Talking to People Rather Than About Them
From Gospel Translations
What I Left Out of the Sermon on August 6
In my first sermon after being away five months, I left something out. It was in the notes, but didn’t seem to flow with the main focus when I got to it. So I skipped it. But I really wanted to say it. So here it is.
You recall that in Luke 18:9, Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector like this: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” It may seem minor at first, but notice that it says that Jesus told this parable TO some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. It does not say he spoke this parable ABOUT them. Jesus was looking the Pharisees in the eye and telling them a parable that implied that they were self-righteous. He was not talking about them but to them.
Though it may seem minor, it contains a lesson that is huge for the health of our church. Let’s be like this. Let’s not talk to others about people’s faults. Let’s talk to them about their faults. It is easy—and far too tasty on the tongue of our sinful souls—to talk about people. But it is hard—and often tastes bitter—to talk to them. When you are talking about them, they can’t correct you or turn the tables and make you the problem. But if you talk to them about a problem, it can be very painful. So it feels safer to talk about people rather than talking to them.
But Jesus does not call us to make safe choices. He calls us to make loving choices. In the short run, love is often more painful than self-protecting conflict-avoidance. But in the long run, our consciences condemn us for this easy path and we do little good for others. So let’s be more like Jesus in this case and not talk about people, but talk to them, both with words of encouragement, because of the evidences of grace we see in their lives, and with words of caution or warning or correction or even rebuke. Paul urged us to use the full range of words for the full range of needs: “Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
I don’t mean you can’t criticize President Bush without calling him on the phone first. And I don’t mean you can’t discuss my sermon, both negatively and positively, without coming to me. Public figures put themselves on the line and understand that everyone will have an opinion about what they say. That’s okay. What I mean is when you know a brother or a sister is in the grip of some sinful attitude or behavior, take the log out of your eye, and then go to them and try to help them with humble biblical counsel.
Perhaps tell them a parable. That’s what Jesus did in Luke 18:9-14. And it’s what Nathan did for David, after his sin with Bathsheba and toward Uriah (2 Samuel 12:1-4). But you don’t have to be that creative. Caring about the person you confront matters more than creativity.
My longing for our church is that we be free from gossip. Let’s be forthright and honest and courageous and humble. Jesus was amazingly blunt at times. Love sometimes sounds like that. He could have easily been accused of callousness or lovelessness. But we know he was the most loving person who ever lived. So let’s follow him in this matter. He died for us so that all the logs and specks in our eyes may be forgiven. That should give us both courage and care in dealing with others. Especially when we realize that the faults of our brothers and sisters have also been forgiven by Jesus.
What an amazing standing place we have for relationships. A forgiven, justified, Spirit-indwelt community of people who love to grow in grace. Thank you for loving to trust and follow Jesus in the way of talking to each other rather than about each other.
Glad to be back,