People talk about people. Especially behind their backs. After all, the tongue is set on fire by hell, and that begs for a few words about gossip.
It's tempting to write gossip off as a high school activity for popular students, isn't it? Maybe you were as surprised like I was after graduating from college. I remember entering my first career job and the social shock that followed: the adult workplace gossips too?
Gossip in the workplace achieves riveting results. It leaves you to the fury of your imagination, wondering what's said about you the moment you make an exit. In my case, I was a pretty easy target in a pretty hostile context: young, inexperienced, and Bible-believing. Of course I wondered.
After all, the human mind wonders. We always want to know what others say about us behind our backs. It is like the closet where honest opinions step out of flattery and into the daylight. What does my boss say about me? What do the other church members say about me? What does my wife say about me? Whose opinion is it, in your life, which worries you behind your back?
Go ahead and take an earnest moment to explore that question.
I wish it weren't true but sadly, the worry of gossip may be amplified in some pastoral contexts. Because pastors have greater exposure to larger crowds, and since we all stumble in many ways, the highly visible pastor is judged with greater strictness (James 3). And then he is, by way of merciless social logic, gossiped about with greater strictness. Pastor, I know you wonder about this from time to time.
Maybe there can be fruit in the wondering.
I once believed that the itch to know what words were spoken behind our backs was a purely wicked fruit. I thought it always had roots that traced back to people pleasing. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe, like most things in a world as complex as this, it’s a mixed bag. Could it be that, in part, our concern about what others say about us has a Christological source? Perhaps it's because we are wired for a better concern- a concern about what Jesus says about us.
It’s jarring to think of Jesus talking about us behind our backs. Isn’t it? Especially while in heav’n He stands, and on earth we’re being gossiped of.
We master in the divinity of Christ and minor in the humanity of Christ. And the thought of Jesus talking behind our backs is so, well, human. If you’re like me, you tend to drift away from the humanity of Jesus. In doing so, sometimes you refer to Jesus as one refers to a natural disaster: simply there to be reckoned with.
Pastors, like our congregations, Jesus does talk about us behind our backs. But unlike our congregations, the truth that Jesus talks about us behind our backs is good news! The Bible calls Jesus our advocate (1 John 2:1). He pleads for us (Romans 8:34).
Conversely, there is also an accuser (Revelation 12:10). You know, a great gossiper and slanderer. And oh, when Satan tempts us to despair and tells us of the guilt within! These two characters, our Advocate and our Accuser, set the stage before the throne of God. It is here where we find the answer to the itch we have: how does Jesus talk about me behind my back?
Again, take an earnest moment to explore that question. If we can answer that question about our spiritual lives, the weight of the answer can be to us an anchor in the middle of gossip in our social lives. It can be to us a theological reality that bends to bless our social lives. Upward let’s look and see Him there.
Satan drags accusations about your life before the throne of the Father. He carries with him a bag of them, the size and weight of eternity, bursting at the seams with both true and false accusations. You’ve heard some of them- accusations about your competence from behind the pulpit. Accusations about your character in conduct. These are the charges that spout from the mouth of Satan, who makes his accusations with a wagging finger pointed at you.
You can hear them in your head. You can hear them in the whispers. You can hear them before the throne.
It is in this moment that Jesus speaks up and talks about us behind our backs. And no, I don’t believe that Jesus flatters us. What's more, I don’t believe that Jesus denies many of the accusations. But he does draw a different conclusion: he says, “Yes, and I made an end to all his sin.” He says, “Yes, but I count his sinful soul free.” And in the middle of this dialogue, guess who the Father believes?
Yes, Jesus talks behind your back, and that’s good news! Can you hear Jesus advocating for you before the throne? His voice is powerful enough to calm the wind and the waves, and gentle enough to lead sheep. His voice is authoritative enough to uphold the universe, and creative enough to command vegetation to sprout. This is the voice with which he speaks of you! A voice powerful enough to raise Lazarus’ body is a voice powerful enough to triumph over Satan’s gossip.
Pastor, can you hear the great High Priestly voice speaking on your behalf? Listen, with gospel ears, to what he says behind your back: “this man is spotless, holy, and righteous." And what's more, behold the strange accomplishment of grace in language: the more we hear his advocacy the more we grow to become what he advocates. As we listen to him, our listening becomes being- we actually become more spotless, holy, and righteous.
Pastor, before the throne of God above we have a strong and perfect plea.
He is a great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for us.
Praise God for gospel scuttlebutt.