March 16, 2007 by Stacy McDonald

Sin Grown Up

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“Mommy! Grace got a cookie!” My three-year-old, Emma, announced with chubby arms crossed and indignant lips pursed. “It was really big. You want me to go get her for you?”

Fighting the urge to be amused, I scooped Emma up and headed for the bathroom mirror. There I showed my sweet little tattle-tale her own reflection and the chocolate liberally smeared across her guilty face.

Emma’s eyes widened as she saw her sin exposed. She immediately burst into tears and cried, “Oh Mommy, Grace didn’t mean to do it!” Suddenly, my young daughter was very concerned over how much mercy her sister would receive for her transgression! It’s funny how merciful we become when we realize our own sinfulness and how deserving we are of the same punishment we’ve been hoping for someone else!

Unknown to Emma, Grace had permission to eat the cookie. Emma did not have all the facts. If she would have confronted Grace first, she would have discovered the truth and avoided falling into her own trap. Also, the cookie was not “really big” it was the same size as the others. As is typical with a tattler, Emma was exaggerating, wanting the sin to appear bigger than it actually was.

Our children are given to us to train up in the way they should go. As parents, we must remember that our day to day family life is training ground (practice) for the future. God willing, our children will one day function in their own families, workplaces, and churches. Left unchecked, the sins we see in them today, will be the sins we see in them as adults—only the sins, along with our children, will have “grown up.”

The child who is allowed to enjoy tattling now, will one day be the adult who has developed a habit and taste for gossip—both by spreading it himself and by allowing the “tasty morsels” to enter his own ears—and soul. (Proverbs 11:9, 18:8)

The heart of gossip

We can help our children to examine their hidden motives for tattling. There is always a motive behind sin and it almost always boils down to some form of pride.

Envy: There may be an element of envy involved and the fact that the “sinner” has apparently been caught gives the tattler some sort of bitter satisfaction. One who spreads or listens to gossip is taking sinful delight in the transgressions of another. Many times it may even appear irrelevant whether or not the morsel of gossip is true or proven. Somehow, it makes us feel better about ourselves to learn that someone else slipped up; and the gossip can seem especially delicious if we are secretly envious of that person.

A child who rarely violates the rules may be a “great catch” to those children who seem to always get caught in sin themselves. Children must be taught early that it is wicked to delight in the sins of others and to spread potentially slanderous information; they must remember they will someday give account for every idle word. (Matthew 12:36)

Arrogance: Another motive may be a simple matter of putting someone down in order to make the gossiper look better—arrogant pride. One day one of my children had been disciplined for an offense and her sibling boasted, “Mother, I would never do what so-and-so did.” Instead of receiving the expected praise from me, I said, “Well, at least she’s humble and repentant and not prideful and deceived.” Children should be encouraged to consider their own propensity to sin when the sin of another is exposed. Never allow them the deceptive thrill of feeling better than someone else.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:9-14)

Notice in 1 Peter that being a busybody in other men’s matters is put alongside being a murderer and a thief.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. 1 Peter 4:15

Teach your children to avoid those who gossip as much as they would avoid a murderer and a thief. Too many times the gossiper has an audience because there are others who want to feel less guilty of their own sin. “If she did THAT, then maybe I’m not so bad after all.” Teach your children the danger of associating with those who tattle and gossip (Proverbs 20:19).

Egotism: Many times the gossiper simply enjoys being the center of attention and relishes the status of being the one “in the know.” These types of gossipers like to dig up information and make it their business to “inform” others.” Seldom do they consider or acknowledge their own sinfulness. (Matthew 7:3-5) One who spreads gossip this way usually acts as the judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one!

An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. Proverbs 16:27

This is especially dangerous today with the ease of the Internet. There is no longer a need to physically go from house to house. (1Timothy 5:13) I can gossip comfortably from my own kitchen table. Chat rooms, blogs, email lists, and websites (even those labeled as Christian) can be hotbeds of gossip and slander.

While dinner burns, my children careen out of control, laundry piles up, and reputations are destroyed, my keyboard can smoke! You too can become an expert Internet busybody!

For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies…
2 Thessalonians 3:11

Teach Your Children to be Fire Fighters!

Where no? wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. Proverbs 26:20

Start a contained fire and slowly remove the “fuel” demonstrating to your child how a fire goes out if it is not continuously fed. Also point out how consuming and destructive a fire is. What is left of the wood that was burned? Does it look the same? Can it ever be restored? Show how Scripture compares the tongue to a raging fire. (James 3:5-12)

Biblical Confrontation or Revenge? When dealing with children who have offended one another, try to remember that this is training (practice) for the future. How will they handle disagreements and offenses with those in their lives as adults? Will they complain to others without confronting their brother? They must learn to work things out according to Matthew 18 or they will be prone to bitterness, slander, and gossip.

The New Testament approach to confronting sin and orderly church discipline is found in Matthew, Chapter 18:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. Matthew 18:15-17

Gossip ignores the peace-seeking order of Matthew 18 and, self-ordained, jumps straight to “tell it to the church.” As parents we should point to the order of Matthew 18 to teach our children how to work out fellowship with one another. We should constantly remind our children that the goal of confrontation is to “win our brother,” not to punish him. Doorposts has created a helpful resource for parents in teaching this concept. It is a chart and book set called the Brother-Offended Checklist.

Search me, Oh God!

Teach your children to consider their own sin before confronting sin in another. (Matthew 7:3-5) They must also understand that our hearts are desperately wicked, (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) therefore, we can easily deceive ourselves. Teach them to ask God to search their hearts and reveal to them hidden sins, giving them the ability to repent and properly confront their brother. (Psalm 139:23, 24; 51:10)

Point out that God does not instruct us to simply notice our own plank, but, instead to remove it. Likewise, he does not allow us to leave the speck in our brother’s eye, but to make sure we can see clearly first, before attempting to remove it.

In young children, a confrontation of this sort may need the oversight of a parent. Gently guide them in their confrontation without taking over the situation. The goal is to teach them to handle things biblically without immediately involving others.

Our children must also realize that their unrepentant sin might hinder their credibility in the confrontation. If my little daughter would have confronted her sister of her cookie-stealing, how effective would her reproof have been? One look at Emma’s chocolate smeared mouth and her sister would have burst into laughter, “Who are you to tell me what I should be doing?” Or better yet, maybe she would have heard her mother’s voice saying, “First remove the chocolate from your own face, and you’ll be better able to remove it from your sister’s!
Growing Peace Makers

Tale Bearing

When a child tattles, resist the temptation to listen. Ask your child the following questions:

1. Is any person or property in danger of being harmed? (Explain to your child the difference between tattling, gossiping, and informing you of an imminent disaster!)

2. Does this matter have anything to do with you? If he reported to you a matter that is none of his business, confront him with the sin of gossip.

3. Have you examined your own heart and sin in the matter? This may be difficult if he is angry or emotional. You may need to require him to take five minutes of quiet time to pray and consider the matter.

4. Were you personally offended? If so, have you gone to your brother alone first? If he has been personally offended and has not followed biblical order (including personal examination of sin), send him back to his brother. Remind him that the goal is to seek peace. (Romans 12:18)

Satan would love nothing more than to see us destroy ourselves from within. Gossip, slander, backbiting, envy, unforgiveness, bitterness, and hate—none of these things have any place in the life of a Christian. Yet, every day I hear of another witness being ruined. I learn of reputations being destroyed, marriages being harmed, children being disillusioned, ministries being slandered, churches being split—and I wonder how God must be grieved.

Let us teach our children the difference between confronting sin (with the goal of repentance and restoration) and doing a victory dance when the imperfections of others are revealed. Teach them to grieve over the sin of a sibling, to pray, to confront them biblically, and to rejoice in his repentance. Teach them that gossip spreads like a raging fire, consumes reputations, destroys friendships, and wounds and scars its’ victims forever. Teach them to seek peace and never allow them to hide behind a pious mask of deception, while secretly enjoying the failures of others. Remember that tattlers grow up to be gossipers, and peace makers…well, they grow up to be peace makers.

The above article first appeared in the 2007 issue of Homeschooling Today magazine.

Since many adults were not taught these biblical truths as children, perhaps it would be good to define gossip here. You see, some people don’t understand the differences between slander and gossip; so, they wrongly think that, as long as they are convinced that the uncharitable thing they are saying about someone else is true, they are not gossiping.

However, gossip is sharing negative information about someone else (whether or not we believe it to be true) with those who are neither part of the problem, nor (rightfully) part of the solution. This may come in the form of a “prayer request,” a passing comment, or sometimes even at the request of another person.

I’m not gossiping about Jane; I’m just sharing the truth when people ask. I’m not saying anything I wouldn’t say to Jane’s face. Besides, if people have all the facts (i.e. “my” facts), they will know how to pray.

It doesn’t work that way. You see, when we gossip, our “facts” are skewed to fit our own personal perception; so, in addition to our sure sin of gossip, we also risk bearing false witness by slandering our neighbor. We are not fit to “judge rightly,” which is proven by the fact that we are gossiping in the first place. Gossip is a poisonous fire; it divides brothers and destroys all in its path. Be a firefighter: “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” (Proverbs 26:20)

The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. (Proverbs 10:12)

A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends. (Proverbs 17:9)

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5 Responses to “Sin Grown Up”

  1. Crystal says:

    I appreciate your article, Stacy. But it leaves me with questions. I have struggled with these questions for a while, never coming up with a good answer.

    Let me tell you a few stories before I ask the question.

    A couple of weeks ago a child came running to me yelling, “Mommy, Noah is eating medicine out of the medicine cabinet!” And behold, he was (he was okay).

    Another time, “Mommy, Justice moved the step stool over to the stove and is trying to cook!”

    Or, “Mommy, Samuel is throwing stones up in the air and I don’t think that it is safe.”

    “Mommy, Isaac is pouring his own milk.”

    It has always seemed to me that children do not always have sufficient wisdom to know when there is something that Mom NEEDS to know right now and “tattling.”

    I have never really disciplined my children for tattling simply because I *want* them to tell me if Justice is trying to cook!

    If I tell them not to tattle when Isaac is pouring his own milk (and I told him that he could do so, but they didn’t know that), will they *not* tell me when Noah is doing something dangerous because they will think that they will get in trouble if they tell me?

    Honestly, if one of my kids were into the cookies, I would want to know about it. Maybe they had permission…but maybe they didn’t.

    So how do you teach your children the wisdom to know when they are tattling and when they are wisely informing their mother about something?

    It just has never seemed to me to be worth the risk that they would fear to tell me when something is REALLY dangerous.

    What do you think?

  2. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Crystal,

    I’ve struggled with this as well. It can be a real issue for those of us who have a lot of children, and thus need a lot of eyes to watch them all! :-) But, for me the problem isn’t so much the fact that they’re “informing me”; it’s the order and heart with which they do it.

    Are they obviously taking joy in someone else’s sin or are they honestly concerned about the fact that someone may be doing something harmful? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Sometimes it’s not. We’ve all heard the child-like sing song, “I’m telllllllling!” Also, are they running to me with every little thing someone does, or are they learning to try to handle things biblically themselves?

    When one of our children comes to us with the intention of tattling, and he is obviously calm enough for us to know someone isn’t dying, we ask, “Is anyone or anything in danger?” If the answer is “no” then we go through the rest of the tale bearing questions I listed above.

    The goal is to get them to think through the questions “before” coming to us. We want our children to analyze their motives and learn to use wisdom and discretion. They also need to learn to biblically confront sin in a brother. We don’t want to raise little gossips who are well trained in discussing the sins of others, but not in lovingly confronting others with the purpose of restoring them.

    Our children know that if someone is doing something dangerous they are to ALWAYS tell us and not waste time thinking about the right wording. This is not tattling (though their heart could still be wrong).

    We’ve told the children that if they see a child disobeying our rules they are to remind the child of the fact that what they are doing is wrong and tell them to do the right thing. They need to then give them the chance to do the right thing and confess, rather than telling on them. (Matthew 18)

    For instance, if Abigail sees Caleb sneaking a cookie, she is to remind him that stealing is wrong and hiding it is the same as lying. She can then warn him that if he doesn’t come tell us what he did (confess and repent), she will have to. Ideally, (and according to Matthew 18) she could get a witness, an older brother or sister, to come as a witness to reason with Caleb. If he still refused to admit and confess, then they would need to come to us.

    In a busy school day, all these things do not always work out perfectly. But, if we have these goals in mind, the habits will begin to form. Sometimes it’s not a matter of willful disobedience, but just a training issue. In those cases an older child could correct a younger child with a simple reminder without having to “tell us” every little thing a child does wrong. For example:

    Grace: Mom, Emma has her finger in her nose.

    Mom: Did you remind Emma she shouldn’t be doing that?

    Grace: Emma, you shouldn’t pick your nose. It’s gross and Mommy and Daddy have told you not to do it. You should go wash your hands with soap now.

    Emma then has the chance to do the right thing. If she refuses, then Grace has to move into Matthew 18 where she warns Emma that she is willfully breaking our rules and must confess to Mommy and Daddy what she’s done.

    Does that make sense? We want to train them to think and act biblically, rather than always handling things for them.

  3. Mae W. says:

    Thank you for posting this. As an only child, this is a topic about which I have much uncertainty…presumeably because it was something my parents never had to deal with. It wasn’t like I could tattle on the sheep, lol.

    In school I never understood why tattling would be considered wrong. It wasn’t that I took joy in getting other children in trouble at all…in fact I used to cry if someone else got in trouble. But it seemed to me that the rules were important, and the teacher would surely want to know if they were being violated. Mostly I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to get in trouble for tattling (or beat up for it during recess), but it upset me to see other kids breaking rules when the teacher’s head was turned.

    As a parent, I see the day swiftly coming when tattling will be an issue for us. Right now, we have only a 6yo and a 1yo. Since I’m around the 1yo all the time, there is no opportunity for tattling *yet*. I believe the issue will need to be dealt with this year, so I appreciate you writing this. You’ve given me some serious food for thought.

    As a semi-related side note, you can probably understand that as an only child I am completely baffled by sibling relationships. Can you recommend any books on the subject?

  4. Crystal says:


    Thank you for your response on this topic. That was helpful!


  5. Stacy McDonald says:

    There’s a good book called, “Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends” that is sold by Books on the Path and Vision Forum.

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