"Father forgive them..." - Applying the Gospel to Tattle-Telling...Again

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Father forgive them..."

Applying the Gospel to Tattle-Telling


Working through the tattle-telling issue is an ordinary occurrence in any household who takes godly parenting seriously. It is such a laborious issue to deal with, isn't it? Especially if you have younger children (under 12 years old)...in multiple numbers (like 4 under 12 years old). Tattle-telling is a sin we deal with at least once a day. Thankfully that is a number which is down from previous times when it was multiple times a day.

Perhaps an overview of tattle-telling would be helpful here, and then a word on how to handle it with the gospel.

So we are clear from the outset, a tattle-tale refers to one who tattles, and tattle-telling refers to the act of tattling. There was a rhyme my parents told me when I was young. I remember it with the vivid mental imagery which accompanied it. "Tattle-tale, tattle-tale, hang your britches on a nail. Hang 'em high, hang 'em low. Hang 'em on the picture show."

Tattling was portrayed to me as a very immature thing to do. The sense I think my parents were trying to deliver in that rhyme was how shamefully and embarrassingly immature it was to be a tattle-tale. Tattle-telling was as embarrassing a thing as having your pants removed and strung up a pole in the middle of a movie theatre. The only sure reaction from the audience would be to stand up, look around, and see who was running around without their pants on! The thing is, it didn't occur to me at that age just how many other children would be running around in that condition. And that was good, for it broke in me the tendency to want to run off and tell on everybody because it would make me look foolish.

Nowadays we have different terms, more mature terms by which to refer to this act: snitching and being a 'narc' are the two most common terms. The first term is obvious to all, and the second one was defined for me when I was in the 10th grade and acted as a 'narc' because one of my classmates was boldly enjoying his narcotic substances in the bathroom between classes one day...at a Christian school. This was a no-no...it was not cool. He tried to act cool and act as if we were buds so I wouldn't snitch. But I communicated to him that this was not cool and he needed to get some help. He said he'd beat me up if I told anyone. So I told anyone...I told the principal.

Here's the difference between tattle-telling and not tattle-telling. I wanted my classmate to get some help, but he didn't. His activity was a clear violation of our school policy. In addition, his boldness to do it in front of me meant he'd probably done it boldly in front of others at previous times. This in turn meant that others had not tried to get some help for him but instead were being trained to think it was either cool to do narcotics in the bathroom of a Christian school, or else it cool with them if someone else did it. For me, rules were at stake, and I clearly understood at 16 years old the essence of that rule at that point. It was there to protect. And if the rule was being violated it, other students would be in danger. So I took on the role of 'narc' and reported it. The next day I almost got beat up while dressing out for P.E. and would have been put in the hospital if it weren't for Steve Belew...who already had a bone to pick with this narcotic-enjoying classmate about another issue. Steve jumped in front of this guy's first punch at me, they exchanged blows with each other, and by the end of the day this classmate was kicked out of school and I was spared reconstructive surgery to my face (which may in fact have actually done me some good!).

The lesson here is this: the motivation in telling is telling. In other words, perceiving one's motivation for telling one someone else is 99% of the story they are telling. If they are telling to get someone in trouble, that's sinful. If they are telling to help or protect, that's serving. The tricky part is to be able to tell how much of each is in our depraved hearts at any given time. My tendency is to believe that more often than not, my motivation is probably to want to see someone get what I think is coming to them. So in caution against my heart, I try to pray long and hard before I ever talk about someone else's problems.

Consider some key texts on this matter.

Proverbs 11:13 - "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter" (NASB). Click here for parallel translations. The tattle-tale usually runs his mouth so much that he tells others about things which should be kept secret. This is all too often an occurrence in the local church with adults who seem to talk too much about matters which should be kept private. Adult tattle-tales usually "share" stories or tales disguised a prayer-requests so that they have a legitimate-sounding excuse for sinning. But the one who is trustworthy conceals such matters.

Proverbs 20:19 - "Whoever goes around as a gossip tells secrets. Do not associate with a person whose mouth is always open" (GWT). (Click here for parallel translations.) There is a connection being made here between the tattle-tale and gossip. The two usually go together which is telling about the motivation of the tales this person tells. As one mentor, Lou Priolo, told me once, "gossip is telling something to someone else when neither of you are part of the problem or the solution."

Proverbs 26:22 - "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly" (KJV). (Click here for parallel translations.) When the one who is the subject of the tattle-telling finds out, they are seriously injured spiritually and emotionally. It is very, very painful. The hurt runs extremely deep. You find out who your true friends are in such times. What's interesting is that the other translations use the concept of a "gossiper" or "whisperer" in place of the KJV's word "talebearer." The concept is that this person is always running around with stories or tales to share about others.

Again, the motivation of the tattle-tale is not to help or serve or protect. Instead it is has multiple sources. Perhaps it is to make themselves look important in the eyes of others. That's usually a key motivation for my children. Or perhaps it is to see them get in some sort of trouble, to be censured, to be reprimanded, terminated from their job, etc. This is also a key motivation for my children. Perhaps it is merely because such communication methods are second-nature to them and they can't help themselves. This has to be dealt with seriously. All of these motivations reveal something significant going on in the heart, and if that can be discovered and addressed then the problem of tattle-telling can be repented of. This is the most key factor in dealing with this sin.

So now that we've addressed the fact that the tale-bearer is one who likes to tell other people about the problems of other people, how should this be addressed? In short, the one we have a problem with should be the one we address personally, privately, and primarily. We should address them personally because they are the one we have the problem with. Second, we should deal with them privately and not publicly. Remember, sharing the problem with others is the best way to ensure a massive conflict between you and someone else. Third, we should deal with that person primarily. That is, we must be seeking to keep our focus, only pulling others in to help us if we are unsuccessful at attempting to do it the right way ourselves. All of this is outlined with great clarity by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-18.

Another key text in Matthew which must be joined with the previous one mentioned is Matthew 7:1-5. Staying cautious about the nature of your heart, if you think that there is godly motivation for telling on someone else, be sure that whatever sin or "issue" it is that you are telling about is not one that is common for you. If so, that's a log you've got in your own eye which must be removed first. There are a couple of important perspectives here.

  • On the one hand, that log in your own eye is so big that it iis distorting your view of their sin or "issue". That may be included in the meaning of Jesus' concept of the other person's sin being a speck. Theirs looks like a speck because your problem is so huge. It's tantamount to standing on top of a tall building and looking at how tiny the people are below. It's all about perspective. So assume that yours is probably wrong to begin with.

  • On the other hand, it is hypocritical to talk about someone else's sin when you have the same struggle, so you'll want to ensure that a committed season of repentance has taken place first before discussing or talking about someone else's problems. Hypocrisy is a huge sin, and Paul addresses this seriously in Romans 2:1-4.
Finally, Galatians 6:1 is the last of the key texts dealing with this issue. If you do need to pull others in to help you deal with a problem, are you doing so in order to help and serve them? The sense of the passage is that you are seeing them overcome by sin. So the issue then seems to be centered around sin and not that my son's "big" sister has decided to change her clothes three times that day...or because little sister's big brother looked at her the wrong way. While these are petty issues to be sure, they are big in the eyes of our children. But we must correct their viewpoint and explain that such issues are in fact petty. Jesus wants us to be concerned about sin. That's sin as HE defines it, not as we or our children define it. We must labor with our children to teach them the difference between their personal issues with each other and sin issues. Sometimes the line is more blurred than we'd like it. But many times it's not. And when it is blurry, that's the time to go back to their heart and try to identify their motivation. Is it to help or hurt?

The force of the text in Galatians 6:1 is about serving. It is gently and humbling helping that person get back on the right path, and using other people if necessary. Tattle-telling is not gentle and humble. It is arrogant, fearful, and downright mischevious and insidious at times.

And also in keeping with the text, we ourselves have to follow this text closely when helping our children with tattle-telling so that we are are careful not to be a tattle-tale ourselves. How often do we find ourselves telling our spouse about a sin one of our children committed without the heart motivation to help them? How often do we share that story, and tattle-tell to our spouses because we are angry, hurt, or frustrated by the child's sin? That's just as sinful. Nobody escapes the beaming spotlight of God's Word do they?!!

The title of the post reflects the stage of teaching I am at right now with my own children. It comes from the passage in Luke 23:34 where Jesus prayed on the cross for His heavenly Father to forgive them because the people killing Him had no idea what they were doing. Usually when one child sins against another, they also have no idea what they are doing. But some do. Jesus forgave them all. Even the ones who knew what they were doing, didn't really know what they were doing. They didn't know or believe that He was their promised Messiah. Sure, they didn't believe it. But Jesus' compassion was still reflected in a request that His Father pour out forgiveness on them.

In like manner I've tried to teach our children that when one of their siblings or friends sins against them, the first reaction they should have is to pray what Jesus did. They don't know what they're doing. So they need compassion and forgiveness. What is more, I tell my children that they too would want the same response when they sin against another. No one wants justice. I've never met a single kid who wants justice. They all want to be treated mercifully. So we must train our children to give mercy. And that is an act of God Almighty in their immature and young little hearts and minds. So when I teach them about exercising mercy and forgiveness, I then ask if they feel compassionate towards their sibling or friend. If they so "no" which they almost always do, we then move to the gospel. For the gospel teaches that they cannot feel compassionate and merciful and forgiving toward another unless the love of God is present in their hearts. 1 John 3 is very clear about that. So each offense becomes an opportunity to preach the gospel to the offended one. It's quite a process, isn't it? But one which I believe will yield great fruit because of the God of hope I am preaching to my children.

We must teach our children to meet offense with forgiveness, and not respond to offense with tattle-telling. We must teach them to ask themselves if they also sin in the same way(s) in which they are tattle-telling about. We must teach them to examine their own hearts first to see if telling anything at all would be hypocrisy. We must teach them to examine the motivation and determine if it is in fact to help and serve and protect, or just to hurt someone else or vent frustration and anger. This is so much to teach our children about this subject. Focus on one thing at a time...repeat your instruction about that one thing until they get it or at least comprehend it...and always build a bridge from that instruction to the gospel which is the only message of power and hope that can enable them to respond like Jesus.

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