Matthew 18:15 – 17
“The cure of evil-speaking”
Note: this sermon is originally by John Wesley. It used to be required that every year, every preacher in our denomination preach this sermon. I have modified it with extra material.
I. The biblical mandate: “Speak evil of no man.” (Titus 3:2a and similar wording in James 4:11a) (KJV)
A. What is “evil-speaking?”
1. What it is NOT:
a. It is not lying about someone else.
b. It is not slandering someone else. (The NIV “glosses” it by translating, “slander no one.”)
2. Wesley’s definition: “evil-speaking is neither more or less than speaking evil (relating a fault) of an absent person.”
a. Notice Wesley’s definition is not concerned with fact or truth.
b. Possibly the worst evil-speaking is true. (Ill. 10 spies, “evil report.”)
B. Wesley’s categories of “evil-speaking.”
1. “Back-biting.” The intentional cause of harm to another’s character.
2. “Tale-bearing.” Telling a story with or without the intent to discredit.
3. “Whispering.” Expression of good-will.
(Ill.) The problem with “evil-speaking” is a bit like what happened to Edith, mother of 8 who lived in Darlington Maryland. One day she came into the house to find her five youngest children huddled together and very interested in something. She checked it out and saw, in her house, five baby skunks. She immediately shouted, “run!” At the sound of her command, each child quickly picked up a baby skunk and scattered throughout the house.
II. “Evil-speaking” is common. Why?
A. “Evil-speaking” is easy.
1. John Maxwell notes there are three types of people and how they react to offense.
a. There are “Hiders.” They refuse to admit they have been offended or hurt and do whatever they can to cover up.
b. There are “Hurlers.” They insist on gossiping it around and making innuendoes (the main weapon of choice for character assassination).
c. There are “Healers.” They are the ones who find a way to use the offense or problem to bring about something good... healing.
2. We do it without thinking. In fact, to avoid this we have to be constantly thinking about what we are saying.
B. It is difficult to avoid.
1. Wesley noted there was outside pressure.
a. It is a way to build and strengthen social ties.
b. It is as common as listening to the evening news.
2. Wesley pointed out there is internal pressure.
a. It comes from pride. We think we are not guilty (or better than someone else). Not consciously, but deep down...
b. It comes from anger. We want to get even or vent.
C. It is often in disguise.
1. We can unleash “evil-speaking” in indignation.
a. Wesley – “commit sin from the mere hatred of sin.”
b. It is sad how out of sense of moral duty or obligation, we do this.
2. What is happening is that we have positioned ourselves in the place of God.
a. We see an offense, so we take action.
b. Digging for the speck in someone else’s eye takes the focus off the 2x4 in our own eye.
D. We pretend it is insignificant. [Jean Baptise Massillion “Of a Malignant Tongue” (who influenced John Wesley)]
1. Massillion said it was:
a. secret pride.
b. mean envy.
c. disguised hatred.
2. The problem, as Massillon, stated it was that it “disturbs society, spreads dissension... and disunites.”
III. Is there a way to avoid “evil-speaking?” YES! (Jesus teaches us how.)
A. “Go and show.” (One to one.)
1. Wesley noted this should be at the first opportunity.
2. It must be done live (in person).
3. Key, according to Wesley, is that it must be done in the right spirit and right manner.
a. Wesley suggested serious prayer before approaching the other person.
b. Wesley insisted it be done in love (not as an accusation).
4. It must be done according to the gospel (Wesley).
a. Avoid pride at all costs. (Assuming is pride.)
b. Avoid anger, it doesn’t help.
c. Avoid all forms of hate or ill-will, including bitterness.
5. What if we do not? (Thoughts from Rick Warren.)
a. Because of a lack (or fear) of confrontation, “thousands of (churches) have been destroyed.”
b. “This creates a sick environment of secrets were gossip thrives.”
c. “In conflict time heals nothing, it causes hurts to fester.”
6. Wesley noted that a strange and vicious cycle hits when we do not obey Jesus at this point: “God reproves you for a sin of omission, for not telling your brother his fault; and you comfort yourself under His reproof by a sin of commission, by telling your brother’s fault to another person.
7. At this point there are four possible responses to “go and show.”
a. The other person is genuinely ignorant of the fault, offense, or sin that has been given.
b. You discover it has been a misunderstanding.
c. The other person is sorry, they confess this and repent. (If he “listens”... the Gk, word is where we get “acoustics”)
d. The other person rejects or denies. (Maxwell says this is only 20% of the time.)
B. “Take and establish.” (Wesley’s criteria)
1. “Take godly people” with no vested interest.
2. “Take understanding and wise people” who are impartial.
3. “Take a witness who knows both of you.”
4. “Take a witness who is agreeable (and likely to be heard) by the other person.” (And you will listen to if they tell you that you are wrong.)
C. “Tell and treat.”
1. VERY IMPORTANT: Wesley was clear that this does not mean to discuss the matter with people in general.
2. It means to bring the matter to church leadership for potential action. At this point it is out of your hands... do not speak about it again.
3. Jesus then said, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
a. Love that person, like you love those who need Christ.
b. Love that person, like Jesus would have (sacrificially).
IV. What now?
A. Admit you’ve done this. (We all have.)
B. Take Wesley’s challenge: Will you now make this your rule, speak evil of no man?”
C. Take one more step, according to Wesley, “Then make this your rule, hear evil of no man.” “If there were no hearers, there would be no speakers of evil.”