The Trap of Tolerated Transgressions: Gossip

My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice. I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning, malicious, and gather strength with age. The more I am quoted the more I am believed. I flourish at every level of society. My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name or face. Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same. I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights. I spawn suspicion and generate grief. Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip.” [Author unknown]

As Christians we are quick to condemn those who engage in serious forms of verbal assault: “blasphemers” (those who vilify, speak evil or rail against another), “false accusers” (slanderers – the Greek word for the devil) and “backbiters” (those who talk against or defame). But do we excuse gossipers? Are we guilty of gossip ourselves? Do we share information on the personal lives of others that serves no noble purpose?

Gossip is information about the behavior and personal lives of other people and is often sensational and intimate in nature. The Greek word for “gossip” means to “whisper,” which is the word used by the KJV translators. The very word implies something spoken in secret which should not be talked about openly. A “gossip” is a person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts.

In addition to “gossips” and “whisperers,” there are other descriptions used throughout the Bible. The OT uses the term “talebearers” for a Hebrew word meaning scandal mongers; a talebearer reveals secrets that should not be passed on. The NT uses “busybodies” to refer to those who meddle in and discuss other people’s business and “tattlers” to describe those who ramble on in pointless speech, often about the lives of others. A Biblical definition of gossip is the spreading of rumors or secrets, speaking about someone behind their back or repeating something about another which is not beneficial.

Why are we drawn to gossip? Gossip is attractive – it is often titillating, sensational, and revealing. Secret words shared behind the back of a third party give the whisperer a sense of being “in the know.” The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov 18:8; 26:20-22, ESV). There is something in our sinful, pride-filled nature that loves to hear of the failure and problems of others. In some perverse way we feel that the flaws of others make us look better.

Yet the reality is that gossip is sinful. Gossip is a feature of those who have rejected God. Paul says of the unbeliever: “They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful” (Rom 1:30). Gossip is a product of the sinful nature, not the Spirit, so Paul was fearful that, when he came to Corinth, he would find “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (2Cor 12:20). The Christian should avoid gossip because of its source. It is the fruit of the fallen nature.

Not only is gossip sinful, but it is also  harmful. It betrays friends and stirs up resentment toward others. “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Prov 16:28, ESV).  Gossiping divulges secrets and tarnishes reputations, and people form character judgments based on the information shared. Friendships are ruined when confidences are violated. “Whoever goes about slandering (as a talebearer – KJV) reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov 11:13, ESV).

Even more seriously, sharing gossip causes distrust, resentment and strife among fellow believers. Proverbs says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov 26:20, ESV). Purported words, implied motives, supposed intentions and whispered half-truths are the staples of gossip. Gossip has no commitment to truth. There are no “fact-checkers” to review gossip before it is shared. The more it is repeated the more it becomes accepted as truth. It often perpetuates and fuels conflicts among believers.

Christians are commanded by the Scriptures to put away evil speaking and slander and to avoid gossiping. In the OT God said, “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people” (Lev 19:16, ESV). In the NT Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph 4:31, ESV). Peter makes the same point, “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all evil speakings” (1Peter 2:1). The Christian is not to be characterized by any form of slanderous speech – evil speaking, railing, slandering, or even gossiping. Rather the Christian is to be committed to speaking the truth. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph 4:25, ESV).

According to the Lord Jesus, the distinguishing mark of Christianity is to be that “you have love one to another” (John 13:35, ESV). Gossip is not love in action. Sharing private or personal information about your fellow believers (especially their flaws and failures) is the opposite of loving them. “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1Cor 13:6, ESV). “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1Peter 4:8, ESV).

Gossip is often disguised in religious clothing. We share information so that others “can pray about the situation” or because we feel they “need to know the real situation.” While there are certainly occasions that require the sharing of information, we must search our motives. Have we considered the irreparable harm to others our words may cause? Are the words we speak verified? Are they words that will tear down the reputations of others? Let us then examine our conversations and challenge our motives. Rather than gossip, let us speak words of truth motivated by love.