – children of Joseph and Mary – born after Jesus. (Certainly actual brothers and sisters fits better the picture he paints below of his new family – Hurtado).

. . . and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”

This is strange since usually one’s family is inside the house and others are outside, but we’ll see how it’s actually not that strange in a moment.

Now the crowd in vs. 20-21 is distinguished from Jesus’ disciples and they are disruptive to Jesus’ work. Here the crowd is sitting around him. Sitting at Jesus’ feet is the position of a disciple or student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; 10:39; Acts 22:3). In other words, the crowd here is a group of disciples. In fact, this is where we meet the rest of Jesus’ new community, that is, beyond the 12 apostles. This is the remnant of Israel gathered around Jesus. (See also Mark 4:10, 34 for this group of disciples around him) (The 12 are to be “with him” 3:14, and these here are similarly “around him.”

There’s a strong contrast going on in these verses:

  • Jesus’ natural family is standing and they are outside (2x). Both of which point out spatially what is true spiritually – they’re not followers of Jesus. They’re not in a position of learning, but are on the outside looking in.
  • Jesus’ disciples are sitting and they are inside. They are the learners; they are the insiders.

And taking into account vs. 20-21:

  • Jesus’ natural family is described as “those from him.”
  • Jesus’ disciples here are described as “those around him.”

So the very way the story is told – the spatial language – (sitting, standing; outside, inside; from, around) points out the differences between the two groups in relation to commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God.

33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

This would have been quite shocking to ancient ears. And maybe we don’t even get this when we hear the story. Family was much more important than it is today and loyalty and great honor were required. But Jesus seems dismissive. But what he’s really doing is redefining family and prioritizing his relationships.

34And looking about at those who sat around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

His true family is made up of his disciples; those who are part of his new community of the kingdom of God; the remnant of Israel. And they have priority over his natural family.

What sets these people apart from others?

35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

 (See a similar idea in John 15:14)

Now everyone in the story – the scribes, Jesus’ family – they all think they’re doing God’s will. Jesus means, more specifically – doing God’s will according to his preaching and teachingThose sitting around him are listening to just this. And that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – you learn his teaching and you put it into practice.

Notice the open ended language, “whoever.” His natural family, and all people are invited to be a part of his new community.

What Jesus teaches here raises a number of points. First we learn that the church is God’s family made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.

God is our Father. Jesus taught us to pray “our Father in heaven” – Matthew 6:9. And we are God’s children – Romans 8:14-17. And we are all brothers and sisters. In Matthew 23:8 he says, “you are all brothers” – which means brothers and sisters. And this language is used throughout the NT. And Jesus is our older brother, or the firstborn of the family – Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:29. We are a family and this is how it’s set-up.

God’s family takes priority over our natural families. You’ve heard the saying ‘blood is thicker than water.’ This means family always has the highest priority and loyalty. Well, for Christians ‘water is thicker than blood.’ That is, the water of baptism by which we commit ourselves to Jesus takes precedence over our loyalty to our biological/legal family.

Now, don’t think this means you can ignore your family responsibilities. Jesus taught that apart from sexual immorality there is to be no divorce in Mark 10:2-12. So men can’t just dump wives they don’t like, which is a lot of what was happening. And he taught very strongly about caring for aging parents in Mark 7:6-13 (See also John 19:25-27)

It just means that if our family pressures us to do something other than what Jesus teaches, we always go with Jesus. Just as we see modeled here by Jesus. They wanted him to stop his mission. But Jesus said no.

Listen to what he has to say in Matthew 10:35-37 – “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” That is because of commitment to Jesus. And then he goes on, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus and his family take priority.

Rightly understood, believers have more in common with each other than with their unbelieving natural family members.

And all of what I’ve just said applies to our country as well – our extended natural family based on biology and law. If our government tells us to do something other than what Jesus teaches us – we go with Jesus. As Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Rightly understood, American believers have more in common with believers in other countries – Congo, Iraq, Russia, Colombia or wherever – than we do with unbelieving Americans.

Our new family supports us as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells those that must leave family in order to follow him that they will gain a new family. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands . . .” – Mark 10:29-30. We may have to leave our natural family but we gain the family of Jesus.

And Jesus warns his followers that our natural families can turn on us because of our commitment to him. “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” – Mark 13:11. Our believing family, however, is here to encourage us and help us as we seek to do God’s will in this world.

Jesus’ new community takes shape

The literary structure of Mark 3:22-30

Last week we saw how Jesus chose 12 apostles as leaders of his new community; a remnant of faithful Israel. Today we see how the leaders of old Israel decisively reject him. There’s a parting of the ways taking place here.

Next week we’ll see how Jesus’ family rejects him, although later they come to believe. So this part of Mark that talks about Jesus’ new community taking shape is also defined by rejection of Jesus by those who are not a part of this new community.

In our story today there’s a very serious exchange between Jesus and the scribes on the topic of casting out demons, the work of the Holy Spirit and what is sometimes called the unpardonable sin.

Mark 3:22-30

22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Jesus’ casting out of demons is emphasized in the gospel of Mark. Jesus’ authority over them is quite amazing. They’re afraid of him (e.g. 1:24). And he silences them and casts them out with a mere word.

Notice that there’s no debate that Jesus can cast out demons or heal people for that matter. Everyone agrees that he can. The debate now is about how he does this.

Scribes were the educated class of ancient societies, and given that Israel’s culture was governed by the Law of Moses, they were experts in the Law. These particular scribes came from Jerusalem, and so it looks like this is an official delegation sent to investigate Jesus on behalf of the leaders in Jerusalem. (We have already seen that some of the crowd around Jesus has come from Jerusalem – 3:8.)

The scribes come out against Jesus and begin to accuse him and try to discredit him before the crowds. They claimed that the reason Jesus is so amazingly successful at casting out demons is that he’s possessed by a demon, specifically “the prince of demons” – Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan. That’s why he can do what he does. [For this charge see also John 8:48, 52; 10:20] [Beelzebul is made up of two words: “Baal” – the name of a Canaanite god, which means “lord.” And “zebul” which most likely means “dwelling” or “house.”] [In 2 Kings 1:2 ff. Baal the god of Ekron, is called Baal-zebub, which seems to be an intentional change of his name by Israelites to mean – Lord of the flies or the filth.] [Note the house metaphors in this passage and how there appears to be a word pay in Matthew 10:25 between “master of the house” and Beelzebul.]

[The scribes make one charge not two. Mark summarizes their words in v. 30 by simply saying, “he has an unclean spirit.” See also Matthew 12:24; Luke 11:15.]

There’s a lesson here in the scribes’ response: Miracles don’t always convince people. We sometimes think, you know, if God would just do something miraculous people would believe. But miracles can be doubted and they can be interpreted differently. Jesus’ miracles did get peoples’ attention, but in the end they didn’t convince many people. Most of the crowds came to reject him.

Jesus’ first response to the scribes is to point out that their charge is absurd. It’s illogical.

23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

(The word “called” is the same as the one used when Jesus called the 12 apostles. So this sets up a contrast between these two sets of leaders.)

He called them to him because they were spreading slander about him and he’s confronting them and warning them. (France). This is a good example to us. When someone sins against you go to the person to deal with the issue. This is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15. Don’t do what the scribes do – go and talk to everyone else. Go to the person or persons face to face.

It says that he spoke to them in parables. The word parable (Hebrew – Masal) has a broad meaning. We usually think of a story parable but it also includes things like proverbs, metaphors or riddles like we have in our passage. A parable is anything that compares two things to make a point.

That their charge is absurd is pointed out by his question: How can Satan cast our Satan The demons that Jesus defeats are Satan’s agents who are doing his will. It really would be like casting himself out! Satan wants to oppress, possess and destroy people. Why would he want to give freedom and release from himself? This doesn’t make sense.

He gives two illustrations –

24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

The comparison to a kingdom is apt because Satan is called here a “prince.” Jesus also uses the metaphor of a house, or since Satan is a prince, we could say a royal household. (This last example is likely a play on words with the name Beelzebul). And the point is, if there’s a civil war going on or if a household is fighting – these entities will fall apart.

He then applies this to Satan –

26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

If Satan is in revolt against himself things really are falling apart. But that’s not the case. That Satan’s kingdom has not collapsed refutes their charge (Stein). This is shown by how many demons Jesus is casting out. Satan is alive and well.

Jesus gives us the correct assessment of what’s going on when he casts out demons in verse –

27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

(Jesus continues with a house metaphor.) In this parable:

  • The strong man is Satan
  • The house is world. As Jesus says in John 12:31 Satan is “the ruler of this world.”
  • His goods are the people who are under his control – specifically here the demon possession.
  • To plunder is to set people free by casting out demons.
  • To bind is to overpower Satan so that he can do nothing about it. (There is no necessary reference to a one-time event when this happened. Jesus is just more powerful. And whenever he engages Satan or his representatives he wins.)

Jesus is this stronger one (Luke 11:22) who can enter Satan’s domain and set his captives free (Luke 13:16). All Satan and his demons can do is submit to Jesus. So this is what’s really going on. Jesus is assaulting Satan’s kingdom. He has come to establish the kingdom of God and he is doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:28: Luke 11:20), as our next verse will make clear.

Jesus’ other response to the scribes is that their charge is unforgiveable blasphemy.

28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter . . .

The word “truly” is literally “amen” which means “confirmed” or “verified.” This way of talking is unique to Jesus. It’s similar to the Old Testament, “thus says the Lord.” And he uses it to say something really important.

Jesus is pretty broad here – “all sins” can be forgiven, and “whatever blasphemies.” Blasphemy means to slander, defame or speak against someone, in this case God. And blasphemy against God is a capital offense (Leviticus 24:13-16). But notice what Jesus says. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven (with one exception, as we’ll see). There’s good news in this statement. What are the worst sins you can think of? What are the worst sins you have committed? Jesus tells us these can be forgiven. This speaks to the depths of God’s mercy and grace toward us.

There’s only one exception to Jesus’ statement –

. . . 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

(See also on blasphemy of the Spirit – Luke 12:10; Matthew 12:32)

The scribes were not just slandering Jesus, which is forgivable (Matthew 12:32). They’re slandering, blaspheming or speaking against (Matthew 12:32) the Holy Spirit of God — since it’s the Spirit that empowers Jesus to do what he does. Notice the double emphasis – “never has forgiveness;” and “is guilty of an eternal sin.” The point is clear. It won’t be forgiven.

 How does one commit this sin? People sometimes fret or are afraid that they have done this or will do this. Well, Mark makes it clear –

30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 You commit this sin if you say that what the Holy Spirit did through Jesus – casting out demons, miracles, healings – is the work of a demonic spirit.

Now the Spirit works through others, but never more powerfully and clearly than through Jesus. And I believe that Mark is showing us that this sin has to do specifically with the work of the Spirit through Jesus. As he says, they said that Jesus has an unclean spirit.

And this sin is committed by those who know better, in this case the scribes. It’s not made by someone who doesn’t really understand things. It’s not a stray thought that comes into your mind. It’s a position you that you take about the Spirit’s work through Jesus – that it’s of Satan.

To say this is to say that black is white and white is black. It’s like Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.”

We see here that the honor of the Spirit, who is gentle, quiet and pure is zealously guarded by God.

Let me end by emphasizing the main point. Jesus has complete power and authority over Satan and his demons. He is the stronger one who overpowers Satan and there is nothing Satan or his demons can do about it.

Now, you don’t have to be demon possessed to need Jesus’ deliverance. Satan is the ruler of this world and we all have been or need to be set free to one degree or another. So in whatever way you need to be saved – Jesus can do it. Even Christians can give him a foothold in our lives when we walk in sin. Look to him! He will break you out of the strongman’s house. He will set you free! And he will receive you into his kingdom, the kingdom of God.