In churches, generally you will find people who do not commit sins that will land them in jail – theft, murder, drunk driving, etc. Those are the “obvious sins.” However, Christians still commit certain sins that are considered excusable, if not respectable or normal. One very common one is gossip.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, gossip is (1) a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others, and (2) a rumour or a report of an intimate nature. In other words, gossip is spreading stories that encroaches on the privacy and/or dignity of its subject. Especially with the concept of sharing genuine prayer requests, Christians can very easily overstep an actual cry for prayer, and delve into gossip.
Studying for this post was such a fascinating activity for me! So many Scripture passages came alive for me again, and so many times I would come away breathing, “Oh, wow! I didn’t see that before!” I am excited to share with you what the Lord taught me! Narrowing down my cover was quite a task, but have finally decided to address why gossip is not acceptable in God’s eyes, how to avoid gossiping, and how we can respond to gossiping among Christians.
Gossip is not a victimless sin
In the world’s eyes, gossip is a victimless sin; even Christians believe that lie. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” However, that is an utter delusion. Why? Because the gossiper is affected. God aptly describes that person in quite a few Scriptures –
– Untrustworthy.“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Prov.11:13). One have may been shared something in a vouch of confidence; a gossiper breaks that trust and spreads the confided information onto a second party. It’s not right that Christians have to be very careful who they share their honest struggles with for prayer, in the fear that it will get out at all, or before they are ready to share it with a wider circle.
– Unforgiving and unloving. “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separate very friends” (Prov.17:9). When forgiveness is asked, that must be the end of the matter. And even when forgiveness hasn’t been asked, one is still commanded to forgive. However, I have seen time and again sin being dug up from years ago, with the argument that a certain offence “shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” When God forgives us, He casts our sin as far as the east is from the west; if we claim to be like Christ, we should extend that same grace and forgiveness to our fellow brethren.
– Troublemaker. “A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends” (Prov.16:28). I have unfortunately witnessed this too often in Christian circles. One may have a grudge against another, so that grudge is shared and magnified to a third party…and possibly another party. Like Chinese whisper, the gossip gets back to the subject of it, and there is much consequential hurt and awkwardness.
– Self-deceived. This following passage stood out to me – “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26). WOW. Think that gossip is acceptable? God just called that person’s religion vain if they can’t control their tongues!
Second to the gossiper being affected by his or her actions, the people around them are affected. Ephesians 4:29 specifically addresses the tongue, and how Christians must talk.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
Gossip is the total opposite of edification of the believers; it speaks evil (James 4:11). It also most certainly does not exemplify a ministering of grace to the hearer. As Christians, we are called to encourage one another, building each other up; we cannot do that if slander is native to our lips.
Gossip affects the gossiper, the people around them, and most importantly, their relationship with God is affected. God’s instructions about the tongue in Ephesians 4 continues with the reminder that we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit, Who has sealed us unto redemption. Moreover, in both the Old and the New Testament, God gave His people a code of personal conduct – gossip was not to be a part of their lives (Lev.19:16; Eph.4:31). You are God’s child? Seriously consider these passages. The one that struck me most was Romans 1:29-32. Paul describes the sins of those who refuse to retain God in their knowledge – gossip is right in the middle of that list. Gossiping and walking with God is complete discord and hypocrisy.
Train your heart and mind against gossiping
We have now seen that gossip is poisonous in all relationships. It can never have any part in a Christian’s life. But how do we go about eradicating it from our lives?
Pray for wisdom. Proverbs 10:19 states that “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Of our own we cannot succeed, but if we humble ourselves before the Lord, and ask for His grace to help us, He will come in our time of need. It is only through Him that we can begin our path to wisdom.
Be vigilant. Satan has deceived the world that gossip is excusable, albeit acceptable, but we refuse to be played by him. Again, vigilance requires a calling out to God, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Do you want to live a full life seeing good? Answer – “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalm 34:12-14). Check out Proverbs 4:23 as well, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Hide Scripture passages in your heart specific to the tongue, that the Holy Spirit will quickly bring them to your mind in time of temptation.
Humbly examine your heart before the Lord (Psalm 139:23,24). If we are serious about our walk with the Lord, let us make this a regular practice in our lives. Coincidentally in the Bible, when older women and their roles are mentioned, God specifically instructs them not to be gossipers. It is more common to find gossipers among the older women, it is true, but it is certainly not exclusive. Bringing it back to older women however, I found Titus 2:2-5 an eye-opener. God described them to be “in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers…teachers of good things.” (Titus 2:2,3). I have once heard a chronic gossiper complain that she cannot give any good advice to young mothers in the church because they are too proud to listen to what older women have to say. She may have a point (which hasn’t been verified by anyone), but like gossipers, her narrative is only half the story. The personal conduct in Titus quoted before is preliminary to being able to execute the second half of their duty, which is “[so] that they may teach the young women” (Titus 2:4,5). A healthy relationship in the body of Christ works both ways: have a change of heart before God so that the younger generation will see Christ in you. Then they just might trust you enough to come to you for advice with no fear of judgment or gossip.
Suggest something positive. Gossipers will usually find it hard to say something positive about anything or anyone. Be that change. When they are complaining to you about someone, suggest something positive,or a different angle they might not have considered. E.g. “It could very possibly be that she was just having a hard day with her children, that she gave in that once to the child’s tantrum. We all have our bad days. ” People who slander others show a narrow-mindedness and inability to empathise. Show them the alternative to that mindset.
Change the topic. Refuse to show any interest to their story, be respectful, but also do not give them reason to give you more sensational information about someone else. As earliest as possible, change the topic or walk away. Remember that gossip does not lead to godliness.
Do not repeat the gossip. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.” Gossip is more likely than not a little truth in a massive spin of exaggerated, subjective ideas; do not play with it, as it will tangle you and others in its mess.
Confront the gossiper. This is not easy to do, and can depend on the kind of relationship you have with the gossiper. If it is a person close to you, ask God to give you wisdom to challenge them in their sin of talebearing. If you do not have that relationship, pray for that person’s spiritual growth, and that God will bring someone their way to help them realise that gossip is not acceptable. Or, cultivate a relationship with them, and just maybe God will use you as a vessel to facilitate that spiritual growth.
Go straight to the source. If the nature of the gossip urgently needs an explanation for some reason or another, go straight to the person who is the subject of the gossip. Do not mention the gossip, but tactfully and graciously find the truth behind the allegations. Avoid involving anyone else not pertinent to the issue, as you will be guilty of gossip yourself. I have heard countless stories of how a victim of gossip hears of accusations of oneself from a third party. So much hurt, discouragement, and mistrust could have been avoided if Christians controlled their tongues, and confronted one another privately and humbly, rather than resorting to gossip.
In closing, all sin is in enmity with God. Because of this, never excuse gossip. It may not get you thrown into jail, but it is still sin. As God says in James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” God instructs us to maintain personal conduct befitting His calling. Speak with words that minister grace and humility, that others may desire to follow God too. Of ourselves, we cannot accomplish this, but by God’s grace and the Word of God tucked in our hearts, we can know what wisdom and unconditional love is. Live your true profession of faith with a heart right before God, that you can break away from the cycle of gossiping and be a vibrant testimony for Christ.