Our sermon series in Acts brought us this week to Acts 21:17-36. (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN) In this passage, we have Paul entering Jerusalem for the final time, despite many warnings by prophets and friends alike. Many potential dangers awaited him there and I’m sure he was not ignorant to this himself – with or without the warnings from others. But he was compelled by the Spirit…so he felt no choice in the matter.
Immediately Paul would be confronted with the idea that rumors were being spread about him widely that he was teaching believing Jews to lay aside their customs and the law altogether. This simply wasn’t true! But as is commonly the case, the gossip is more interesting than the truth so they perpetuated the falsehood and had the whole area in a frenzy of animosity against Paul.
Most of us probably don’t have enough appreciation for just how dangerous we can be with our words. James 3 tells us that though the tongue is just a small part of our being, the power contained in it to wreak havoc is far greater than we might think! The metaphor used by James is a forest fire. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
(James 3:5). He continues “The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6).
The lies told about Paul would have devastating consequences. Paul nowhere attempted to limit others “Jewishness” nor did he look to do so himself! In fact, he would boast to the Philippians that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was zealous for the law – a Pharisee! But the truth didn’t get much of a hearing in this case. Paul would be arrested and the series of events that would follow would eventually lead to his death. How large a fire was set ablaze by a handful of falsehoods!
LITTLE LIES START BIG FIRES!
We wanted to learn what we could from this situation so in making application for our church this week I drew three conclusions from the text that I expanded upon on Sunday. These three conclusions were as follows:
- In this life, you WILL be lied about!
- As followers of Jesus, we MUST be on guard against doing so ourselves.
- (Because) Lies can have LASTING and sometimes IRREVERSIBLE consequences!
- In this life, you WILL be lied about! We shouldn’t even be surprised when this happens. We are sojourners in a land that is not our own! (1 Peter 2:11-12). We just want to make sure that when someone speaks ill of us, they have to lie in order to do so! We need to live this life beyond reproach in order to silence those who would seek to criticize us! (1 Pet. 2:15). But that by no means suggests that we will NOT be lied about – we will. Not only will the world lie about us, but we will be lied about by our own fellow believers! This is actually what happened to Paul. It was BELIEVING Jews in view when Paul’s friends warned him that lies were being spread about him. This is why it is absolutely vital for us to be on guard against acting this way ourselves. We are not immune to it!
- Be on guard against lying (and spreading lies) yourself. As followers of Jesus, the world is looking to us – not for an example of how to live but for reasons not to join us. We don’t want to give them any. We want to be an attractive group that makes people want to join us! But how can that be the case if they observe in us the same tendency they already see in the world – to gossip and to spread false witness about others. Sometimes we are tempted to take solace in the fact that the gossip we are spreading isn’t untrue. We style ourselves just “concerned” about the truth when really we are just eager to hear or share the latest gossip. The Bible has MUCH to say on both these issues. And trust me, neither one is okay! Be on guard that you don’t get involved in spreading false witness OR in being a gossip or busybody.
- The effects can be devastating and irreversible. We used the example of a man named James Arminius to set the stage for our entire message. Arminius was a Christian theologian in the 16th century. He had some disagreements with some locals who were all pretty aligned on a particular doctrine and the man was unfairly bullied by the majority – his character maligned and his reputation forever tarnished. He was compared to early church heretics for holding beliefs only slightly different from his detractors. And to this day, if people know the name of Arminius at all, it conjures up feelings of negativity. The real downside to this story is that the accusations simply weren’t true and no proof was ever brought to bear on the proceedings. To this day, his name is mud in many theological circles. They already had the conclusion they liked, why bother with the facts?! Similar things played out with Paul. A false assumption was made, believed, spread, repeated. Paul was arrested and eventually executed at the end of the series of events begun by these false assumptions. We must realize how devastating it can be to a person’s character and reputation – even their very lives – so spread slanderous things about them.
Someone once said “we are a master of our unspoken words and a slave to the ones we should not have said.” (Churchill?) We should be much more prudent and selective in the ones we let slip out of our mouths. We wouldn’t want the gossip spread about us! So in keeping with the golden rule, let’s not be guilty of doing so to others! You never know the harm you can do by simply repeating something you’ve heard about someone. After all, a forest is set ablaze by what starts as a very small fire.