“It’s An Ill Bird That Fouls Its Own Nest”
There is a modern proverb that goes, “It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest.” The idiom refers to the fact that most birds build nests and are careful to keep them clean of their own excrement; therefore it is a very foul bird that dirties its own nest.
I begin with that modern proverb to alarm you to the fact that there are some people in this world who will knowingly and maliciously bring harm to their own, or allow harm to come to their own, and I do not want you to be numbered among such people yourself. I assume, during the course of this message from God’s Word, that you are not of that group of wicked individuals listed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1.18-32 as being without natural affection, Romans 1.31. Regardless of the wisdom or folly of some of your own personal choices, I will assume your desire is for God’s blessings to be poured out on your family and loved ones. Further, I will take it as a given that you recognize every good gift and every perfect gift “is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” You understand that your loved ones’ only hope is the gospel and coming to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Yet my observation is that many churchgoing people these days are just about paralyzed in the face of children who do not want to be in church, or perhaps grown kids who have no use for the Christian faith or church of any kind, or if they do pretend to be Christians are involved in some form of contemporary evangelicalism, the Charismatic movement, or Pentecostalism, that is weak on doctrine and marginal at best on personal commitment and consecration.
Perhaps you are married and you and your spouse really do love God and fervently pray for your kids, for your grand kids, and for all those you love, but for the life of you it seems they are unwilling to come to church except once in a great while, and when they do come to church they see nothing but wrong in this ministry you have given your life to, mistaking our convictions for legalism, our focus for harshness, and our faith for folly. Or maybe not. Maybe you and your spouse do not love God. Perhaps it is just you who loves the Savior, and you just don’t know what to do. Will you grant me enough elbow room to draw an analogy between your home, your family unit, and a bird’s nest? Will you accept that a bird that messes in its own nest, and thereby risks the health of its own chicks, has to be a foul bird, indeed? However, do you apply a quite different standard when it comes to your own family, when it comes to your own home, when it comes to your own loved ones and their willingness to contaminate their home, their children, their siblings, and just about everyone else to satisfy their own wicked desires or to justify their own foolish choices?
On several occasions I have delivered a sermon from Acts chapters 6 and 7 that is titled “The Method Of Opposition.” In that message, I have pointed out the tactics employed by the enemies of the gospel as they opposed the first Christian martyr, Stephen. They first argued with him in public. When their arguments against his doctrine failed, they proceeded to assassinate his character. When his character was shown to be above reproach, they silenced him by stoning him to death.
Might I suggest to you that there are reasons why none of your children know Christ, why none of your grandchildren know Christ, and why your loved ones seem to be unreachable by a God-blessed church ministry that so delights your soul? Someone is soiling your nest. Someone is fouling the witness and the testimony you seek to present. Something is rotten in Denmark and perhaps you do not smell it, or you have gotten so used to the smell that you tolerate it, or you have convinced yourself that there is nothing you can do to stop it, or you are driven by a misplaced loyalty or a misunderstanding of what God would have you to do. I do not believe for a moment that God would have you do nothing. Neither do I believe for a moment that God requires you to be perfect before you do anything. Additionally, I do not believe that it is ever too late to successfully address this matter of someone having fouled your nest. I know determined and faithful Christians who looked for the source of the foul stench that affected their children, and then succeeded in doing something about it.
I know wise Christian fathers who despite the fact that they are not perfect have exercised persistence and dogged determination to reach their children for Christ in the face of strident opposition from those beloved to their children. And I know wise Christian mothers, who despite the fact that they are not perfect, have shown determination to stop this nonsense of foolish fathers taking his own children down the drain to Hell with them. It is one thing to recognize God’s will for you to honor and make sure that your children honor their mom or their dad. However, it is another thing to sit idly by while a selfish unsaved parent drags children into the pit. It is one thing to be a faithful and loyal friend, but it is utter folly to brag about maintaining friendships with people so desperately wicked that they constantly seek to undermine the only consistent gospel witness some people have.
I will say one thing about those evil men who openly and publicly opposed Stephen in Jerusalem. They weren’t sneaky about what they did. They did not pretend to be Christians while interfering with the advance of the gospel. At least they were honest enough to openly admit their opposition to the Christian faith. They were not like some who pretend to be Christians while doing everything they can to undermine and subvert.
Christian mom or dad? Christian husband or wife? You have no scriptural obligation to silently watch as your husband or wife, as your mom or dad, as your brother or sister, as your friend or colleague, sabotages your efforts to see your children, your grandchildren, or anyone else for that matter, come to Christ. Stand up and be a man about this, even if you are a woman. There are souls at stake. While those who brought about Stephen’s martyrdom were somewhat open and public about their opposition to Stephen, while also being openly and publicly opposed to the gospel, I am sure you will recognize that the foul stench that plagues your nest and so affects your children and loved ones, and causes them to wrinkle their noses at the gospel, or to shy away from any consideration of God’s will, is produced by someone who is more subtle than those violent Jewish men were. Even so, the underlying pattern and strategy that is employed by those who are subtle is typically the same as was employed by those who were ultimately violent toward Stephen: First, oppose the gospel truth by argumentation. Second, assassinate the character of the gospel witness. Finally, by whatever means possible, assure the silence of the gospel witness.
Allow me to shed some light on the problems that I suspect have interfered with a great many people’s success in reaching others in their family with the gospel by commenting on the similar yet more subtle tactics that are used so often these days:
First, THEY OPPOSE THE GOSPEL BY ARGUMENTATION
We are informed that when Stephen openly proclaimed the truth that Jesus saves, he was vigorously but quite openly opposed in the synagogue of the Libertines by men described by Luke as “disputing with Stephen.” Please note that modern opponents of the gospel come in many forms. Some of them are secular humanists, materialists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, Greek, Russian, Ukrainian and Armenian Orthodox Christians, and also Coptic Christians from Africa. Many claim to embrace the Bible. However, they oppose the simplicity of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works of righteousness. Instead, many insist on the requirement of salvation by means of the ministry of their church, if they believe in salvation at all.
Surprising to many is the realization that evangelical Christians, be they Charismatic Christians, be they Pentecostal Christians, or run of the mill evangelicals, are also frequently opposed to the gospel. While pretending to be true to God’s Word, in fact they are opposed to Matthew 1.21, “. . . thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins,” and instead unconsciously embrace the notion of Jesus Christ saving His people in their sins rather than from their sins. Of course, opposition is accomplished in our day not by the open and public argumentation that was attempted by those who opposed Stephen. Currently, it is typically done in the form of a subtle undermining of those too young and unsophisticated to understand how they are being played. This is how an unsaved father or unsaved mother seeks to influence his or her children to deny Christ.
I remember an evangelical couple who engaged in this though they did not attend our church, the husband obtaining a cassette tape of my sermons every week so he could tear my message apart to the boy from our church who worked for him, while the wife did the same thing in their home to the girl from our church who worked for her. They succeeded. Neither the girl nor the boy is a Christian to this day, though the man and his wife are very proud of themselves for what they accomplished. Most who oppose the gospel, however, are not so well organized that they would listen to a sermon and then try to dissect it. Most of the time it will be an unsaved dad, who makes some snide remark under his breath, or an unsaved mom who rolls her eyes in disgusted fashion when her Christian husband makes a comment, or unsaved grandparents who cling to their perceived right to snipe and ridicule whatever they disagree with, regardless of the effect it may have on their unsaved grandchildren.
What should you do when you discover someone is seeking to confuse your children, interfere with the gospel witness, or undermine your efforts to bring your little ones to the Savior? Pray? Is prayer the only thing at your disposal? What about challenging the person who is doing that type of thing? I am not suggesting that you preach to your husband, but I do urge you consider challenging him, and anyone else who seeks to undermine your gospel message and influence. I don’t know how a Christian woman can live with herself while allowing any belligerent unsaved man to keep her from attending church services, or letting his wicked tactics so intimidate even his grown children that they are unwilling to faithfully attend church because of the grief they know he will give them for doing so. How can you let that pass? How can a Christian wife and mother let that kind of nonsense, whether it comes from her husband, her mother in law, or anyone else, pass?
The tactic is to argue against the gospel, but to do so behind the back or off to the side, so that if they are challenged for so doing they can feign innocence or pretend it was unintentional. Nonsense. It is wicked, premeditated, and needs to be stopped. “I don’t like what you are doing. I am not preaching to you or attempting to lead you, but I am challenging you to stop it once and for all, or there will be consequences. I will not be silent while you hinder my efforts to bring my children and my grandchildren to Christ. Further, I am going to evangelism whether you like it or not.”
Next, THEY ASSASSINATE THE CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL WITNESS
This escalation occurs only if their first tactic to oppose the gospel fails. I know of situations where unsaved people actually get along with me quite well, but their opposition to the gospel is such that they viciously attack the character or impugn the integrity of the loved one or family member (not me), so that loved one’s effectiveness as a gospel witness is neutralized in the family.
When you were enslaved to sin, they seemed to have no trouble with you. However, come to profess Christ as your Savior and they turn on you and do whatever they can to undermine your efforts. You know why, don’t you? On one level, it is because they enjoyed the comfort of feeling morally superior to you when you were bogged down in sin. However, when you know the joy of sins forgiven, they feel they lose their moral superiority, so they then try to drag you down. What they are really doing, of course, is opposing the gospel witness by assassinating the character of the person who is bringing the gospel message into the family. They are convinced that effort by you to reach your family must be stopped, especially by those who pretend to be Christians, because real Christians in the midst of pretend Christians will end up showing the pretend Christians to not be Christians at all. My goodness, we must not allow that. So they foul the nest.
Do not think that because this happens to you that it does not also happen to me, because it does. I learned thirty-five years ago that the way to deal with those who would argue against my doctrinal position was to study hard, prepare complete sermon manuscripts, record my sermons, and to footnote my references, each as a way to fend off unscrupulous challenges to my doctrine. Therefore, since this makes it somewhat difficult for most people to argue with me on a doctrinal basis, they are therefore more likely to oppose me by attempting to assassinate my character. It is a bit difficult to assassinate the character of a pastor who has been in place for approaching thirty years, so such an attempt usually tries to resurrect an event so long ago that few would remember it. It is also hoped that their family members I led to Christ will all be forgotten about.
If someone is attempting to assassinate your character as a Christian, you can be sure that it is always opposition to the gospel at the root of it, for two reasons: First, Christians are taught how to deal with another Christian’s flaws and faults, and assassinating the character of a brother or sister in Christ is not what real Christians do. Real Christians come to you privately to give you opportunity to demonstrate character and also to deal with the flaws and faults that are brought to your attention. That was done with me some months back, resulting in my great respect for the person who approached me in that fashion. Second, does the person who is not in our church, or is not all that faithful in church, who has no converted children who are serving God, and who bears no spiritual fruit of any kind, think it advances the cause of Christ by attacking your character, or some other Christian’s character to you? The one who is behind all accusations of the brethren is the Devil, Revelation 12.10.
On the other hand, perhaps you are witness to someone actively engaged in an attempt to assassinate another Christian’s character. I well remember Rosa calling me one day shortly before her home going to inform me that someone who had moved far away had for some reason accused me of wrongdoing to her. I asked her to forward to me the e-mail she had received from him, and she did. Upon reading the e-mail, it was obvious that the author was very angry at me, but for what I did not know. He never did bring the matter up with me, though throughout my ministry to him I always sought to minister grace to him. It was also obvious what he was attempting to accomplish. Proverbs 17.9 reads, “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” I called Rosa back and said to her, “Rosa, he is attempting to take your pastor away from you.” She thought and then said, “He is, isn’t he? If he wanted to do this the right way he would have sent the e-mail to you instead of me.” When she asked me what she should do, I suggested she stop communicating with him, entirely. She had enough problems to deal with without that nonsense in her life. Sweet Christian girl that she always showed herself to be, she exercised wisdom, and did just that. To the very end she had a pastor.
What should you do as a Christian parent, as a Christian spouse, as a responsible believer in Jesus Christ, when someone you know (and may even be friends with) impugns the character of a gospel witness? Perhaps it is your character that is being attacked. Perhaps it is the character of someone else who seeks to minister grace to your loved one that is being attacked. What do you think you should do with respect to someone who has access to your child, or who has access to your spouse, or has access to another one, and who insists on trashing that person would minister grace to your loved one? Do you honestly think you should sit by and let them destroy your credibility, the credibility of that person who seeks your loved one’s conversion, or perhaps the credibility of your mentor or pastor? I know that some people think it doesn’t matter one way or the other, that your unsaved loved one should be able to decide for herself who to listen to and who to ignore. Such people, if you will excuse me, exercise very bad judgment. Most people are not discerning thinkers. Most people do not analyze the logic of what they hear, and can be moved to harmful conclusions by propaganda. That is why Paul wrote in First Corinthians 15.33: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” This literally means, “Stop being led astray by associating with people who oppose good conduct.” Is there any doubt in your mind that seeking to bring your loved one to Christ is good conduct? Therefore, anyone who interferes in that effort is leading you astray if you associate with them. There can be no doubt about that, according to the Apostle Paul, no matter your perception of your astute wisdom with regard to the issue. You have no business hanging around anyone who assassinates the character of a gospel witness, no matter how much you like them or are persuaded they are harmless. And if you are married or otherwise related to such a person, your problem is compounded by the fact that you need to figure out a way to neutralize their negative influence without divorcing or disowning them. That requires some real wisdom, I will tell you from observation. We have some few men and women who have exercised such wisdom to find out where the stink in Denmark came from, and to clean up the mess in their nests with effectiveness and discretion. The result? Conversions. Conversions. The genuine salvation of your child is worth all the time, all the effort, all the prayers, and even the hurt feelings of friends and family you must deal with because they have shown themselves to be enemies of the gospel.
Finally, THEY SEEK TO SILENCE THE GOSPEL WITNESS
Frequently, the enemies of the cross of Christ (and sadly, you may be married to or are otherwise related to such a person) will find that they cannot argue against right doctrine, and find the effort to assassinate the character of the gospel witness unsuccessful. The final tactic they resort to will be to somehow assure the silence of the gospel witness.
How do they accomplish this, in light of their reluctance to try their hand at murder, as their colleagues in Stephen’s day did? They typically resort to bad behavior of some kind, and timid Christians just as typically allow them to get away with their nefarious plans. Turn to First Peter 3.1-6:
1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Well-intentioned and godly women married to unsaved men have oftentimes misunderstood this passage in God’s Word, finding themselves trembling at the thought of somehow displeasing their unconverted husbands. That needs to stop. Look at verse 2 to see what your Christ-rejecting husband needs to see when he looks at you: “. . . your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” Not fear of him, mind you, or of what he will say or do if you speak out of turn, but fear of God. Is there any lingering doubt about what I say? Notice that the last half of verse six reads, “as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” Oh, you’d better not mention the pastor’s name, or your husband will get angry. Better not discuss church ministry, or he will get mad. Must not witness to the children in front of wicked grandmother, or she will go off and start a fuss. Must not attend evangelism or you will be accused of neglect and not valuing the marriage. Christian wife and mother, you cannot allow that kind of climate to develop. You dare not allow an unsaved person to silence your witness, to cower you into an unholy submission to his will, to engage in a power play in front of your unsaved loved ones that persuades them that the one they need to fear (as evidence by your behavior) is their unsaved dad or their unsaved grandmother rather than fearing God. There is no warrant for such cowardly behavior in this passage. This passage shows that you are to submit while showing no fear of anyone but God. And godly submission does not mean you stop behaving like a Christian and cease to minister grace to those around you just because someone in your family doesn’t like it and threatens to cause a stink over it.
Obviously, there is a male counterpart to this discussion that I have not addressed. I well remember Joe in Brawley, and his two sons, the three of them living in absolute terror of his wife, and avoiding any real decision for God for fear of her violent and emotional reaction. No husband has any business tolerating that kind of thing from his wife. When such a woman starts her outburst, I have often wondered how simply leaving the house, getting in your car, and going someplace for a couple of hours whenever some nasty female tries that shrieking nonsense would work. After all, how can you reason with someone who is unreasonable? Should you not try to show her in a hurry that junk no longer works on you, and that you will not put up with it? How wonderful it would be if she rather quickly learn to respect you, because such conduct shows to one and all that such a woman has no respect for you at present.
Please understand that I am not suggesting the Bible advocates you going home and starting a fight with your unsaved husband, your unsaved wife, or your gospel-opposing mother. I am suggesting that you give prayerful and deliberate thought to what you are doing that permits the fouling of your nest by someone who lives in it with you, or who visits it from time to time, and who has no fear that their wicked deeds and comments will ever be opposed by you. I am suggesting that your children, be they still living at home or fully grown, do observe and respond to those who oppose the gospel, and usually choose to avoid conflict with those who are antagonistic in that way. They also tend to side with the Christ rejecter because of their own fallen nature. The remedy? The gospel. What they need to see is someone who shows a determination to obey God rather than men, who does not look for a fight but who will defend not only the Savior, and the gospel, but also those flawed individuals who are targeted by the enemies of the gospel to prevent your loved ones from hearing the truth and responding to those who seek to minister grace to them. Is it you who is being targeted? Stick up for yourself. The Apostle Paul did. Do you see someone else being targeted? Stick up for that brother or sister in Christ. Show your unsaved loved ones ahead of time that if one of them ever comes to Christ, you can be counted on to never allow your wicked husband, your wicked wife, or your malevolent mother in law to attack them without doing your dead level best stand up for Christ by standing with them.
Be strong and of good courage. Sometimes the most frightening enemy of the cross you will ever face is the person you sleep with every night, or the person who gave birth to you or your spouse, or one of your brothers or sisters, or even your own son or daughter. Who has fouled your nest? Is it you? Is it your spouse? Is it some other member of the family? The pattern can be complex, but it is predictable to a degree, and by God’s grace the matter can be dealt with. Children can come to Christ. Spouses can be converted. It is never too late so long as there is still a heartbeat. However, you must make up your mind that you will not stand idly by while someone fouls your nest by arguing against the gospel, assassinating the gospel witness’s character, or succeeding in their attempts to silence the gospel witness. Submission to an unsaved husband does not mean acting like a human version of a doormat while he works to guarantee the damnation of his children.
We have men and women in our church who learned a long time ago not to put up with that kind of nonsense, not when their kids are at stake. So, what did they do? They put on the whole armor of God and they fought. They fought hard, and they have seen successes in the conversions of loved ones. They are not finished yet, mind you. There are still battles to be fought, an enemy to be outflanked, seasons of prayer, and careful contemplation ahead. Then, of course, there is the gospel of God’s grace.
Oh, what wonderful things happen when God so blesses a Christian’s spiritual warfare that the Spirit of God begins to deal with the mind and heart of the child, of the spouse, of the family member, and of the friend. Your goal is to see Christ exalted, Christ preached, Christ considered, Christ praised, and finally Christ trusted. I am reminded of Matthew’s appraisal of Christ’s dealings with people after He was opposed by the Pharisees for daring to heal a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath day. Turning from the opposers that He might minister to the humble, Matthew 12.20 applies to the Savior a prediction about the Messiah from Isaiah 42.3-4: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.”
What we long for, pray for, and also work to see, is Christ’s victory in the lives of our loved ones when they consider the gospel without interference and then come to faith in Christ and forgiveness by Christ.
 James 1.17
 Acts 6.9
 Matthew 18.15ff; Galatians 6.1
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