The Sin of Gossip
Morgan Blake, a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal, wrote these words:
“I am more deadly than the screaming shell from the Howitzer. I win without killing. I tear down homes, break hearts and wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me. No purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive, and my name is gossip.”
What a vivid portrait of the deadly power of gossip! It has the power to do irreversible damage!
What is gossip?
The word “gossip” means to go around and “criticize” or “slander” someone behind their back. One dictionary defines it as “To run about and tattle.” Gossip is speech specifically designed to destroy a person’s character and cast them in a negative light. It is speech that is behind the back and not to the front of the face.
Gossip destroys character, ruins reputation, destroys peace, and breaks many relationships. Even the sword does not make so deep a wound as the gossiping tongue! Thus, it is no wonder the Bible has much to say about this sin.
The damages caused by gossip.
Romans 1:29 lists “gossip” as one among many sins that characterize the life of an unbeliever. Proverbs 16:28 reminds us that “gossip separates close friends.” No wonder God strongly warned his people even as early as in Leviticus 19:16 with these words, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people…I am the LORD.”
The fundamental problem with gossip is it has the potential to do irreversible damage.
The story is told of a young man during the Middle Ages who went to a monk, saying, “I’ve sinned by telling slanderous statements about someone. What should I do now?” The monk replied, “Put a feather on every doorstep in town.” The young man did it. He then returned to the monk, wondering if there was anything else that he should do.
The monk said, “Go back and pick up all the feathers.” The young man replied, “That’s impossible! By now, the wind will have blown them all over town.” Said the monk, “Likewise, your slanderous word has become impossible to retrieve.” Such is the effect of gossip!
The cure for gossip.
One solution to the gossip problem is found in Proverbs 26:20: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Just as without wood, a fire dies, quarrels also die when there is no gossip. You see, gossip flourishes in an environment only where it is encouraged. So if we refrain from listening to gossip, the resulting effects, such as quarrels, breaking of relationships, etc., won’t happen.
Believers should never serve as the fuel that keeps the fire of gossip going. We need to walk away from such an environment. Not easy to do so since the sin of gossip has an appealing power to it, as stated in Proverbs 26:22, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” Just like it is hard to say “No” to tasty food, it is hard to close our ears to juicy news!
But we must remember: Gossip is a sin, and there are no two ways about it! And our Lord hates gossip. That’s why we must also strive to keep ourselves from listening to gossip. We cannot control what comes out of the mouth of others. But we can for sure control what goes into our ears. Open mouths stay open as long as there are open ears. So, let us train our ears to be closed to gossip.
We must lovingly and yet firmly communicate to the one gossiping 2 things:
(1) Encourage them to go straight to the person they are slandering and address the issue directly with them.
(2) Our ears are not open to gossip in the future.
And in addition to refraining from listening to gossip, it might be helpful to remember 2 other things when dealing with gossip.
First, we need to realize that the fundamental cause of this sin is a lack of love toward others. When love for individuals declines or stops altogether, we tend to see them negatively and thus are more prone to slander them. So, we need to guard ourselves against developing bitterness towards others [Eph 4:29-32] if we desire to stay away from the sin of gossip. Even if people have hurt us and feel slandering is a way to get back at them, it is still a sin. No use in trying to justify our actions. God calls gossip sin, and that’s it!
Second, suppose we have something against someone. Instead of speaking behind the person’s back, it is best to go directly to them—after spending time in private [not public] prayer about this matter. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you…” Even though this verse is in the context of church discipline, the direct approach principle, even in cases dealing with non-church members, is an excellent practice to follow.
While this may not be an easy task, we must believe the Lord will also give us the necessary strength to obey this command! So, by confronting the sin personally and directly with the hope that the other person would repent, we can protect ourselves from slandering people behind their backs.
None of us would like others to gossip about us behind our backs. We know the hurt it causes. Why, then, should we indulge in doing the same to others? We cannot do to others what we would not like for them to do to us.
Let’s take the sin of gossip seriously and seek to put these principles to practice if we desire to be free from this sin. More importantly, let us go to the Lord in repentance if we are guilty of this sin. Let’s ask him to help us in our efforts to pursue purity of speech. And let’s take comfort in the Bible’s promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:9]. God promises that the “blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” [1 John 1:7].
Today can be a new beginning. From here on, we can strive daily by depending on the power of the Holy Spirit to keep our lips free from gossip and our ears free from listening to gossip. May the words of Peter govern our thinking in this area, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech” [1 Pet 3:10].