“Don’t tell him (or her) that I told you this, but . . .”

The single phrase, “Don’t tell him (or her) that I told you this, but . . .” – and the other phrases like it – are often preludes for what those in the recovery movement call triangulation – telling someone stories about someone else that they would not say to that person’s face. It’s a cowardly form of indirect communication, and scripture often uses terms to describe it such as talebearing or gossip. Some other terms that we have for this nowadays are spreading rumors, telling stories and backstabbing.

Unfortunately, most people say nothing when they hear this phrase, but they passively let the other person simply go on with whatever it was to say. Early in my first pastorate, I started to develop a habit of interrupting the person and saying as politely, gently and firmly as I could when they came to the “but”: “Please don’t go on any further.” Another way to address this would be to say something like, “Let’s back up. Why don’t you want the other person to know about this?” Or something like, “This sounds like something that that person really needs to hear from someone. Do you realize that you’re not doing yourself or that person any good by not telling him or her the truth in love?”

I only know of one person that was really offended by this approach, and she went on to make me one of the targets of her gossip afterwards. But that was a risk that I was willing to take. You see, I had come across Psalm 101:5 not long before: “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off  . . .”

I think that many times our passivity in these situations is more a result of our reluctance to avoid confronting evil when we see it. Very often we would rather want others to see us as an open minded, hip, up to date, nice guy Christian than to come across in the least ways as judgmental. But I can’t see Jesus sitting by passively in the face of slander. Rather, he would be the complete and utter fulfillment of the motivation that David gave for his planned reaction to attempted slander: “I will walk within my house with a perfect (or upright) heart.” (Psalm 101:2).

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Counterfeit Perceptions of Others

In my previous post, I wrote of Counterfeit Self Esteem and the Demonic Stronghold of Pride, in which I mentioned how pride itself may be a kind of demonically induced stronghold in the life of a professed believer. I related a passage from the classic work on spiritual warfare by Jessie Penn Lewis and Evan Roberts, War on the Saints. There is a later passage, in the same chapter (Chapter VI, Counterfeits of the Divine) under the heading The Counterfeit Personation of Others. There are two specific ways that they describe that this works out. The second one is one which appeals to a romantic infatuation and longing, and I will comment on this one in a later post if God permits. The one which I will mention now is specifically the work of Satan as accuser (Revelation 12:10) and liar (John 8:44).

This passage again gives the impression that it is the result of dealing with fellow believers who have been delivered out of the deceptions of the enemy. They speak of how other, often fellow believers, are represented to the deceived as being quite different than what they are in truth, of being jealous, angry, critical, unkind or selfish when they are really manifesting the opposite characteristics of Christlike love. They tell of how the deceptions twist the blameless motives of others to appear to be wicked, that simple actions with no hint of duplicity are taken to be the opposite, and simple, innocent words and actions are taken to have meanings and malice which are far from the intentions of the others.

There is one time when I was very definitely being slandered by some professed believers, and while requesting prayer for the situation with some fellow pastors, one pastor told me that he felt that this was an attack of Satan. I believe that he was right then, and that these counterfeit perceptions of others are at the root of many slanderous attacks and malicious gossip in our churches. It’s even possible that there may at times be counterfeit supernatural experiences and false revelations about others. I’ve seen this corroborated in the works of Neil Anderson as well. Unfortunately, this may also be accompanied by a demonically induced pride as well, so that the source of the lies and accusations about others is himself or herself superhumanly stubborn in his or her assertions, even when they have been consistently shown to be at odds with the truth.

Many times Misunderstandings and Misperceptions will come from the ignorance and fallibility of fallen human nature itself. Even so, where the pattern is persistent, stubborn and consistently false and accusatory, the indication is that there is a demonic element involved. The way to victory in these cases is always to live in the truth of the scriptures, and in the truth of actual circumstances (what actually was said and done without any kind of embellishment or interpretation). Even more, the believer needs to seek that the teaching and guidance of God, and submit to his will for ‘truth in the inner parts’ (Psalm 51:6). And this is precisely why those in the body of Christ must be allowed to be told and to answer fully all accusations of sin and disobedience and any other kinds of insinuations that come from other believers, because to do otherwise is to permit Satan access to a fellowship as accuser and liar to discredit and alienate brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Rebuild the Bridges

Malicious gossip and backbiting are the weapon of choice for many professed believers in the modern church. Sometimes it seems like a person can hardly spend any time in a church today without becoming a recipient of malicious gossip or backbiting about another person at one time or another. This distorted, unfair and often untrue view of another person not only damages that person’s reputation and fellowship within the church, but it often taints and pollutes previously beneficial relationships among the believers. When this happens, and it becomes clear that a lie has been told and accepted, there is the need to rebuild the bridges. Unfortunately, genuinely conscientious believers are often not very good at doing this. Here are some ways to rebuild the bridges to someone who has been hurt by rumor and gossip within a church.

Understand that accepting and participating in a campaign of malicious gossip definitely puts you in a place of spiritual danger.

Here are the ways in which it is dangerous:

  • It gives Satan, the Father of lies, access to one’s heart through believing a lie, and not holding to the truth (John 6:44, II Thessalonians 2:10-11).
  • It means that the professed believer in Christ is now doing the work of Satan in being an ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Revelation 12:10).
  • It is an action not of Christlike love but of hate, and means that the professed believer is living under deception, with a internal stumbling block (I John 2:9-11).
  • It is an action for which each participant will give account personally to Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:10).
  • It is SIN, and distances you from God (I John 1:8, 10).
  • It pollutes the unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3).

 

This participation can in fact become a spiritual stronghold of demonic influence in the life of both the original perpetrator and each one who receives the same lies.

Repent Before God of Accepting Evil Words Without Question or Contradiction.

The first task is to get one’s own heart right before God. Rebuilding the bridges is not something to be approached with one’s own wisdom, power and compassion. Rather, it calls for the exhibition of the Christlike fruit of the Spirit, and this calls for humbling oneself before God before anything else. Understand also that scripture holds the recipient of gossip as being as wicked and deceptive as the person who spreads it: “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). It calls for confession before God of this sin of listening to evil words and receiving, believing and often passing on to others a lie.

Pray for Restoration to Christlike Love Through the Holy Spirit

Pray that God will give a forgiving heart for the other person. Whether you are certain of a merciful reception on or, have the moral courage to seek forgiveness by yourself even if no other participant comes forward.

Pray for Wisdom for Restoration

“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city . . . “ (Proverbs 18:19). Scripture rightly describes the offended brother as someone who has his heart barred and shut against easy reconciliation. Understand that there is no glib pat answer that will heal and restore this situation. Wisdom from God is necessary to know how to approach this situation. Take hold of his promise to provide wisdom for the asking (James 1:5).

Take Personal Responsibility to Restore the Relationship

Dash any thoughts of trying to preserve your own reputation, since that is not is what is at stake. Rather the issue is living with integrity before God and man, and the goal is to make the reputation reflect real and not counterfeit integrity. Rather make your goal to follow Christlike love according to I Corinthians 13, and take personal responsibility to restore the relationship.

Initiate a process of spiritual discipline of the person who instigated the campaign of malicious gossip, if this has not already begun.

This may call for more spiritual courage and fortitude than you might normally exercise. The initiator of these campaigns often turns to tactics of either fear and intimidation, or feigned victimhood, or vicious and lying counterattacks when exposed and confronted. Nevertheless, the fear of man must not be what guides the believer here, but the commitment to follow the will of God according to the scriptures. Here are the basic principles of scripture to guide this process.

  • Recognize that according to the scriptures, the person sponsoring the campaign of malicious gossip has the real spiritual problem.“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” . . . (Proverbs 16:28).

 

  • Follow the scriptural pattern of Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1 in partnership with the scripturally designated leaders of your church — those who fulfill the scriptural qualifications of elders and who have accepted the spiritual responsibilities of eldership.

 

  • Recognize that the goal of spiritual discipline is the restoration of the wayward believer to a closer, more obedient walk with God (James 5:19-20).

 

Offer simple, gentle expressions of regret, remorse or compassion

One of the worst things to do is to offer exaggerated expressions of regret, remorse or compassion for the brother or sister who has been wounded by rumor and gossip. This may not even be verbal, but an exaggerated concern, and often this seems to be more from a desire to preserve a reputation than to heal a wounded relationship and a wounded brother or sister. Sometimes, the reaction can almost be a kind of ‘love bombing.’ Unfortunately, overly nice seems very insincere and untrustworthy to a wounded brother or sister. Moreover, false and unfulfilled promises of making it up are do not actually heal the relationship. Gently offer the simplest apologies without excuses.

Encourage the Wounded Brother or Sister According to the Truth

If the wounded brother or sister is aware of what has been said, take care to contradict the lies, the false and exaggerated gossip and backbiting you have heard. But do it with grace and encouragement — otherwise this could be simply the source of deeper wounding.

Never minimize the reality of the sin or of the pain of the target. Never attempt to talk the wounded brother or sister out of his or her pain at the smear campaign which has erupted against him or her. There is no persuasion which can ever deny the reality of this kind of pain. Never deny that gossip is not ultimately malicious or destructive, or claim that you had ‘good intentions.’ Rather, genuinely good intentions would have resulted in more Christlike conduct, and not attempts to squirm out of having been caught in a lie.

Take the Lessons Forward in Your Own Life

Any fall or failure in the Christian life is a lesson to be learned for the future in following Christ. The first lesson to be taken forward is a fresh recognition of one’s own faults and vulnerabilities. Each sin and mistake is a reminder of the need of the believer to abide in Christ (John 15:1-17) moment by moment. Moreover, it means developing a truly Christlike forgiveness and patience with others. It removes the personal pride that is the basis of the foolish gloating, giddiness and glee over the faults and vulnerabilities of another person.

Another lesson to be taken forward is to become truly a peacemaker among your brothers and sisters in church. This is the opportunity for obedience that was missed through disobedience in listening to and passing on gossip and backbiting! In each of these situations, God has given you a very precious opportunity to show the reality of your relationship to him in this way: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Still one more lesson is to refuse to have anything to do with these kinds of dark plots and sinister campaigns. The Word of God is plain on the correct reaction of the believer: refuse and correct (Ephesians 5:11).

Take care to avoid absorbing the behavior or excuses of the ringleader.

If you were personally close to the person who instigated the gossip, then take responsibility before God for any patterns of behavior that you may have picked up from that person. The tendency is to believe that person’s self presentation and then to pick up the excuses and follow the behavior of that person — but rather there needs to be an understanding that, “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips . . . “ (Proverbs 26:24).

Here are the excuses:

  • The deception to yourself and others of “I/we really had good intentions.”First, this is a denial of the basic sinfulness of the human heart. A professed Christian may attempt to use this to excuse sinful actions, but the apostle John rightly exposed this as self deception and a slander against God for his adjudication of human sin: ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us . . . If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (I John 1:8, 10).

    Claims of good intentions do not whitewash malicious, harmful or negligent actions! The source of the lying tongue is the hateful heart.

    “A lying tongue hates those it hurts . . . “(Proverbs 26:28)

 

  • The deception to yourself and others that, “We were not really serious; it was only a joke.”“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows
    is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” 
    (Proverbs 26:17).

“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor . . .” (Proverbs 10:12).

  • “He/She/They are crazy”The allegation of mental illness by a person eminently unqualified to offer any such diagnosis is often part of the campaign of vicious gossip against someone else. Since being the target of this kind of deception and rejection can lead to great personal heartbreak, the symptoms of the heartbroken victim are often cited by the perpetrators as evidence of the supposed mental illness of the target. The perpetrators are themselves more and more being recognized even by secular psychiatrists as the ones who have the real problem. (See George K. Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, for the groundbreaking work in this field. The evangelical authors of Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, often show some influence from this work.)

 

  • “There’s a grain of truth in what was said.”That ‘grain of truth’ is often so covered with embellishments and fabrications that it ceased to have any value as truth. Moreover, the real significance of any ‘grain of truth’ practically never bears any resemblance to the purported significance. So, the grain of truth does not whitewash the mountain of lies!

Work to establish your church as The Gossip Free Zone

Answer stories about another with these questions — or ask them of yourself before you say anything (based on Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander, Setting Your Church Free):

  1. What is your reason for telling anyone/me this?
  2. Where did I/you get your information?
  3. Have you gone directly to the source?
  4. Have you personally checked out all the facts?
  5. Will you allow yourself to be quoted on this?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.