Before You Gossip, THINK
Humans are social beings. One of the most potent and often used tools in our socialization is talk. Because words convey thoughts, they are used to communicate and reveal the thoughts of a speaker that would otherwise remain unknown. It is very common for this talk to include comments about other persons, made in their absence. Such behind-the-back talk is most often about not-so-positive or outright wrong things that the absent third party has done. The third party being discussed is hardly painted in a positive light and if they happen to suddenly appear on the scene, the conversation ceases. The person being told the privileged information usually has no business knowing it.
The dictionary defines gossip as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true. I hear (gossip?) that the term originates from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social event attended by women. The pregnant woman’s female relatives and neighbours would congregate and idly converse. Over time, gossip came to mean talk of others.
Gossip Even Among Believers
There is hardly anyone who can claim to never have been involved in tattle. You become aware of something concerning someone and there is an excitement to want to tell it to someone else. This vice is present in Church too. I have heard people in Church say, “I am telling you this so that you can pray for xyz”. How virtuous! It’s mostly a cover for gossip. Gossip can be disguised as a friendly invitation for fellowship but contains a disastrous disease inside. Gossip is an easy sin to commit and comes in many forms: venting, spreading rumours, sharing opinions, seeking advice.
Following Jesus’ resurrection, he had a discussion with Peter in which he asked him to “Follow me!” Peter went ahead to inquire about another disciple, John: “Lord, what about him?” ‘Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumour spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”’ (John 21:22-23).
John, in his third letter, calls out a member of the congregation by the name of Diotrephes. John says Diotrephes “loves to be first” and had been “gossiping maliciously about us” (3 John 1:9-10). You can feel the pain in the apostle’s voice as he reports the gossip. Gossip does a great deal of harm and shouldn’t be found in church.
The Dangers of Gossip
- Gossip is Divisive: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Gossip is not an innocuous past-time; it divides relationships and destroys trust. The pain associated with gossip is felt long after the words are spoken. A gossip sows negative perceptions about someone else and harms friendships. A quarrel mixed with gossip is one of the hardest conflicts to resolve; the divisions just seem impossible to heal: “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20). Do you have a conflict that is intractable? You might need to check for the presence of gossip. The Bible clearly admonishes that we warn a divisive person once, and then a second time. “After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10). Such a person is warped, sinful and self-condemned, it adds.
- Gossip is Poisonous: “All kind of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8).
This same part of the body that is used to praise God is here described as a restless evil, full of deadly poison. An untamed tongue is not a benign part of the body; it causes a lot of harm. Speaking evil of others harms their reputation and that of the gossiper too. When the person being gossiped about gets wind of what has been said about them, the hurt is usually deep: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 26:22). Just like physical poison goes deep into the body’s cells to wreck its havoc, so do the words of a gossip. You shouldn’t be one.
- Gossip is Betrayal: “A gossip betrays confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). To have the confidence of anyone is a great trust. One of the easiest ways to lose that is to gossip. Gossip is a betrayal of hard-earned trust. It is a foolish venture to engage in really. It might be difficult to resist a conversation where titbits you find entertaining are being released about someone you are not enthused about, but such a scenario should reveal more about who you are as a recipient of gossip than it does about the person whose reputation is being tarnished. When you think of Jesus’ warning that “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36), then gossip is really a foolish venture. Even our carefully thought out and written words are soon forgotten; how then would one account for something carelessly said?
Before You Gossip, T H I N K
Think, as used here is an acronym I once heard someone speak about and I think it is a useful safeguard against the sin of gossip. Here’s what the acronym think means:
T – True: The thing you want to say about the absent third party, is it true? Many times gossip springs from malice – the desire to cause pain, injury or distress to another. Saying negative stuff about someone achieves just that. But scripture has been very clear about God’s opposition to such behaviour: “You must not tell lies about other people” (Exodus 20:16). Before you gossip, pause and consider whether what you want to say is the truth or not. If it is not, shut up your mouth!
H – Helpful: What you are about to say, is it helpful? Will anyone get helped by or benefit positively from it or will it achieve the opposite? If it doesn’t help the recipient or the person who is the subject of the discussion, you will do well to just shut up your mouth. The words of Ephesians 4:29 should be your guide: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
I – Inspiring: Will what you say be inspiring? Will it spur to good works? Will it have an exalting or uplifting influence on any of the parties involved? If your words will not inspire, your best option is to keep quiet. Instead of gossip, “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Let the effect of your words be that someone is fired up toward love and doing good.
N – Necessary: Hello, that thing you are itching to say, is it necessary? Who will die if you don’t say it? What solution to any global problem does that secret talk solve? If you opt to keep quiet, what loss will your silence cause? You can see that so much of the things that we say are unnecessary. Paul told Timothy to “avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly” (2 Timothy 2:16). If that is the effect of godless chatter, you can see that it is not necessary. If what you want to say doesn’t pass this test, just shut up!
K – Kind: the thing you want to say to someone about another person, behind their back, is it of a sympathetic, friendly, considerate or helpful nature? When the subject of the discussion gets to hear what you said about them, will it grate them or be pleasing to them? If the same thing you are about to say is said about you or someone you love, will you be happy? If it will not, bridle your tongue. “Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out” (Colossians 4:6); “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
Gossip in the Age of the Internet
Has it ever been easier to spread gossip? We might name it fake news but it is actually gossip. Speech in today’s world means more than to mouth something; it includes all forms in which information is spread. Gossip has morphed into a billion-dollar industry with the rise of blogs and gossip sites; conspiracy theorists have found high-paying employment in this sin. With the click of a button, false information about someone can be shared, go viral and be seen by millions of people around the world. Whereas gossip previously involved a few persons coming together to talk, the power of the internet has exponentially expanded the listening audience.
Therefore, the things that have been said above about gossip apply to what you can sit behind a keyboard and type out, post, repost, share, tweet or retweet. The larger audience means that the damaging effects are even more ruinous, with much more ease. Therefore, before you post or share or tweet or retweet, THINK.
In all your speaking, never forget what Jesus said: “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). The command to “let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29) is in itself the grace of God at work. Jesus is able to help you in this matter. Ask him for help. But you must play your own role as your speech is not automated but a voluntary action. Therefore, before you gossip, THINK!