God’s Word for You
Proverbs 26:20-21 As wood is to fire
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 15, 2020
20 When the wood runs out the fire stops,
and when no one gossips, a quarrel ends.
21 As charcoal is to embers and as wood is to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
These two proverbs tell the same truth in opposite terms. They do it with the negative example first, the way that 2 John and 3 John teach about the doctrine of fellowship with negative examples first followed by the excellent example of Demetrius (3 John 12).
This proverb and the subject of gossip in general are about the gossip and slanderous talk about secret sins. Those kinds of sins should be left to the individual to repent and to be made right with God. Each and every single person has some secret sins that they would not want the world to know about, that is, as long as they still have a conscience that works, and they haven’t abandoned every shred of morality. If we hear gossip about someone that is a sin they could still repent about and keep secret, we sin against them in a dreadful way if we uncover that sin so that it becomes public. I’m not talking about exposing wrongdoing that needs to be made public, but that must be done in the manner laid out by Christ with Christians (Matthew 18) or in the courts with a judge and the law of the land in other matters. “But,” Luther says, “if we gossip about another in all corners, and stir the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished, as a warning to others. If you were acting for your neighbor’s reformation or from love of the truth, you would not sneak about secretly nor shun the day and the light” (Large Catechism, Eighth Commandment, 281-283).
The subject of gossip might be perfectly true, but if you whisper about someone without their repentance in mind, you have sinned. You have become charcoal to embers that should have been left to cool; you have thrown wood on the fire. Gossip figures into Paul’s lists of sins (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 5:13), and the Scriptures are clear: “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). And we all have committed a sin like this, and whether it was this one or another one, once we’ve broken one, we’re guilty of breaking it all (James 2:10), just as a goat that gets through the fence by breaking just one or two strakes is still outside the whole fence. But Jesus Christ kept the law against gossip perfectly. When he approached someone about their sin, he did it appropriately. If they sinned in public and threatened the salvation of many, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, then he accused them in public with their specific sins (Matthew 23:13-32). If someone was new to the faith, and if everyone did not know about their sin, he approached them in private, such as the sinful woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:16-18). As for our sins, he took them upon himself and suffered the punishment for our sins in our place. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). So while you guard your tongue, rejoice in your Savior. If you feel the itch to say something and to be the center of attention for a moment, let Jesus Christ be your subject: Christ the Lamb of God, Christ crucified, Christ who died for our sins; Christ who is risen again.
Pastor Timothy Smith