One day, many years ago, I woke up to the fact that I was encouraging my children to gossip. You might recognize the symptoms:
“Maaah-meee! Ruthie’s not sharing!”
“Maaah-mee! Benny just poked me!”
“Maaah-mee! Suzy’s making faces at me!”
One child would become annoyed with another child. Instead of exercising patience and overlooking small offenses or calmly talking to the person who might be seriously provoking him, he was hurrying to report the wrongdoing (or supposed wrongdoing) to me. I was starting to feel like a referee!
That’s when I realized that I was listening to gossip. My children were not taking the steps they should take to make peace with others. Instead, they were eager to tell me what someone else was doing wrong, usually with the hope that I would discipline the child who had provoked them. I was training my children to be talebearers!
I finally realized I should pray about this problem! (Isn’t it amazing how long it takes to figure that out sometimes?) Of course, God’s Word provided answers. If you’re dealing with talebearers, the following verses may be a help to you, too.
1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (ESV). Our children often need to simply overlook “offenses.” Selfishness and pettiness are often at the root of childish (and adult) grievances. Ask your child if he is being easily provoked. Is he impatient? Is he just thinking about himself while he neglects the needs of the other person?
For the child who has been truly offended, Matthew 18 outlines a clear path:
He should first talk to the person who has offended him.
If the offender does not repent, the offended child should return with one or two witnesses.
If the offender still does not repent, he should discuss the problem with you and rest in your judgment.
Let’s look at these steps in more detail.
Step One: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15, ESV).
If the offense is one that your child cannot overlook, send him back to the offender with instructions to calmly discuss the problem with him. You may need to coach the child, so that he will know what to say. For instance, he might say, with a loving, humble attitude, “Joseph, you shouldn’t hit. God wants us to love each other,” or “Cindy, I would really like it if you would quit poking me. It makes it hard to do what I am doing, and it also makes it hard to patient with you. Do you think you could agree to stop doing that?”
Step Two:“But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses”(Matthew 18:16)
The offender may not respond in a godly way to the child who has gone back to talk to him. If he does not repent, the offended child can carefully bring others into the discussion. It is still not time to get his parents involved. He may take a sibling or friend with him to talk to the offender again. He should not be seeking to simply get others to join his side of the disagreement. His purpose should be to bring the offender to repentance. The sibling or friend may join him in appealing to the offender to admit and forsake his wrongdoing.
Step Three: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17). If the offender does not repent after witnesses have also appealed to him, the offended person is instructed to take his complaint to the church authorities.
If the offender still refuses to repent, this is the time when the offended child should finally come to you, an acting authority in your home. He should quietly explain the situation to you, and you are then called to step in and act as judge and disciplinarian. You will need to carefully listen to both children, and then discipline in a way that reflects God’s justice. (More on that subject another day!)
Teaching our children to obey God’s instructions when faced with their own sins and the sins of others will prepare them for godly relationships for the rest of their lives. They will become better siblings, better spouses, better parents, better friends, and better church members when they learn to deal with offenses in a godly manner.