Gossip — What’s Wrong with It?
Gossip can refer to trivial talk, which is generally harmless, but gossip that involves talking about others behind their backs in either a derogatory fashion or concerning personal matters is definitely wrong. This includes putting a negative spin on what a person says and does. Although there are sometimes legitimate reasons for discussing a person’s possible flaws and questionable character, like work or ministry situations (hiring, promoting or demoting, etc.), outside of these obvious exceptions it becomes gossip.
Why is gossip wrong? For one thing, because the victim of the gossip isn’t present to defend himself or herself. Secondly, because speaking badly of people behind their backs smacks of arrogance, which is a superiority complex. When people tear others down or make fun of them they’re in essence lifting themselves up. Thirdly, gossip is just plain ignoble and suggests a “two-face” personality. Gossipers will usually put on friendly airs in the presence of their victims, but then proceed to destroy them behind their backs with the “sword of their mouth” (Proverbs 25:18). Whether the gossiper realizes it or not, the gossip will poison people’s minds against the victim. Lastly, gossip is wrong because the information might not even be true. It might only be partially correct or wholly false. When this happens the gossip becomes slander or false testimony! Even if the gossip starts out as accurate it becomes less accurate the more people it goes through, meaning it devolves into slander. As such, those who engage in this kind of gossip are breaking one of the ten commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”!
For all these reasons, God hates gossip. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven severe sins that God especially hates:
16 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Three of these seven are directly linked to gossip and another is indirectly linked. A “lying tongue” and a “false witness who pours out lies” bespeak of a gossiper because, again, gossip naturally devolves into slander. A “person who stirs up conflict in the community” also points to gossip because hostility and division are the results of gossip. Lastly, “haughty eyes” is indirectly tied to gossip because haughty eyes stem from a proud heart (Proverb 21:4) and pride is the root cause of gossip. Pride gives birth to envy, jealousy and rivalry, and the result is gossip — defaming the person.
Gossips & Slanderers are Fools who Hurt and Cause Dissension
Proverbs is the book of godly wisdom; notice what it blatantly says about those who gossip and slander:
…whoever spreads slander is a fool.
With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor…
A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor…
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
Gossips & slanderers are fools who destroy others with their tongue, which is the “sword” of their mouth. People who regularly engage in gossip & slander are “perverse” because they naturally stir up conflict and destroy relationships. They destroy relationships because, on some level, they’re jealous or envious of the relationship. For instance, they might be envious of the loyalty someone shows to their rival and so they naturally gravitate toward destroying that relationship with gossip & slander.
It has been said that small minds talk about people, average minds talk about things and great minds talk about ideas. People who are gossips & slanderers reveal how small they are — they’re small-minded people.
By contrast, godly people — those who are “like God” — build others up with their tongues through encouragement, knowledge and appropriate correction:
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
The lips of the righteous nourish many,
Let a righteous man strike me–that is a kindness; let him rebuke me–that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it,
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
That last one reveals something about gossip & slander: it’s verbal violence that attacks people with words behind their backs. As such, the tongue of gossips & slanderers is their weapon:
Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor.
It’s natural to think of “false testimony” in the sense of a witness in a court trial but, really, anytime someone shares information about another person that isn’t wholly accurate it’s a form of false testimony — it’s testifying to other people against that person and, consequently destroying his or her reputation. People who do this are utilizing their tongue as a “club,” “a sword” or a “sharp arrow.” In other words, gossips & slanderers may not be wielding a literal weapon, like a gun or knife, but they have their tongue and they use it as a weapon to covertly destroy others and their relationships.
We see evidence of this repeatedly in God’s Word:
You who practice deceit, your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor.
I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts– men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
See what they spew from their mouths– the words from their lips are sharp as swords, and they think, “Who can hear us?”
A lot of gossips & slanderers will put on an innocent act — like they’re unaware of the harmful effects of their talebearing words — but, make no mistake, they realize the destructive power of their tongues and relish using it to destroy, even if it’s on a subconscious level.
Gossips & Slanderers are Two-Faces
Those who regularly badmouth others with their tongues are typically two-faces who smile to your face, but destroy you behind your back:
…they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.
Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts.
His talk is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.
It goes without saying that once someone proves they’re a two-face — a verbal backstabber — it’s almost impossible to be close with that person. As such, gossips & slanderers are their own worse enemies; they destroy their own potential for genuine, close relationships. True, they might be able to hide their backstabbing proclivities with their charm for a time, but if they don’t honestly repent they’ll be found out and no one in their right mind will want to be close to them, particularly anyone who’s remotely godly. Speaking of repentance, I don’t have a problem having relationships with ex-gossips & slanders — those who have had a humbling, life-changing encounter with the LORD and honestly repent. But that’s not who I’m talking about here; I’m talking about those who gossip & slander year after year, decade after decade with no concern to repent, even professing Christians and ministers. Such people are hypocrites, which literally means “actors.” In other words, their fakes or phonies.
“Put to Silence” Gossips within Your Sphere of Influence
David is described as “a man after God’s own heart” in the Scriptures and he wouldn’t even badmouth his enemy, King Saul, who was trying to kill him! When David later became king of Israel he made it clear that gossip and slander would not be tolerated in his kingdom:
Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.
Like David, we need to make sure that gossip is not tolerated in our “kingdom.” This means your sphere of influence — your house, your neighborhood, your friends & family, your workplace, your school or class, etc.
I’ve come to really hate gossip. A couple of years ago someone said something defamatory about an enemy of mine. I guess he thought I’d welcome the information since the man was an enemy, but he was wrong. I knew what he said wasn’t true, so I corrected it on the spot and the gossip was snuffed out. Even in cases where the information is correct it’s wrong to condone the talk. For instance, back in 2007 I fell into some gossip with a few other people about a man I was at odds with at the time and it went on for a few minutes as we mocked the guy. My wife, Carol, didn’t indulge in the derogatory remarks and later told me she didn’t feel right about it. The next Wednesday I was scheduled to give a sermon. I had taught this sermon before and new it well, but I struggled through the entire teaching and could hardly connect one point to another. Afterwards, by the Spirit, I knew that the Lord was rebuking me for engaging in gossip. It didn’t matter that it was an enemy or that it was true. It was wrong and the Lord’s anointing left me. Needless to say, I repented!
It’s even wrong to condone gossip. I’m talking about hearing people gossip and allowing them to continue, even though you’re not technically engaging in it. Why is it wrong? For one, because your mind will be poisoned by the negative information, whether you realize it or not. Secondly, by giving ear to the gossiper you fuel the gossip and are encouraging its spread. The best way to deal with such situations is to either immediately excuse yourself (which speaks volumes by itself) or counteract the gossip with something positive about the victim in question. For instance, someone might say, “Jack’s such an alcoholic!” Counteract it with, “Maybe, but he’s one of the kindest persons I’ve ever met.”
If the people gossiping are believers you can stop them in their tracks by suggesting prayer for the victim and then do it — bow your head and start praying. If the gossiper is an elder in the church, like a pastor, teacher, deacon or worship leader, you should correct him/her on the spot. Why? Because elders are leaders and are supposed to set a godly example. Be as gentle or stern as the situation calls for, as led of the Holy Spirit. If they’re truly spiritual they’ll appreciate your correction and commend you for it; if not, they’ll hate you for it (Proverbs 9:7-9).
Although I was never a problem gossiper, I’ve of course indulged in it simply because it’s so easy to fall into. The way the LORD dealt with me was to convict me if I engaged in gossip, meaning he made me feel bad about it. I felt like I was being unfaithful to the person in question; like I was sinning against him or her. On one occasion a person’s name came up and Carol and I started focusing on her flaws and I immediately felt bad about it. I said, “I don’t want to be like this, Carol.” So Carol & I have gotten in the habit of correcting each other if a conversation starts to devolve into gossip. Instead of gossiping about people we humbly pray for them (just be careful that the prayer doesn’t turn into gossip-with-the-airs-of-prayer, if you know what I mean). This “buddy system” has helped purge gossip from our lives.
Titus 3:2 instructs: “speak evil of no one“. Chew on that!
It’s Impossible for Gossips & Slanderers to be Close to God
Let’s close with a fascinating insight from one of David’s psalms:
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Verse 1 asks the question: “Who may dwell in your sacred tent?” The “sacred tent” refers to the Old Testament tabernacle that was used to house the Ark of the Covenant before Solomon built the temple; God’s presence dwelt on the cover of this Ark between the sculptured cherubim. The second half of the verse asks: “Who may live on your holy hill?” The “holy hill” refers to Mount Zion, which was the site of the Jerusalem tabernacle and temple, God’s dwelling.
This verse is an example of Hebrew poetry called synonymous parallelism where the second part of the verse says the same thing as the first, but in different words. In essence, verse 1 is asking the question: Who may be close to God? or Who hangs out in God’s presence? The psalm proceeds to answer by listing several attributes of those who are close to God and hang out in his presence. With this in mind, notice what verse 3 says:
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
As you can see, only those who “utter no slander” and cast “no slur on others” can be close with the LORD! This means that anyone who’s an unrepentant gossip & slanderer is not close to God, no matter what they claim or what position they hold in a fellowship, including pastors, apostles, evangelists, teachers, prophets and those involved in praise & worship.
People who regularly and unrepentently engage in gossip & slander might as well be holding a blow horn anouncing, “I’m NOT close to God; I DON’T hang out in the presence of the LORD!!”
Christ said, “By their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:16,19-20).
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