We need to not only guard our tongues but guard our ears, as well. During these last days, there are things all around us to which a Christian should not be listening. “My ears must be closed to evil. . . . The ears must not be defiled by listening to any gossip that faultfinding ones would have us hear, for I not only cause them to sin in allowing them to talk of others’ faults, but I sin myself in listening to them.” The Upward Look, 237.
Do you want to quit sinning? If it is a sin to listen to gossip and faultfinding, it is a sin to allow someone to tell it to us. We need to say to them, “I am sorry; you will have to stop talking. I cannot listen. You need to talk directly with the person.” “I can prevent much evil speaking in thus having ears consecrated to God. I can say before the evil is done, ‘Let us pray,’ then ask God to enlighten both our minds to understand our true relation to one another and our true relation to God.” Ibid.
As I have been studying this subject, I realize that if I could put this principle into strict practice, it could really decrease my workload! People call me from all over the world, wanting to tell me about someone else’s wrongs. I have decided that I do not need to listen to such things. These people need to go directly to the person about whom they are talking. Ellen White has told us that as long as we are in this world, there will always be something we can criticize. Did you know that? (See Review and Herald, February 16, 1897.) Things are never going to be perfect in this world.
Someone may think that what I am saying seems to be teaching the Pollyanna attitude, and in historic Adventism, we have never held to this teaching. We have always believed that we need to speak out and speak up when there is sin in the camp. Well, there is a godly way to speak out, and there is a saw-tan [Satan] way to do it. The godly way is to go directly to whomever you know is doing something wrong, talk to them in the meekness and tenderness of Christ, and see if you can help them bring their life into harmony with inspired writings.
If you cannot do this, let them go. If they are living in open sin, and you have gone to them two times, according to Matthew 18, it will be necessary to take their situation to the church for action. If the church will not act, and they allow someone with open sin to stay in that church, then you will have to get out of that church if you want to go to heaven.
When we say that we should not find fault, we are not talking about having a Pollyanna attitude and just letting anything go. This was not Jesus’ instruction. This was not Ellen White’s instruction. In the Review and Herald, July 20, 1905, Mrs. White wrote: “Because we are not to find fault, this does not mean that we are to pass by things that are wrong, without saying a word. If you see one doing wrong, go right to him, and tell him his fault in the way outlined in the Scriptures. In the meekness of Christ tell him the truth, and you may save his soul from death. But if you gloss over the mistakes, leaving those who have made them to think that they have done nothing wrong, you must share in the punishment, because you were unfaithful to your trust.”
So, we are to go directly to the person. We are not to go to someone else and tear down another’s reputation. In fact, Ellen White said that we are never to tear down the reputation. “Many are filled with self-importance and esteem themselves above their brethren. Such should let self die; let the carnal mind be crucified. If you have enmity, suspicion, envy, and jealousy in your hearts, you have a work to do to make these things right. Confess your sins; come into harmony with your brethren. Speak well of them. Throw out no unfavorable hints, no suggestions that will awaken distrust in the minds of others. Guard their reputation as sacredly as you would have them guard yours; love them as you would be loved of Jesus. Work for their interest, instead of seeking to tear them down that you may build yourself upon their ruins. It is Satan’s work to injure the brethren, and he loves to have you help him in it. But disappoint him; do not let him triumph over you.” Ibid., April 29, 1884.
“Do not accuse your brethren. Rather accuse yourselves. An untold amount of mischief is done by words of faultfinding and slander. Never tear down the reputation of a fellow being.” Ibid., November 10, 1910. What could happen in our churches if everyone, waiting for the return of the Lord, would say, “By the grace of God, I am never, ever going to tear down anyone’s reputation again”?
Disfellowshipping Sometimes Necessary
If a person is a faultfinder and they have been reproved for it but will not listen, they are to be disfellowshipped. Not only are they to be disfellowshipped but those who sympathize with them are also to be disfellowshipped.
“There are those members who are busybodies, speaking evil, sowing the seeds of doubt and infidelity, who pay no heed to the light God has given them in His Word. If we have but one church member who by his spirit, words, and influence seeks to counterwork the influence of the minister of Christ, labor with that one faithfully; and if after taking the steps required by Christ, he will not hear, will not change his course of action, then separate him from the church, and let him know the reason why the church cannot hold him in her fellowship. And if there are those who sympathize with him, who will not discern the right from the wrong, who, after patient instruction has been given them, choose to keep on the wrong side, let them also be suspended. God’s name must not be dishonored by murmurers, faultfinders, and those who are continually sowing seeds of disaffection.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 15, 163, 164.
Do you realize, friends, that what we are talking about right now is the very thing that kept the children of Israel in the wilderness for forty years? Of course, we have been in the wilderness for over 150 years.
Jesus has given us an example: “When Christ was living on this earth, how surprised would have been His associates, if, after becoming acquainted with Him, they had heard Him utter one word of impatience, one word of accusation or of faultfinding!” The Paulson Collection of Ellen G. White Letters, 16. His associates would have been shocked if they had ever heard Jesus say anything like that. Oh friend, if you could get a hold of this and if your church could get a hold of it, your church would not only be saved from destruction but it could prosper. People could be brought into your church, and the lambs of the fold, the people who are lost, would not be afraid to come into your church, because it would be a safe place. It would not be a place where people are tearing each other down and destroying each other’s reputations by faultfinding and gossip. It would be a place where people are building up one another. Instead of trying to tear people down by telling them their faults, they would be trying to help them to overcome. “He [Christ] expects those who love Him and believe in Him, to represent Him in character.” Ibid.
A Brand Plucked
Zechariah 3:2 says, “And Jehovah said to the saw-tan [the adversary], Jehovah gives a rebuke to you, the saw-tan. Even Jehovah gives a rebuke to you who has chosen this one at Jerusalem. Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
If you are a part of God’s people, you are one of those brands plucked from the fire. The New Testament talks about this. James talks about it in the last few verses of his book. Jude 23 talks about it. Paul talks about it in 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “We have been saved from the coming wrath through Jesus.”
What an awesome, awesome thing to think about. All of us, friends, were absolutely destined to destruction with no way out. We were headed for the fire, all of us, but the Lord said, “I am going to give you a second chance; if it is your desire, I will get you out of the fire.”
In Zechariah 3:3, it says, “And Joshua was clothed in filthy garments; he was standing before the angel.” Joshua was clothed in filthy garments. Friends, this is not just a description of history; this is a prophecy about God’s people at the end of time. It should be something that would motivate us to think very seriously. When the Holy Spirit wrote down in prophecy a description of God’s people in the end of time, He said, “They are clothed in filthy garments.” Filthy garments. Are you clothed in filthy garments? You should know, if you are spending time with the Lord and the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, that this is how you are clothed, because the Scriptures say so.
Friends, no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven with a filthy garment. The filthy garments are representative of the sins and the defective characters of God’s people.
The devil’s accusation is so difficult to meet, because it is true. I have noticed that when any human being is accused of anything, —this is true in the world, and it is true in the church—they immediately try to find some flaw in the accusation, so on a technicality, they can show that the accuser is wrong. That happens in the courts all the time; a technicality brings victory.
But friends, you cannot obtain the victory on a technicality of this charge, because the accusation is true. The devil is a liar, but this time he is telling the truth. “While Jesus is pleading for the subjects of His grace, Satan accuses them before God as transgressors. The great deceiver has sought to lead them into skepticism, to cause them to lose confidence in God, to separate themselves from His love, and to break His law. Now he points to the record of their lives, to the defects of character, the unlikeness to Christ, which has dishonored their Redeemer, to all the sins that he has tempted them to commit, and because of these he claims them as his subjects.” The Great Controversy, 484. The devil knows accurately the sins that he has tempted us to commit; he has a complete record, and he brings it to the Lord and says, “Look here. These are your people!” He has a record. The accusation is true.
What to do?
What are we going to do? As awful as this is, I have been encouraged, as I have studied these issues, because I saw that the Lord is going to give a command to “Take those filthy garments off.” (See Zechariah 3:4.) I do not know what you are doing in your private devotions, but in my private devotions, I am praying that the Lord will bring me to the position in my Christian walk where He can remove the filthy garments from me. I want them off. I want His clean clothing placed on me. (See Verse 5.)
“Who will now put on the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, which is without spot or wrinkle, so that Satan cannot in derision point to their filthy garments? Keep the soul clean and pure. You have no time to gather up the mistakes of others. Attend to your own mistakes, and make the erring ashamed by your kindly, sympathetic interest in them.” The Upward Look, 117.
Take encouragement in the following quotes:
“Satan tries to bring reproach against those who are trying to serve and honor God. He presents them in a questionable light, as those who are clothed with filthy garments. God says, take away the filthy garments. You have no right to put them upon my children. Take them away. My people may have imperfections of character. They may fail in their endeavors; but if they repent, I will forgive them.” Review and Herald, April 30, 1901.
“The robe of Christ’s righteousness is prepared for all those who will exchange their own sinful, filthy garments for the robe Jesus has prepared for them. This garment was furnished at great cost by the Son of God, and he presents it as a free gift to any one, rich or poor, high or low, wise or ignorant, who will exchange his sin-defiled garments for this robe of matchless purity.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 11, 1886.
“There are very many who cling to their filthy garments, which Christ stands ready to remove, choosing the spots and stains of sin rather than the pure robe of Christ’s righteousness. The pure and holy garments are not prepared to be put on by any one after he has entered the gate of the city. All who enter will have on the robe of Christ’s righteousness and the name of God will be seen in their foreheads. This name is the symbol which the apostle saw in vision, and signifies the yielding of the mind to intelligent and loyal obedience to all of God’s commandments. There will be no covering up of sins and faults to hide the deformity of character; no robes will be half washed; but all will be pure and spotless.” Ibid.
“Jesus loves His children, even if they err. They belong to Jesus and we are to treat them as the purchase of the blood of Jesus Christ. Any unreasonable course pursued toward them is written in the books as against Jesus Christ. He keeps His eye upon them, and when they do their best, calling upon God for His help, be assured the service will be accepted, although imperfect. Jesus is perfect. Christ’s righteousness is imputed unto them, and He will say, Take away the filthy garments from him, and clothe him with change of raiment. Jesus makes up for our unavoidable deficiencies.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 184.
Are there unavoidable deficiencies? Evidently. We do not know what the unavoidable deficiencies are of somebody else. That is why we must not judge them nor find fault with them. We do not know! There are some people who have physical deficiencies that they cannot help. We can recognize those things. But there are people who have mental and spiritual deficiencies that they cannot help. Only the Lord knows, so we must not judge them. Now, there is no excuse for open sin, whatever the deficiency is. But Mrs. White says that Jesus makes up for our unavoidable deficiencies.
This is good news! We should be glad there is Somebody that knows! God does not ask us to do something that we cannot do without His help. He says, “Do not worry about the unavoidable deficiencies.” The Lord is going to make up for those, but are we doing our best, and are we asking the Lord to help us?
Zechariah 3:7 says, “Thus said Jehovah of hosts: If in my ways you will walk and if my injunction you will keep, also you will judge my house, and also you will keep my courts.” What does He mean when He says, “If you will keep my injunction”? What is the Lord’s injunction? Ellen White tells us very plainly that it is the Ten Commandments. (See Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 385.) The Ten Commandments is not ten laws. It is one law with ten parts, so it is spoken of in the singular throughout the Bible.
The encouraging thing to me, as I have studied this, is that there is going to be a group of people in the world who are going to have the filthy garments removed, and they are going to have the festal garments placed upon them. They are going to be the people who keep the injunction; they will keep the commandments. Friends, I want to be one of those people.
Jesus told the Jews, “If you do not believe that I am the one, you are going to die in your sins.” John 8:24. Many, many times I have prayed to the Lord asking that He does not let me die in my sins. That is all. If I die in this world, that is all right, but I do not want to die in my sins. If the filthy garments are going to be removed and if the festal garments are going to be put on, it is going to happen in this world—not in heaven.
“After the filthy garments have been removed, the subject changes, showing that this has its application in the future. If the people of God will walk in the ways of the Lord and keep His charge, which is the ten commandments, then the promise is that they shall judge His house and have places to walk among the angels.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 21, 385.
There will be a group of people upon whom the Lord will look and say, “These people have repented. These people are not going any longer in the way of sin.” You see, the Lord cannot take away the filthy garments from most of the people in the world and give them festal garments, because they would get them dirty the first day of wearing them. A woman does not put on her wedding dress and then change the oil in her car. She does not put on the dress until she is going to keep it clean.
The same applies here. The Lord cannot take away our filthy garments and place upon us the festal garments until we are in a condition where we will not get the festal garments filthy. That is the condition, the experience, that I want. Is that the experience you want? If it is, ask the Lord to give it to you.
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life Ministry and pastor of the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.