‘Gossip’: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.
Synonyms: spread/circulate rumours/stories, tittle-tattle, talk, whisper, tell tales, muckrake. We know gossip is a sin but somehow we see it as a ‘lightweight’ or trivial one. Alternatively, we disguise it as ‘prayerful concern’ or are blinded to its presence by our own bitterness/offence.
Those of us who work in secular employment know it can be very difficult to avoid listening to gossip! The Bible puts the sin of gossip alongside the sins of sexual immorality and murder. Gossip involves the theft of someone’s reputation and it makes God angry. Much of the current, sad increase in the rate of teenage suicide is linked to gossip and slander – especially on social media.
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip. (Romans 1:29, NLT)
I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbours. I will not endure conceit and pride. (Psalm 101:5, NLT)
Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. Do not stand idly by when your neighbour’s life is threatened. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:16, NLT)
Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, was once stopped by an acquaintance as he passed through the markets.
“I’ve something important to tell you,” he said. “It’s about your friend.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Socrates said. “But, don’t tell me just yet. I run all information through the Three Filters Test to ascertain if I want to know it.”
The man looked somewhat puzzled as Socrates continued: “First is the filter of truth. Whatever you want to tell me, have you seen or witnessed it first-hand?”
“Umm… I actually heard it from someone,” the man said, “and, it is from a trusted source.”
“Alright. But that does not pass my first test,” Socrates added, “since you don’t know whether it’s true. Second is the filter of goodness. Is that a good statement you want to make about my friend?”
“Not really. That’s the reason I wanted—”
Socrates interjected, “So, you want to tell me something bad about someone but don’t know if it’s true. The last is the filter of utility.” He continued, “Your statement about my friend, is that going to be useful to me?”
“Not really as such. I just wanted to share…”
“Well, if the information is not necessarily true, it is not good, and, it is of no use,” Socrates concluded. “Please, I don’t want to know about it.”
‘Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.’
– CS Lewis
‘I would rather play with forked lightning, or take in my hand living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christian are hurling on others.’
– AB Simpson
‘These are the few ways we can practice humility: To speak as little as possible of one’s self. To mind one’s own business. Not to want to manage other people’s affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one’s dignity. To choose always the hardest.’
– Mother Theresa
Effects of gossip
- Friendships are torn apart. (Proverbs 16:28)
- Reputations are destroyed and feelings hurt. (Psalm 41:6, Psalm 69:12)
- It is poison and potential death to our own souls.
Gossip is a manifestation of pride. Focussing on the perceived shortcomings of others gives us a superior view of ourselves. We try to make ourselves look good by making others look bad. It can also be a means of retribution. If we feels someone has done us harm, we can try to get revenge by trashing their reputation. This is sadly very commonly done by people who have left church through offence. It is a sign we are ill disciplined and not to be trusted. (Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 18:8)
The sad story of Absalom (2 Samuel 15)
Absalom was the third son of King David and suffered from pride and offence against his father (his offence was actually very understandable, but that did not make his attitude right!). He started to ‘tell tales’ and lies behind his father’s back. He was very charming and convincing and many Israelites believed him and turned against David, including some of David’s closest friends. What started off as gossip and slander eventually had the following consequences:
- The destruction of friendships and David’s reputation – this never fully recovered.
- The suicide of Ahithophel, one of David’s closest advisors.
- The sexual violation of some of David’s concubines.
- Civil war and the death of many innocent people.
- Absalom himself was murdered.
- Lasting effects on both David and his family.
No wonder gossip is detestable to God!
What should we do?
- We need to keep tight control of our words – audible and those broadcast via social media. (Psalm 34:13, Psalm 141:3, James 1:26, Psalm 15:1-3, Matthew 12:36-37)
- Notice that If we get involved in gossip our religion is worthless and we will be required to give an account for all the words we have spoken! We should avoid the company of gossips and refuse to be on the ‘receiving end’ of gossip. Following this simple rule would avoid so much heartache. (Proverbs 20:19)
- We must use our minds and tongues in obedience to God’s word – to meditate on His word, to worship and praise Him and to build up and encourage others – not tear them down. (Psalm 119:23, Philippians 4:8)
What to do when faced with gossip
- Stop the conversation. (Proverbs 26:20, Proverbs 20:19)
- Challenge the person passing on the gossip. Is it something they know first-hand or is it unsubstantiated rumour? (Proverbs 24:28)
- Offer to take the gossiper to the gossip victim. (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Don’t pass the gossip on to anyone else. (Proverbs 11:13)
- If in doubt, speak to one of the church’s senior leadership for advice. (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Don’t wait! Gossip needs to be stopped before any damage is done. (Leviticus 19:16)
In a church community of over 400 people gossip does happen and can have tragic consequences. It is a challenging area for all of us and one where we may need to confess sins of gossip to God and seek the help and strength of the Holy Spirit to behave differently in the future. We also need to remain vigilant, and if we do hear of situations or careless talk that concern us it is of course perfectly correct to seek advice from our leaders and senior pastors. It is not correct to share our concerns with all our friends and acquaintances! Let us use all our faculties to the praise and glory of our amazing God and to help build this wonderful church.