| || || | Gossip is a broad term that is defined in several different ways. In general, gossip involves the creation and repetition of rumors regarding an individual who is not present to offer his or her perspective on the purported events under discussion. Generally, gossip has little or no basis in fact and is sometimes intended to convey a negative image of an individual. This process of spreading rumors is utilized in just about every setting from reporting on the movements of public figures to discussing situations involving family, friends, and acquaintances.
It is not unusual for people who engage in the spreading of gossip to not consider themselves to be gossips. The rationalization is that the individual is simply conveying information that was shared from another source and thus is not the author of the data. Thus, he or she is not responsible for the reliability of the information. Also, there may be no real malice behind the distribution of the rumor. This is often the case when repeating a rumor about friends who are presumed to be going through a rough period with a spouse, or there is speculation on why an acquaintance recently left a job.
However, gossip is not always negative in content. It is possible to create and spread rumors about rumored positive events or attributes of another person. For example, the word may begin to spread that an individual is thinking about marrying someone that he or she has dated for some time. While the rumor may in fact be considered good news to those that hear it, the information may not be factual and could lead to negative consequences for the subject of the gossip.
Essentially, gossip has its roots in speculation and conjecture about events or attributes of people rather than focusing solely on facts that can be easily proved. Just about everyone engages in gossip in some manner. Business associates may share gossip about people they work with. Neighbors may speculate on details of the private lives of other people living in the neighborhood. Even well meaning friends may get together and hash over what they think they know about a mutual friend who is not present. There is no setting for human interaction that automatically precludes the potential for gossip. Gossip is spread through verbal, print, and electronic communications.
What does the Bible say about gossip?
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.” A gossiper is a person who has privileged information about people and proceeds to reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it. Gossip is distinguished from sharing information in two ways:
- Intent. Gossipers often have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge.
- The type of information shared. Gossipers speak of the faults and failings of others, or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if they mean no harm, it is still gossip.
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. The list of sins includes gossips and slanderers (Romans 1:29b-32). We see from this passage how serious the sin of gossip is and that it characterizes those who are under God’s wrath.
Another group who were (and still are today) known for indulging in gossip is widows. Paul cautions widows against entertaining the habit of gossip and of being idle. These women are described as “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:12-13). Because women tend to spend a lot of time in each other's homes and work closely with other women, they hear and observe situations which can become distorted, especially when repeated over and over. Paul states that widows get into the habit of going from home to home, looking for something to occupy their idleness. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, and God cautions against allowing idleness to enter our lives. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man [or woman] who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19).
Women are certainly not the only ones who have been found guilty of gossip. Anyone can engage in gossip simply by repeating something heard in confidence. The book of Proverbs has a long list of verses that cover the dangers of gossip and the potential hurt that results from it. “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:12-13).
The Bible 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 behavior 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. Rather than admit wrongdoing, they blame someone else or attempt to minimize the seriousness of the sin. “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).
Those who guard their tongues keep themselves from calamity (Proverbs 21:23). So we must guard our tongues and refrain from the sinful act of gossip. If we surrender our natural desires to the Lord, He will help us to remain righteous. May we all follow the Bible’s teaching on gossip by keeping our mouths shut unless it is necessary and appropriate to speak.
What’s Wrong With Gossip?
Romans 1:28 “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
1:29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips,
1:30 Slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
1:31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
1:32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them.”
In the scripture above, the Apostle Paul paints a grim picture of reprobates -- those who have rejected the Lord and have embraced a lifestyle of sin. He makes it clear that God condemns such evil behavior. “They persist in doing these things, knowing that those who do such things deserve death” (Rom 1:32).
As Paul described this evil conduct, we might expect to find mention of such vile things as greed, deceit, adultery, murder and so forth. But please take note of the other inclusions -- especially the mention of “gossip and slander.” Does this come as a surprise? Paul said that gossips and bad-mouthers were in the same league as murderers, sexual perverts, and God haters -- and that such sins were worthy of a death sentence!
“Slander” is a word that has an interesting origin. It comes from the word “Devil.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, slander means “malicious talk; to spread damaging information; to defame; to speak ill of.” Is it no wonder where slander derives it’s name? Slander is the work of the Devil, and those who slander are on his team. In fact the Bible says that Satan is called the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Are you an accuser of the brethren too? If so, even though it may not be your intention, you are being used an agent of the Devil! According to scripture, any Christian who’s mouth is out of control does not have a right relationship with God. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
“Gossip” is derived from the idea of “whispering.” According to the same dictionary, “gossip” means “To indulge in idle talk or rumors about others; spreading of sensational stories.” Funk and Wagnals dictionary defines it as “Idle, or malicious talk about others.” As we can see, gossip is a close cousin to slander, and God’s Word places both in the same cupboard as murder and other wickedness -- sins worthy of death.
Let me ask, as a Christian do you occasionally slip up and commit a murder here or there? Or how about theft -- do you occasionally burglarize a home or steal things from the store? You may think this is silly to ask. Of course, a Christian lifestyle doesn’t behave that way. But how about gossip or slander? Do you engage in idle talk or rumors about others? Do you participate in bad-mouthing or spreading rumors about others? According to the Bible, which sin is less severe? Murder or gossip? I’m sure you get the message. Paul said, BOTH are sins equally worthy of death.
The Apostle Peter, also used murder as a comparison with another, sometimes under-rated sin. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). Notice that a “busybody” is placed in the same company as “murderers, thieves, and evildoers.” The dictionary defines a busybody as “a meddler; a person who seeks confidential information about others; a snoop; a nosy person.”
A busybody is another close relative to gossip -- a person who meddles in the affairs of others. They are like a peeping-tom who snoops and spies. A busybody is the investigator for the gossips and rumormongers, seeking to uncover sensational details and to whisper the latest news. Sometimes busybodies are persons who have too much time on their hands, with nothing better to do than to talk too much. “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Tim. 5:13).
Not Just a Little Bad Habit
By now I’m sure that you realize that anything which is placed in the same category as murder must be a serious sin -- something that should not be taken lightly. But unfortunately, Christians do not usually consider gossip and it’s related activity as sin.
In over two decades of ministry, I’ve encountered scores of Christians who don’t seem to think gossip is wrong -- who are obsessed as busybodies, gossips, and bad-mouthers, and have caused irreparable damage to the body of Christ. I could fill books with the stories of anguish and grief inflicted to hapless victims. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Prov. 26:22). Mean, vicious accusations and rumors have ripped out the heart and soul of many fellow Christians and leaders, draining them of their love, enthusiasm, and their desire to live for God. It has split churches, created strife, and promoted division and turmoil. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Prov. 26:22).
Sadly, some have said that “the Church” is the only army that kills its wounded. Regrettably, this has sometimes been true. Brothers who have needed our love, forgiveness and encouragement have been mutilated by gossip and evil talk. Is it no wonder that gossip is equal to murder? It is nothing less than verbal rape and assassination.
What we must realize is, gossip is more than a little bad habit. Gossip is wicked and sinful -- a seething disease of corruption from the mouth. Gossips use their mouth as a weapon -- a weapon which is always aimed at people to fulfill Satan’s desires to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). “With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor” (Prov. 11:9). Gossip is an enemy to God and everything called holy -- a cancer which spreads a deadly infection to the body of Christ. Not only did Paul place a gossip in the same league with murderers and sexual deviates, but Jesus warned that for those who would offend his little ones, it would be better for them to be bound with a millstone and drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42). Surely, a harsh and horrible punishment awaits those unrepentant gossips who harm followers of Jesus.
How to recognize Gossip
Gossip is one of the most dangerous sins because it is so subtle and ambiguous -- many are unable to recognize it. Be on alert against gossip whenever you hear of “secret information” being circulated, or if you hear anyone else’s name is used in a conversation. Gossip exists whenever persons “talk about others” in less than a favorable way. The root of gossip is negativeness, judgementalism, slander, etc. Avoid associating with people who gossip “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Prov. 20:19). You probably remember the old saying: “If you can’t say something good about others, don’t say anything at all.” Wise advice if you wish to avoid sin.
Gossip often masquerades as “concern” for others. Rumors or gossip will seem more palatable if they first hide behind a pretentious expression of concern. “I hate to say anything about this to you, but I’m ’concerned’ about so and so.” At other times the gossiper will seek you out as their “confidante” to unload their “heavy heart” about their concerns. “I’m very troubled about so and so and I don’t know who else to talk to about it.” In reality, the gossip is not sincerely concerned about solving the problem, only in talking about it -- stirring it up. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28). A gossip thrives on the negative, the controversial, and the sensational. Any person who is genuinely concerned about solving a problem, will go and privately confront the person at the source and express their concern. Or else they should go privately to the pastor so he will do it.
The gossip is like a spider looking for a prey to lure into their trap of gossiping. They may confide to you secrets or their private concerns about other people. Perhaps in consolement, you may express your half-hearted agreement with their concerns, or you may even be enticed to confide your secret concerns to them. Consequently, the gossip will eventually repeat the process with someone else -- but next time, they will add your name as an endorsement of their private “issue,” and will eventually even disclose the secrets you shared to them. And on and on it goes.
There are times when people need to confide their own problems with a friend in the Lord. But avoid revealing anything to a person who gossips -- they can’t be trusted. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Prov. 11:13).
Things to Remember about Gossip
- Gossip is as sinful as murder and will suffer the same consequences unless there is repentance (Rom. 1:32).
- God holds you accountable to your words (Matt. 12:36-37).
- The person who gossips to you about others, also gossips to others about you.
- Gossip & slander disqualifies persons for spiritual leadership (1 Tim. 3:11, Jas. 3:2).
- Gossip often masks as pretentious concerns for others.
- Gossip often thrives upon secrecy. Where secrecy is removed, gossip is hampered.
- Gossip always contributes to a problem and never to a solution.
- Gossip always distorts and exaggerates, and is never a reliable source of truth.
- Those who gossip & slander are not in right fellowship with God (Rom. 1:28-32).
- Those who gossip rarely get answers to prayer, and often face persistent, unexplainable problems (Psalms 66:18, Prov. 21:23, Prov. 6:12-15).
What to do about Gossip
- If you have been a gossiper, confess this as sin and ask Christ to forgive you. “Repent” by turning in a new direction and surrendering your tongue to Christ, not to gossip or bad-mouth again (1 John 1:9, 1 Cor. 7:10).
- Keep your nose out of other people’s business.
- If you can’t say something good or encouraging about others, then keep your mouth shut (Eph. 4:29).
- Never criticize another person, except to their own face with an intent to help. Criticism can never be “constructive” if expressed to anyone else.
- If your “friends” start bad-mouthing others to you, stop them in their tracks -- refuse to be a partaker of their sins (1 Tim 5:22).
- Avoid association with persons who gossip (Prov. 20:19).
- Expose works of darkness by reporting gossip to the pastor that he may confront and offer correction. Gossip should be treated as any other vile sin (Eph. 5:11).
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA