Read - 2 Corinthians 13v1
Message - Scott Woodburn
When does something become true? When is an issue settled in your head? Come with me to the Ballynahinch branch of B&M. You're standing there one day wondering if you should buy that lamp that is shaped like a unicorn's head when an old friend bumps into you. You both offer greetings and pass a few moments catching up before the real business begins. Your friend has gone through a messy divorce. She doesn't share the whole story but needless to say enough hints are given to suggest that the fault lies entirely with her former husband. You went to school with the man but your friend's comments have left you stunned. What a dirtbag he is! You got him completely wrong! What a fool you have been!
The above story is entirely fictitious but it certainly isn't outside the realms of possibility. Conversations just like it happen every single day and not just in B&M. But let me ask you again, when does something become true? When is an issue settled in your head? Is the word of a friend enough?
Paul is returning to Corinth and unfortunately it looks like he will once again engage in church discipline (v2). Admittedly he hopes that the false apostles will repent, but if not, he certainly won't spare them. How is truth in such a situation to be discerned? Paul writes that "every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses." (v1). This is completely unsurprising. As we have walked through 2 Corinthians we have touched before on the Biblical standard of truth.
Jesus in Matthew 18v16 urges us to take one or two others with us to seek reconciliation with a brother so "that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses." When Paul writes to Timothy he advises "do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses." (1 Timothy 5v19) Indeed the church is portrayed as two witnesses in the book of Revelation (Revelation 11v3) highlighting their truthful witness.
Quickly we see that for the Christian it isn't good enough to believe the words of a friend absolutely and without question. We rapidly discover that when we hear stories or slanderous gossip we should refuse to believe any of it until the truth has been established by witnesses. This doesn't mean that we treat everyone like they are liars. In the story above, your friend's testimony may have been absolutely true, but without sitting down with all parties, without knowing all the facts, without all the information to hand, you just cannot be sure. Therefore you should guard yourself against taking decisions based on incomplete evidence. Like the Russian proverb suggests "trust but verify".
Can you see the damage that unverified stories can have on a church? We believe half truths and outright lies without ever applying the Biblical standard. Our relationships change because we believed untested "truth" about our brother or sister in Christ (Proverbs 16v28). Cliques are built on castles of sand. People are ignored or shunned and they are never given an opportunity to address the stories. This might be how the school playground works, but never the church of Christ.
It has been said that gossip is a respectable sin. We certainly wouldn't tolerate other more "serious" sins but gossip gets a pass. Should this be so? No. Never. Gossip often rots the heart of many fellowships. We know it stinks but we let it pass because there is something incredibly seductive about it. May God forgive us. May He bring restoration to fellowships destroyed by "stories". May He sanctify us so that we demand every charge, every story, every whisper, to be established by the testimony of two or three witness and may we always remember that just as Jesus is the way and the life, He also remains the truth.
Q36 What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification? The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.