The lessons I have learned since Mr. Gore and I left the beautiful and hallowed halls of Southern Seminary and began our work “on the front lines” of the local church are many. At least five.
As time permits, I’ll be sharing many of them – at least four – with you, but there is a recent teaching that is still so fresh on my mind, one that God is still unfolding in my heart and fleshing out in my life. And its good.
It all started when Mr. Gore, or Brother Gore, rather, preached an eye-opening sermon over what the Bible calls “sowing discord among the brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Now I have been sitting in the pew week in and week out for 29 years, listening to sermons, attending conferences, and reading articles, and believe it or not, I had never heard this particular sin expounded upon before. Of course I was very familiar with the phrase “sowing discord” and even employed it often to describe the bad habits of others, but I was completely unaware until that day that I really had no clue what it meant.
We all know and have heard our entire lives that gossip is a sin, that backbiting is a sin, that spreading rumors or lies about another person is a sin, and most of us…well, some of us…okay, three of us…try to keep a lid on in those areas.
But I could look back over the course of many, many years and see how many of my Christian brothers and sisters, myself more than included, had developed the habit of “discussing opinions” about others in the church, making jabby little wisecracks about those who were different from us, and belittling or criticizing the hard work or talents of another, all of them directed toward the brothers and sisters of our fellowship we were supposed to be loving and encouraging the most.
These seemingly innocent discussions (or even simple off-the-cuff statements) were harmless in our minds, and while I think that there is a mean and prideful spirit at the root of them, I don’t think we feel mean or prideful in our hearts as we share them. And that’s why it is so hard to see these conversations as sinful. Therefore when those sermons on taming the tongue come around, we can go down the list, thinking, I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t told lies and I haven’t spent more than 2 minutes discussing old so-and-so, and certainly not in a mean way…I’m good! Meanwhile, those statements we made about how “talkative” this lady is or how we just “don’t love” the type of music that guy chooses to sing in church, or how we love our pastor but really kind of prefer “a more such-and-such” type of preaching, are veritably pouring off of our lips at any given time of day.
You can almost see it, this literal picture of sowing discord…you’re walking along, dropping statements here and opinions there as you live your daily life…a listening ear picks up one of the things you said and starts to think…”You know, that lady is talkative. I’m going to start going out of my way to avoid her.” or “I wish they would just stop letting him sing in church” or “Ever since she mentioned it, I’ve noticed that I like a different style of preaching too…this guy is starting to get on my nerves!” You weren’t really even thinking about what you said and certainly were not trying to hurt anyone, but the damage has been done the minute the statement of discord left your lips and began to spread it way through the fellowship.
As my husband preached that day, I began to slowly understand what sowing discord was and how heinous it is, and by the time I was home cleaning up the lunch dishes, I was undone. For I had been the victim of such talk – we all have! – but even worse, I had been the sower, my big bag of negative seeds leaving a trail of harm and discord down the aisles and hallways of my church.
I confessed my failings in this area to Mr. Gore that week and mentioned some of the brothers and sisters I had sinned against. “Its not that I felt I had bad feelings towards those people,” I said. “I was just…”
“Less than appreciative?” he supplied.
Less than appreciative for the Sunday School teacher who had labored for decades, faithful, but who did things differently than I would do them. Less than appreciative for the person who did for free what our church could not afford. Less than appreciative for the areas of ministry in our church that I did not have an easy and obvious passion for. And less than appreciative for the sister who shared a song that was special to her before the sermon.
Oh! My heart was broken. I began to see each of those hard-working people as myself, doing my best to help the church, offering what I had, and being met not with praise or gratitude or encouragement or even simple love, but criticism. I know how painful that can be – again, we all do – and the prideful and mean spirit that was indeed behind all those years of words, the one that thought it had everything figured out, that thought my ideas and my way of doing everything was best, that thought, deep down, that my talents were more needed and more relevant than everyone else’s…that disgusting spirit met the two-edged sword of God’s word that day and it was brutally and painfully killed. What was left was, for a day, a church member who left the pastoring to the pastor and who set about doing my job – keeping my big ugly mouth shut and cheering on the saints God had placed alongside me in this life.
From that day forward, I began working on my attitude towards anyone that I was less than appreciative of. I began stopping and listening to those people that others said talked too much and found that they had a lot of great things to say. I began enjoying the special music sang during church not because I loved the type of music or even the message of some of the songs, but because I loved the person singing – I would find myself grinning during the most ear-splitting songs and clapping when it was over because I was so proud of my friend for sharing and so grateful to God for bringing them into my life.
All that to say, the results of my repentance have completely transformed my relationships with those in the church.
Negativity, cruelty and criticism have no place in the body of Christ – our commitment and love for one another should cause us to be as true to one another in speech as we are to those we love most. For example, you’d never catch me barbing my husband’s preaching to one of my friends, or making gagging gestures about my Mom’s potluck casserole behind her back…because I love them. I believe in them and I always choose to think the best of them. May it be the same with each and every member of my church, displaying to the world that, different as we are and as little as we might have in common otherwise, the blood of Christ unites us in the most beautiful and lasting way.
We all know that a lesson once learned does not last forever. I know this because another of my huge lessons this year came from our church’s bookclub on John Owen’s amazing book The Mortification of Sin, that teaches of the daily battle of going out and killing the sin that flares up inside of us. Thus it is to be expected that the temptation to sow discord among my brethren is ever lurking, right outside my door. There will come a day, probably tomorrow, when I am again less than appreciative of someone I should love, but I’m praying…