Many of us (probably all of us) have either engaged in gossip in one form or another, been the victim of gossip, or both. What is gossip? And is it really that bad? The Hebrew word translated “gossip” in the Old Testament is defined as “one who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.”
That speaks to me of ‘intent’. I understand that there are times when we may need to share or process with a confident to help us think through personal issues with other people. But if the ‘intent’ is to take privileged information about people and proceed to reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it, then that is gossip rather than counselling or healthy processing. And let me say that in my experience, gossip rips apart friendships, slanders good names and leaves scars and hurts that can (& often do), last lifetimes.
In the book of Romans, Paul reveals the sinful nature and lawlessness of mankind, stating how God poured out his wrath on those who rejected his laws. Because they had turned away from God’s instruction and guidance, he gave them over to their sinful natures.
“God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” – Romans 1:26-32
I don’t think that it should go unnoticed that the list of sins includes gossip, murderer and homosexuality, (among other sins) as being in the same category. Think about it… gossip is seen as serious as murder in the eyes of God. That should say something to us. The fact is that the sin of gossip is one of the sins that is used to characterize those who are under God’s wrath even saying that death is the deserved outcome. That’s pretty heavy news if you ask me.
And yet it seems much too often that the heinous sin of gossip is somewhat acceptable, or at least not worthy of being dealt with seriously in the church foyer or prayer group. It’s almost like we think of gossip being a benign sin.
But what would happen if we approached gossip the same way we would approach someone willfully and openly engaged in other sinful activity such as homosexuality or murder? We would absolutely deal with those scenarios in all seriousness. If so then why is gossip seemingly overlooked?
I believe that it’s part of our old natures to do so. We easily recognize stealing, anger and jealousy as sins, but we often don’t consider that gossip is also a sin. Sin is anything that goes against God’s will and his laws. To commit sin is to transgress or disobey these laws. The lust to sin dwells in our human nature deeply. In other words, it is contaminated and motivated by the sinful tendencies that dwell in all people as a result of the fall into sin and disobedience in the garden of Eden.
Problem might be in the fact that we don’t see gossip as a sin… or at least as a ‘big one’. (Which by the way is an oxymoron because there are no big or little sins. All sin is rebellion against God and all sin is serious enough in God’s eyes that it deserves the death penalty).
Here’s the thing. No sin can be considered ‘benign’. As in any sin, the results of the sin of gossip are horrendous even if we don’t think we see it: Division, strife, suspicion. Satan is all about division. He loves any opportunity he gets to break down the church family and crate disunity. It is incredible what gossip tears down. The Bible even tells us that, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends”– Proverbs 16:28
Many a friendship has been ruined over a misunderstanding that started with gossip. Those who engage in this behaviour do nothing but stir up trouble and cause anger, bitterness, and pain among friends. Sadly, some people thrive on this and look for opportunities to destroy others.
And when such people are confronted, they deny the allegations and answer with excuses and rationalizations. And rather than admit wrongdoing, they blame someone else or attempt to minimize the seriousness of the sin, even going so far as to say things like, “Oh, I’m only sharing because I’m concerned for them.”I’ve even heard people use prayer for others as an excuse to gossip. “I’m only sharing this with you so that you can pray.”
Here’s what the bible has to say about the dangers of gossip and the potential hurt that results from it. “A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” – Proverbs 18:7-8
And in 2 Timothy the Apostle Paul likens it to a messy stinky disease.“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.” – 2 Timothy 2:16-17
So How Do We Counter This Sin?
Certainly, a key to battling this sin in the church is by growing in love for one another. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32
To be free from gossip, we need to grow in love. Are our words building up bonds of love, or are they tearing down? “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34
If our mouth is quick to speak evil of the others, what does this tell us about our hearts? How much love do we have, really, if we are so eager to talk about the others behind their backs? When we have a genuine love for the others, it simply isn’t possible to gossip about them. All grievances and complaints against them disappear.
Often the love chapter in 1 Corinthians is used as a text at weddings. Truth is that though this text can be appropriate for weddings, the intent of the context of this passage speaks to us as members of the body of Christ and in our dealings with each other. Read it again, but this time read it with the picture of someone who has wronged you or is frustrating you in the church right now.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Think about that person now after reading this with them in mind.If this is the kind of love we have for them, the mere thought of speaking against, or of gossiping about them in secret should be terrible! We need to pray to God for help so we can grow in love and show goodness and kindness towards them.
That way then, if we think someone is doing something wrong, we can pray for that person and God will show us how we can help. Perhaps we can go to the person in a spirit of love and ask them for clarification, rather than muddy the waters with gossip. It’s nearly impossible to harbour evil thoughts or to gossip against someone we are praying for. By sharing this love, we can help to bring peace and rest.
Maybe, instead of us doing the gossiping, we have been invited into a conversation where people are speaking badly about someone else. “Hey, did you hear about what he did?”Let it die with you! “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” – Proverbs 26:20
If we accept everything we hear about the others as fact right away, it shows how close the sin of gossip is to us. Even letting the idea run around in our minds is the first step on the path towards division and strife. Lies spread like wildfire.
If we allow any gossip to continue, we are just as guilty as the ones who brought it up. We need to search our hearts and ask if we have a willingness to fight against this. Do we want to be finished with this sin? If that’s where we find ourselves then we can’t allow these thoughts and actions to live when we know that they need to die. Instead we need to learn how to comfort and edify one another.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” – Ephesians 4:29
Our mouths can be used to bless and uplift others, or they can be used for great wickedness, in speaking evil and slandering the others. “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” – James 3:10The question is which way do we choose to use our mouths?
When we take up the battle against gossip, we can become an example for others. We can radiate a spirit so strong against gossiping that people will know that it simply isn’t acceptable and helps set the pattern and the cultural DNA in the church body of gracious speech and loving hearts.
Let’s learn to guard our tongues and refrain from the sinful act of gossip. “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbour, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” – Proverbs 11:12-13
If we surrender our natural desires to Jesus, he will help us to remain righteous. So, let’s all choose today to follow the Bible’s teaching on gossip by keeping our mouths shut unless it is to build up. And let us instead choose to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour (who incidentally includes my church brothers and sisters), as ourselves.
“You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.” – Martin Luther