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Taking Responsibility for Our Heart

Taking Responsibility for Our Heart

In its purest sense, the Christian Church is a close-knit community of small fellowships.

The early Church met in homes or in the open air. Believers were often rejected from their families and severely persecuted by religious and secular societies, and thousands of them died as martyrs. These Believers depended on each other for fellowship, support, and encouragement in following Jesus. Their love and commitment for one another was very precious to them.

In societies today, where Christianity is a small minority, we can still see what the early Church looked like because they still meet in homes or in the open air. They still suffer the same way from persecution and martyrdom. But, they still love each other the same way. For lonely, suffering believers, the church is still the place of joy, love, comfort, acceptance, and family. They depend on each other for their livelihood, love, support, security, and future.

However, even in the strongest churches and among the most devoted believers, divisions can arise. Such was the case in the church at Philippi.

Paul writes to them:

Philippians 4:2-3
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

These two women were strong believers and had shared Paul's struggle for the Gospel, but something happened between them that affected their love for each other, and that disrupted the unity of the church. It was so serious, Paul asked the elder of the church to mediate.

Paul didn't say what their problem was, but Paul pleaded with them to agree in the Lord. Paul urges the two women in Philippi—and us—to live in harmony with each other.

We can easily see what is wrong with another person. However, unity and harmony will not happen unless we take responsibility for our own hearts. Our heart is our soul—our mind, will, and emotions.

The world is full of darkness. We cannot stop unbelievers from misinterpreting the Good News of Jesus Christ and creating problems and confusion for the work of God. However, the crisis we face is not the darkness out there; it's the darkness inside the church—the things that divide believers, and destroy their love for one another and the unity among God's people.

Here are just a few common heart problems:

  • complaints about new ideas or changes to the way we prefer to do things
  • a desire to have control over something in the church
  • jealousy of a brother's or sister's position or gift
  • disappointment because someone received recognition and we didn't
  • blaming others for our own failures
  • resentment of correction or well-meaning counsel
  • judging others sins as more serious than our own.

All of these things in our heart are exposed by our mouth. We complain, gripe, curse, and speak negatively about someone. Or we listen to and believe the negative reports from others.

Luke 6:45
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

The mouth reveals what is already in the heart. We must take responsibility for what is in our heart and humble ourselves, asking the Lord to cleanse our heart and conform it to His heart.

Unless we walk in humility like Jesus, we will never be able to rejoice when others are blessed or recognized. We will also never take responsibility for our own failures. And we will not benefit from any correction or counsel, even if it were given by Jesus Himself!

Unless we love others with Christ's sacrificial love, we will never stop telling bad reports and passing on negative information about others. All of this stuff in our hearts could give me sermon topics for a long time, but let’s focus on slander today.

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Slander or gossip in the church often begins by saying, “We need to pray for ___,” and we tell all the negative details without ever praying. It's not just a "little sin" as some of us like to rationalize. Here is what God thinks about slander or gossip:

Psalm 101:4-6
Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

For gossip to survive, it has to be repeated.

Nevertheless, gossip affects us even if we don’t repeat it. Hearing it causes it to enter our heart, affecting how we treat someone who is the subject of gossip. It separates close relationships. The person who is unknowingly the subject of gossip wonders why we are not as close as we once were. Gossip also separates us from God and that could be the reason we don’t feel as close to God as we once did.

Col 3:6-10
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

You need not lie to be guilty of slander. To speak truthfully about someone’s faults for no beneficial reason is unloving, slanderous, and plain old juicy gossip! Think of all the times you have spoken behind people’s backs about their true faults, but unnecessarily. This is slander or gossip.

Telling the truth for the wrong motive can be even more destructive than telling a lie. In fact, sharing anything about someone, when sharing it is not part of the solution to that person's problem, has no other purpose than to hurt someone or degrade them in other people’s eyes!

After all, what good does it do to tell someone else? What can they do about it? If we start running around talking about this "awful thing" we see in someone's life, and asking others if "they see it too," then we are causing the ones we tell to form judgments and ultimately to sin.

If we really love that person and are concerned about their fault, we will pray for them alone. We can help that brother or sister if we go to them with gentleness and kindness. We may be showing them a real blind spot that the Lord wants desperately to deal with.

We have no right to go to anyone except God and the offender, unless we are really at a loss as to what we should do. Then we need to go for counseling, not to our "most favorite person to talk to."

Much gossip and slander goes on under the guise of "getting counseling." There is nothing wrong with counseling if you are indeed talking to a counselor. A counselor is someone who:

  • is mature in the Lord
  • exhorts you to godliness and reconciliation
  • points out your sin in the situation
  • will not repeat the matter or be stumbled by it
  • and is seeking God's will—first and foremost—not yours.

I'm afraid this leaves out 95 percent of the people we usually run to with the latest problem. If we really need counseling, we should get it. But most of the time when we share with someone, we are not really seeking a solution. We just want a sympathetic ear to agree with our point of view. It seems we don't care how much division we bring, as long as we get people on "our side." We are too selfish to worry about the damage we are causing to those we tell or to those we tell on.

The LORD hates that behavior.

Proverbs 6:16-19
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Many of us believe that "just listening" to gossip is not evil as long as we don’t spread it. This is not so. If people feel comfortable telling you gossip, that indicates a sin in your heart.

Proverbs 17:4
A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.

Gossip injures at least 3 people: the one it is about; the one who tells it; and the one who listens to it. The next time someone starts to share gossip with us, we should gently but firmly say:

  • “Have you talked to this person about this? Would you like me to tell them what you are saying? If not, then don’t tell me about it. You need to discuss it with them.”
  • Another response could be, "I'm sorry, but you're telling me something I really don't think I should be listening to. You need to take this to the Lord, and those involved... not me."

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE TARGET OF GOSSIP

When we find out what has been said about us, our first reaction is shock, anger, and resentment. These are emotions of our heart and we must quickly take responsibility for them.

Like most presidents, Abraham Lincoln was often slandered. He had a favorite riddle he used to reply to his colleagues when he was told of the slander and gossip said about him. He would ask:

“If a man were to call the tail of a dog a leg, how many legs would the dog have?”
“Five”, was the usual reply.
“Wrong,” Lincoln would say with a smile, “The dog still has four legs. Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.”

What people say about you doesn’t make it true. What God says about you is true. Therefore, instead of focusing on what others say about you, focus on what God says about you. Meditate on the Word of God and keep your eyes on Jesus.

Psalm 119:23
Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.

In spite of the pain we feel from being the subject of gossip, don’t focus on it, stew about it, and don’t plot revenge.
Pray for the gossiper and leave it in the Lords’ hands. Unknowingly, they are in league with the devil, the Accuser of the brethren.
Prove the gossiper wrong by acting like Jesus. After all, Jesus was slandered and told us to expect the same treatment.
If we are slandered because of Him, we are blessed and should rejoice and be glad.

Matthew 5:11-12
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We should not be so sensitive and defensive that we cannot tolerate an occasional bad report said about us. We cannot please all the people all the time. If we don’t fuel the fire of the gossip, it will eventually die out. However, if the problem gets bigger, as in the case of Euodia and Syntyche, then after you have taken responsibility for what is in your heart, you need to go that person in love for reconciliation. In severe cases, an elder may have to mediate.

Matthew 5:23-24
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.

So, how do we take responsibility for our own hearts?

We must honestly examine our motives. Why do we say what we say and act the way we act?

Many times we cleverly cover up our secret agendas, resentments, and offenses with a smile and nice words. If we don't deal with our un-Christ like motives, we will not be able to walk in the light with our brothers and sisters. The love we once had for them will become cold, or worse, turn into hatred. This examination of our motives is not a single act. It is a life-long, continuous, examination.

We must watch diligently what we permit to enter our lives through our eyes and ears, and what we entertain in our minds. It will affect our hearts and our walk with God, and easily poison our relationships with our brothers and sisters. We must tell those who come to us with the "latest news" about others: "I don't want to hear it."

For the protection of our own hearts, we must practice what Paul told the Christians in Philippi: 

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Practicing this will automatically filter out the things that destroy the love and unity among God's people. Our love for one another is the greatest testimony of Christ we have in this world. We must be on guard against anything that will harm our love for one another.

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

We are often quick to say, “Oh, I love everyone!” and we end our self-examination. That is not enough. Examine your heart by God’s definition of love!

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Is that how you love everyone?

I dare say, from this definition of love, we need to take responsibility for our own heart. Brothers and sisters, for the sake of a world that is lost and going to Hell, must take responsibility for our own hearts, repent of gossiping or sharing bad reports, forgive one another, and love and accept each other as Jesus loves and accepts us!

There may be people we need to apologize to and bitterness that needs to be confessed and forgiven. Go to God first and get your heart right! He will give you the grace to apologize or forgive and to be reconciled. If you are a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, then this reconciliation is entirely possible once you have taken responsibility for your own heart.

Without Jesus as your Savior and His Spirit abiding in you, you have no power over your tongue, sin, gossip, or the devil. You are a captive of the devil, and he encourages you to sin. He tells you to think of yourself first.

Well, for a moment right now, do think of yourself:

Without Jesus as your Savior, you are on your way to Hell.
It is an easy road of selfishness and self-indulgence, but it will leave you unsatisfied with no lasting love, peace, or joy.
Jesus invites you to follow Him and receive His abundant life.
To make Jesus your Lord and Savior and to receive forgiveness for your sins, believe in Jesus and come forward to confess Jesus as the Son of God and your Lord in front of these friendly witnesses. Repent of your sin, die to your old life in baptism, and receive a new life born of the Holy Spirit.