There is a story about two elderly women who were sitting together in the front pew of church with a fiery preacher. When he condemned the sin of lust, these two ladies cried out at the top of their lungs – AMEN BROTHER! When he condemned the sin of stealing, they yelled again – PREACH IT REVEREND! And when he condemned the sin of lying they jumped to their feet and screamed, RIGHT ON BROTHER…. TELL IT LIKE IT IS….. AMEN! But when the preacher condemned the sin of gossip, the two got quiet and one turned to the other and said, “He’s done quit preaching and now he’s meddlin’.”
That might be the way you respond when you have finished reading this post.
All the sins of the tongue are deadly. But gossip is particularly deadly. Gossip has destroyed more people, tarnished more reputations, broken more friendships, and split more churches than any sin I’m aware of. Gossip is quickly told, quickly heard, and quickly spread. Worst of all, gossip is quickly believed.
You might think you don’t really have a problem with gossip. But how many times have you either said or listened to the following?
“I shouldn’t really tell you this but…”
“I thought you might be interested about…”
“Have you heard the latest about…?
“I only mention this as a matter for prayer…”
We all love a good bit of gossip. There’s some kind of perverse pleasure we derive from hearing about other people’s problems, errors or misfortunes. It’s kind of like – well, eating something tasty. Proverbs 18:8 says,
“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
Gossip about other people gets deep within us and affects us from the inside out. Bad reports about other people can affect our attitudes toward them months and even years later. We need to take this sin VERY seriously. So how do we recognize gossip? And more importantly, how do we resist it? That’s what I want to talk about in this post.
The hardest part about gossip is that is does not come with a warning label. Imagine, before a tasty bit of gossip was about to be aired a big flashing sign appeared about the person’s head: “WARNING – sinful gossip coming your way.” But that’s not how it happens is it? No, normally we are just talking with someone and all of a sudden a juicy piece of news about someone else presents itself. And we are happy to swallow it. So how do we know when it’s gossip and when it’s not? Joseph Stowell gives this helpful definition: “Gossip is sharing damaging information about someone or something with another person who is not part of the solution.” I think that’s very helpful. But there’s another that I like better, from Matthew Mitchel. He defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out a bad heart.” Now let me break that down for you.
Gossip is bearing bad news…
Gossip always involves some kind of talking. The KJV uses the word “talebearer.” A talebearer is a person who likes to tell stories. We all like to hear stories. Stories are great. But a gossip or talebearer carries the wrong kind of stories – stories that contain damaging information about others.
But gossip not only involves talking – it also involves listening. Proverbs 17:4 says, “A wicked person listens to malicious talk.” You don’t have to be the one doing the talking – just listening. The NLT translation says, “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.”
And in our computer age I should add that this giving and receiving of bad news can also take place on the internet by way of email, blogs and social media. All you have to do is click “send” or “forward” or the “share” button on Facebook. And let’s not forget the phone. If someone were to scroll through your messages right now what would they find? Would it be clean?
OK – so gossip is bearing bad news. Let’s look at the second part of that definition:
…behind someone’s back
The person you are talking about is not there. And you are whispering things about him (or her). Why? Well it’s much easier when they’re not around. I mean, it would make things a whole lot more difficult if they were there! Let me give you a suggestion at this point: before you talk about someone who is not present, ask yourself the following:
- Would I say this if the person was present? (be honest)
- Would I listen to this bad news the same way if he was present?
- Would I want someone to talk this way about me if I was absent?
Remember: we are talking about harmful information here. This doesn’t mean you cannot say good things about a person if they are absent. You can say as many good things about a person who is absent as you like!
OK, let’s look at the third part of the definition – gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back:
…out of a bad heart.
Gossip comes from a bad heart. “The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” Jesus said (Luke 6:45). You’ve got poison in the root system. Something is driving you to want to share or listen to damaging information. What is it? Is it jealousy? Is it anger or hate? Is it a desire for revenge?
Now that we know how to recognize gossip we need to know how to resist it. Most, if not all gossip involves the judging of others. Whether we are the bearer or the receiver of the bad news, our bad hearts are passing judgement on another person. James has some very strong words for this:
“Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
I never knew that whenever I criticized someone; whenever I shared information about them that was critical or unfavourable I was actually setting myself above the law of God.
So how do we resist gossip – either spreading it or listening to it? Let me give you 5 ways:
1. Avoid hasty judgement
Much gossip involves passing on only one side of the story. There is always another side. And you are foolish to pass judgment without finding out what that other side is. Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” I made a lot mistakes here as a young pastor. People would come into my office with that “I just thought you ought to know” line and then set about railing on another person. When I learned the other half of the story, it wasn’t anything like that person described.
2. Consider the source
Where is this source of information coming from? Is it coming from someone you trust? And if you trust them, why are they even sharing it? Proverbs 14:15 says, “The simple believe everything.” Don’t believe everything you hear!
3. Assume the best, not the worst
You cannot see inside the hearts of others. You do not know what makes them tick. Nor do you know the context or complexities of a situation a person is in. Therefore, we need to assume the best, not the worst about others (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). The ‘bad report’ is likely to be in error, or at least inaccurate.
4. Talk to people, not about them
When we have a problem with another person, the overwhelming temptation is to rail on them to someone else. We must resist that sinful urge. Jesus gives us clear instructions in this regard in Matthew 18,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15)
And yes – I know this is hard. Nobody like confrontation. But Jesus says we must do it. I tell you – if we all practiced this, and practice this consistently, we would completely rid God’s church of any trace of gossip and slander. Anyone who even started a whisper would be stopped in their tracks. “Why are you telling me this? Have you not gone to this person? Why haven’t you?”
5. Say nothing
If you are faced with the temptation to gossip and you don’t know what to say the best thing to do is say nothing. Sometimes silence is golden. Proverbs 10:19 says,
“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.”
If someone asks you not to share something – just pray, then pray and say nothing. Don’t betray a confidence! There are some exceptions to this, such as a suicide threat or a report of abuse. You’ll need the utmost wisdom in such cases. Seek out wise counsel for what you should do. But DON’T share it with your friends or as a matter of prayer at your home group!
Perhaps, after reading this you’re left feeling a little discouraged. You know you’re guilty of gossip and slander – either by listening to it or spreading it. And you wonder how you are going to go forward. So here’s what you need to do:
First, confess your sinful gossip to God
True confession means to completely agree with God about our sin. It does not means saying, “Lord, I feel bad about gossiping and I’m kind of sorry” or “I didn’t really want to but I felt pressured to do it.” No it means saying,
“Lord Jesus what I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have said what I said nor should have I listened to it. I have not glorified you nor sought the best of others. I did this out of a bad heart. Your law says this sin deserves death. I am truly sorry.”
Second, confess your sinful gossip to others
When the Spirit convicts you that you gossiping you need to confess it right then and there to the person you are sharing with. Say it. Tell them you were gossiping and it was wrong. Some of you might be convicted as you are reading this post and there might be someone you need to speak to. Go to them (or write to them). Apologize for gossiping about them and ask for their forgiveness.
Third, receive the cleansing that Jesus offers
The good news is that Jesus offers cleansing from this sin. That’s why we have the cross. Jesus died for our sins – including the sin of gossip. He bore the punishment for it. Jesus completely satisfied God’s righteous demands for your death. And now he offers cleansing and healing. Receive that cleansing.
The gospel is so much more powerful than gossip. It has the power not only to cleanse and forgive us of gossip, but also resist it. The bible tells us that God’s divine power has given us everything we need to for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).
The gospel of Jesus Christ defeats gossip.
Note: this is based on a message I preached from a series called “Trouble with our Talk.” You can access the full sermon here.