Hearing One Side of a Story

I remember it well. A zealous but naïve follower of Jesus in my mid-20s. That was me.

One of my friends had been part of the church to which I belonged. He had recently moved to another city and joined another group.

He called me on the phone from the other state to unload. He told me how he had been mistreated by this other group. And he singled-out one particular person who was (according to him) the source of his pain.

As I listened to him vent, my blood began to boil. I was angry at this group . . .  and I was angry at the particular person who mistreated my friend.

Some time went by, and I was talking to another friend who knew more about the situation than I did. One thing led to another, and I found myself on the phone with the very person from that other group whom (I had thought) mistreated my friend.

As I listened to this man carefully, my blood began to boil again. But this time, I was angry at my friend. And more, I was angry at myself for drawing a conclusion based on hearing only one side of a story.

Everything became clear. I lovingly confronted my friend and the truth came out. Even though he did his best to deny it, my friend was cornered. He had slanted the entire account to his side. He was posturing himself to get others to regard him as a victim.

To protect his own ego and reputation, he was trying to turn the people he knew against a group of blood-washed, blood-bought, precious followers of Jesus and against one of its members.

But the truth was, my friend had brought a great deal of pain to others in that group, particularly one individual who was very close to him. And he didn’t repent from it (meaning, he didn’t stop oppressing this person nor recognize that what he was doing was very wrong). Instead, he justified it.

He never told me that part of the story.

Was my friend hurt? Yes. But hurt people hurt people if they haven’t tasted the cross. And he created more hurt by the way he handled the situation through gossip and slander.

His rewriting of history made himself look a victim and this other group of believers (as well as one individual who was a part of it) look like a bunch of insensitive boneheads.

My friend had poisoned my view of my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ . . . people I had no real relationship with.

(Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 warn that listening to gossip is like ingesting choice morsels. It gets into one’s bloodstream just like poison does. And once consumed, it’s difficult to get out.)

I was ashamed. Embarrassed, even.

As I felt the egg yolk running down my face, I made a decision. I would never ever nevah evah draw a conclusion after hearing only one side of a story . . . even if that side was told to me by someone I believed I could trust.

I learned from my mistake . . . or should I say, I learned from my sin. For I was guilty of the sin of listening to and embracing gossip and slander. A very serious sin, by the way, because it is so damaging.

I painfully learned that there are always at least two sides to a story. Sometimes there are three sides or more.

And in virtually every case I’ve heard of since (the exceptions are rare), the person who goes around complaining about someone else is the one who is spinning the facts and leaving out key plot-points. Plot-points that often change the entire drama.

Proverbs 18:13 puts it perfectly: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”

Indeed, before I heard the matter from all sides, I concluded, judged, and answered. And the Scripture was fulfilled: I felt foolish and ashamed after I heard the whole story.

Since my mistake, I’ve watched this same scenario play out so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve watched Christians smear their fellow brethren (often in clever and subtle ways) after getting their feelings hurt.

(Years ago, I was stunned to learn what some Christians will do when they get their feelings hurt. I can singe your ears with horror stories. I have often said, “You will know how real your relationship to Jesus really is when someone hurts your feelings. You will either get in the flesh and destroy people; or you will learn Christ and His cross and deal with it in a way that honors Him and extends love and grace to others.)

Throughout the years, I’ve watched Christians engage in gossip and slander, not ever realizing the damage they were doing. Some, in fact, would even preface their tale-bearing with the words, “This isn’t gossip because I experienced it” or “the person who told me this experienced it themselves so it’s not gossip.”

Huh? [Cough].

That’s like saying, “I just slit someone’s throat in cold blood while they were sleeping. But it isn’t murder because . . .”

The flesh is quite skilled at self justification.

I wish every Christian who breathes oxygen would read Jon Zens’ superb article on gossip and evil speaking. It’s the best thing I’ve come across on the subject. A needed word to every follower of Jesus.

If I had read it when I got that phone call from my friend years ago, I am fairly confident that I would have reacted differently. The fact is, my friend (whom I loved and still love) had no business coming to me with his issue.

He was operating in the flesh when he did, but it was subtly clothed in religious garb. And I was too biased to see it.

Once hearing what he started to say, I should have gone straight to the people he was talking about with an open heart and hear their side, believing the best. For love “thinks no evil” of others (1 Corinthians 13:5, KJV).

In short, I would have wanted this precise reaction if someone were talking about me in the same way to another person in my absence. We all would.

May God give all of us grace and mercy to live out the spirit of Proverbs 18:13 (to hear a matter from all sides before concluding and answering) . . . which is the spirit of our Lord, the One who indwells every true child of God.

Related:

Misrepresentations

So You Think You Disagree?

We Have Not So Learned Jesus Christ

An Important Insight from President Obama

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

Forgotten Words of Jesus

Legalism, License, Liberty, and Lordship

Christians Are . . .

Anyway

Have You Heard?

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Comments

  1. Terrie Coleman says

    Some people think that if it’s “true”, it’s not “gossip”. That is not true. Even if it is true, it is still gossip. And even if it is “true”, it is very likely not the whole truth, only one person’s version of it. I’ve seen it ruin companies, families and churches. It is poison, and God hates it. Please don’t do that.

  2. CatherineS says

    The group I’m a part of and I have recently gone through something very similar to what you describe in your post. It’s been particularly difficult since we live in a small community and everyone knows everyone else, especially within the Christian community. The rewritten story and the bad light in which we’ve been portrayed hurts. I played a part in similar situations when I was younger, and I’m ashamed of the hurt and division I caused.

    I was recently reflecting on the fact that the only real love I have for others is Christ in me, and the Lord brought the well-known “Love is patient…” verses in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 to mind in this way:

    Christ in us is patient, Christ in us is kind. Christ in us does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. Christ in us does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. Christ in us does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Christ in us always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    That seems to be in a nutshell what you’re saying here and Jon says in his article on gossip and slander.

  3. says

    An excellent piece, Frank, and a good reminder. Thanks for your honesty. You’re definitely not the only one who’s listened to one side of a story, formed opinions, and then found out that the conclusions were skewed. I’ve done that so often, one would think I’d’ve learned by now! Sadly, these situations usually involve members of my family — either my biological family or my church family. Sometimes, it feels like the closer we are, the worse the gossip…when it should be the other way around!

  4. Shannon says

    I LOVE Jon Zens’s article! It really helped my husband and I when we are in a tough situation. Looking back on it what Jesus taught is so simple. Why do Christians ignore it and make up their own rules instead? Thank you for this post Frank.

  5. Ashley says

    Ditto Jennifer. I just read Jon’s awesome article. I loved how he showed how to deal with a person who doesn’t stop sinning against another person by actually doing what Jesus said to do about it. Why do Christians ignore what Jesus plainly taught about this? They ignore going to the person privately, then taking two or more in private but skip right to telling the church or other people. My husband and I were deeply hurt by some people who didn’t do it the way Jesus said at one of the church’s we attended. I’m sure they would have hated it if we did the same thing to them. Gossip is a horrible thing.

  6. nancy says

    So then there is no help for any imperfect person who experiences evil from another person(people) and tells the truth about it because it is gossip? Where is God’s love in that?

    • says

      Nancy: I’m afraid you missed the whole point of the post. Read Jon Zens’ article about what gossip and IS and ISN’T – there were two links to it on the post itself. Jon clearly discusses what the Scriptures say should be done when a person is oppressing or hurting another individual. If such issues are dealt with the way Jesus taught us to handle them, there would be no gossip or slander.

      • Jennifer Bond says

        Frank, thanks for writing about this subject. I read Jon’s essay on gossip and it was great. I’m 32 and many of my friends don’t want to have anything to do with Christians because of the way Christians treat each other, all the tearing down of each other. I have been taught wrong on this subject and by reading some of the comments others have also. I’m one of those you would call beyond evangelical because of this subject. Thanks for being a voice of truth and clarity and keep educating.

  7. Josh L says

    Wonderful post, Frank! I especially liked this part:

    “You will know how real your relationship to Jesus really is when someone hurts your feelings. You will either get in the flesh and destroy people; or you will learn Christ and His cross and deal with it in a way that honors Him and extends love and grace to others.”

    This has proven true in my experience as well. Thanks for casting light on this issue with your article.

  8. Angela says

    Frank, Jon’s article is superb, but this might be even better because it’s personal. Thank you for writing it, and thank you for harping on the gossip issue and the ‘imputing bad motives to others’ so much because it is a HUGE problem in the church.

    Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. –maybe one of the most important pieces of practical advice for Body life ever. I think going around complaining about how rotten someone was to you is the opposite of forgiving.

  9. Ant Writes says

    I was one of those people. I felt perfectly justified in defending my honor to someone who understood. Yet, of course if I told the “complete” story, I wouldn’t have felt any better.;) When I transfered to another church (I had left one Asst Pastor position to another church) I had to tell my friends at my original church how backwards and different the new church was. Of course, I had to talk to my fellow pastors who would understand me!

    It didn’t take long for me to realize that my preconceived notions (and prejudices) were wrong. They did nothing wrong. I was the one who was wrong.

    For some reason I have the tendency to have knee jerk reactions.

  10. says

    Thanks Frank, for addressing something as crucial as this. I once read that the Pentateuch’s “eye for eye” principle was not intended as a justification for taking revenge, but as a restriction to prevent the inevitable force escalation that accompanies it. Hurt people tend to take two eyes for an eye, hence the law’s prohibition. Gossip does the same. It dramatizes facts to ensure that the offense is properly understood, and so quickly and inevitably becomes a vicious false testimony. I found Dan Gilbert’s article He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t a shocking eye-opener in this regard, and also Travis & Aronson’s book on the psychology of self-justification: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).

  11. Max Allen says

    A very timely and potentially healing word for us. The great hurts in my life came not from those I had wronged, but those who took up another’s offense. Passing our hurt(s) seems to have a multiplier effect that spreads the damage more than the original offense.

    Nursing our hurts (resentments) is perhaps the singular way we expose ourselves to our defeated enemy Satan. I spend 75% of my face to face counseling ministry encouraging clients to honestly look at why they are holding on to their anger. We all know resentments hurt us but just letting go of the offense by prayer often doesn’t address the true issue. The “true issue” will be related to whatever God is trying to help us with by allowing the offense in the first place. Our resolution will come as we are open to seeing His hand in all our circumstances.

    • says

      “The “true issue” will be related to whatever God is trying to help us with by allowing the offense in the first place.”

      Very, very true. Thanks.

  12. says

    Excellent post. It’s amazing how fast something like this can spread and divide a church. Your post actually reminds me a lot of myself in my mid 20’s. I was a new believer and very zealous- because of my zeal and love for the Lord a lot of people listened to me. The problem was, I shouldn’t have always been speaking! Like it says in James, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” How true!

  13. Gayla says

    A wise man I knew used to say, “There are two sides to every pancake, no matter how thin you fry them”. That quote often comes to mind when I am hearing or sharing an account of events now.

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