“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” (Galatians 5:15)
This text touches a very grievous evil that exists amongst the children of God. What we refer to is making disparaging remarks about another behind his back, or even worse, giving ear to reports which we allow to affect our conduct towards another. How often this is the case! How often one Christian has not been able to account for the coldness and reserve displayed towards him or her. Some time ago a Christian became painfully aware that those who formerly had been on friendly terms were holding aloof altogether, or only extending to her the barest recognition. She could not understand why. No reason was given. At last the situation became so painful that it was spoken about. This led to an investigation of the whole matter. It revealed the fact that false reports had been spread and accepted, and those who had received them had allowed their minds to become evil affected towards the one implicated.
Now it cannot be too strongly stated that such a condition of things is not only altogether unworthy of the Church of God, but positively sinful. I have no right to allow my mind to be prejudiced against another, or my conduct towards another in the slightest degree influenced by what I hear, until I have given the individual concerned the opportunity of being heard. This is according to a divine law. “Doth our law judge any man” said Nicodemus, “before it hear him, and know what he doeth?“ And yet how often we have broken this law. We have listened to accusations or unfavorable reports, and we have sat in judgement and passed sentence without ever going to the person concerned. But it may be replied, “We had it on the authority of one or two we felt we could trust; and does it not say, 'In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established'?” Yes, it does. But in the first place they must be witnesses; and in many cases things are said which cause pain and sorrow, if not irreparable harm, by those who are only expressing their opinion or repeating what they have heard, and who are not witnesses in the true sense at all. ln the second place, even if they are bona fide witnesses, their witness is of no value unless given in the presence of the accused. What judge on the bench would ever think of listening to witnesses however credible in themselves, except in the presence of the party charged with the offence?
It may safely be asserted, then, that we are acting in such a way as to directly infringe a divine law when we allow our minds to be in the smallest degree influenced by what we hear about another. If we have not time to investigate, or are disinclined to approach the individual concerning what has been said about him or her, then we are bound in obedience to God's Word to dismiss the matter entirely from our minds. Otherwise we shall not dwell in God's holy hill; for he who dwells there is one who “backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor” (Ps. 15).
It has been said that -
“Evil is wrought by want of thought
as well as want of heart.”
And no doubt the mischief to which reference is here made often results from want of thought, but it cannot be overlooked that it arises also from want of heart. If we can listen to a report which is in any way detrimental to another, and allow it to affect us, and perhaps pass it on to others, it proves there is a defect in us somewhere. And we believe the defect is not far from the region of the heart. If a disparaging report came to us of one we dearly loved, how we should resent it: If, then, we do not resent it, what does it prove?
Who can tell all the sorrow that has been caused, all the estrangement between brethren, all the aloofness where there should be hearty co-operation, and sometimes lifelong separation, because of backbiting and taking up a reproach against our neighbor? The poet has said that mercy is twice blessed. But backbiting, which knows no mercy, is thrice cursed. It curses him who does it, the one who listens to it, and the person who suffers from it. How differently the Lord Jesus Christ acted! When John sent from prison that message of inquiry, “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” it was no doubt a marked failure. But does the Lord dwell on it to others? Just the opposite. Instead of even pointing it out, he seizes the opportunity to enlarge upon John's greatness, both as a man and a servant. This is the divine way of acting; may it also be ours. It is said that while the Old Testament saints are often referred to in the New Testament, God never mentions one of their failures.
Do we not need to be most careful in the way we repeat things and before we do so ought we not to be quite sure we have the whole of the story? A single incident taken out of its proper setting may often look very questionable, which, if looked at in conjunction with all its attendant circumstances, might call for no remark whatever.
Some of the best and brightest among the saints of God have at one time been the most abused. Even the Lord Himself was a sign which should be spoken against. A well-known servant of the Lord some years ago was in a rather wild part of Scotland, and in need of a night's lodging. On crossing a field he met a lad. He said to him, “Can you tell me if there are any Christians in these parts?” But a vacant stare was the only answer. “Are there any believers about here? “B’l’evers,” said the boy, “what be they?” How to find out, what he wanted to know was a puzzle to the evangelist. At last an idea struck him. “Are there any hypocrites in the place?” he inquired. “Oh yes,” replied the boy; “there is a person living over there; she is reckoned to be the biggest hypocrite hereabout.” The servant of the Lord made his way to the cottage. He found what he wanted. The inmate was a bright and earnest Christian.
God grant that instead of bringing in the grit that causes friction, and annoyance, and pain, we may be occupied in removing it. May we say with Abigail “Let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord.” If David was so much to Abigail that she was prepared to wash the feet of his servants, surely we shall be ready to wash the feet of those who are dear to a greater than David.
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