By Brian Nixon
Albuquerque, New Mexico – “Who told you that?” you ask, knowing that the information the person shared with you was confidential. “Oh, I just heard it from so and so,” comes the reply. “It’s not a big deal,” they continue. “I heard that several people know the same thing.”
Gossip. We’ve all heard it; and most of us—at one point in our life—have participated in it.
Gossip is not good, particularly when the information is confidential or damaging to a person. And even more telling, God hates gossip. Yep, hates. King Solomon wrote, “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Notice the phrases false witness and sows discord. Both are mechanisms of gossip.
Why do people gossip? That’s a bigger question than we have room to answer here. However, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Charles Waterstreet reminds us, “There is a tension in our tendency to gossip, between the human necessity to engage in it, and the realization that playing the video game of gossip has an effect in the real world. Evil campaigners use this trait as currency to pass lies and character assassinations as rumor, not humor. In this toxic atmosphere of regime change…we must be super vigilant that we do not contribute to the confusion and chaos in the name of our own self- righteousness.”
If gossip is bad, why do we do it? According to Focus on the Family, “One of the most common blogging temptations is to spread information about people we’ve never spoken to directly. This isn’t the same as referencing public knowledge for the sake of illustration, which can build discernment. But too often, we gossip simply to exalt our own ego. “Why was Katherine hanging out with Michael?” “How can my boss be so insensitive?” “I’d never say what Drew said.” “What a loser.”
Ego. Self-interest. These are core components of why a person gossips.
And the effects of gossip? Though some studies state gossip can be good, most research indicates that gossip leads to isolation, lack of trust, reputation difficulties, and other related conditions.
But this doesn’t stop most of us from sharing a juicy word or two. And when you add social media to the mix, it seems the sky is the limit for the gossiper—there are literally dozens of ways to spread private information quickly, and often without accountability.
Fortunately, within gossip’s swirling vortex, there’s some good news to anchor us: Jesus loves gossipers. He came to set them free from the need to gossip; to relieve the pain of unmarked blather and turn it into a marked reason for chatter: to tell others about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And where gossip is spread in dark corners and through the anonymity of cyberspace, the Gospel demands a broad and public hearing.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines gossip as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Its root is in the Old English godsibb (sponsor, godparent), the way you’d speak with a family member. Eventually, it broadened to include acquaintances, and by the 1800’s took on its current sense of “trifling talk [and] groundless rumor.”
Gossip is like a sleeper agent in the church—it looks like harmless, everyday conversation, but when activated, it can destroy both ministries and relationships. It’s not surprising, then, that the Bible has quite a bit to say about gossip—both about its harmful effects and its root cause. James, in particular, spoke of the destructive power of the tongue, along with a number of Proverbs. Here is a small sampling:
Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” Proverbs 11:13: “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” James 3:5: “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” Proverbs 26:20-22: “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood. Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart.” Proverbs 21:23: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” 2 Timothy 2:16: “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer.” James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Matthew 18:15: “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.”
Following the Bible’s lead, a few things are clear: 1) gossip is widespread and occurs almost daily; and 2) controlling gossip is a matter of either controlling our own tongues or holding others accountable for controlling theirs.
Remember that Jesus loves gossips in spite of their destructive behavior. He wants to restore them and their relationships. And just as Jesus was bold in dealing with sin, we should be bold in taming our tongues. With that in mind, consider using the acronym STOP when confronting gossip:
S—Stop gossiping. The Bible makes it clear that no good comes of it, so it starts and stops with each of us. Put out a “cease and desist” on any gossip that may be starting with you.
T—Test accountability. If anyone approaches you with gossip, hold them accountable for it. You can ask them why they’re telling you the info, and if it’s all right if you tell the person they’re speaking of what you heard and from whom you heard it. That’s a pretty good test of whether or not the teller is sincere.
O—Offer God’s word. The Bible has so much to say about gossip because we need so many reminders about it. Start there to establish its dangers, and continue with what God has to say about forgiveness and restoration.
P—Pray. Prayer cannot be underestimated (but often is) for its ability to correct our own hearts and minds and bring us in line with God’s heart and mind. Even though it’s listed last here, it’s actually a good place to start when dealing with gossip (or any other matter).
Jesus loves gossips—will you?