Updated: Sep 29, 2019
It is easy to recognize and point out public sins (you know the blatant ones that everyone can see, the ones out in the open). However, private sins, like gossip need be identified and addressed as well. It is fine (and Biblical) to identify and confront sin in others if it is done with the proper motives (with a humble heart that is leaning on Jesus and rooted in love). But by the way, it is never loving to withhold the truth. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear and even harder to say. But, I'd rather have the hard truth than lies shrouded in a facade of false assurance. Yet, before we can help others with the speck in their eye, the Bible says we need to first consider the plank in our own eye.
"And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and THEN you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Matt 7:3-5
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits." Prov 18:21
Gossip is a serious sin, and many Christians fall prey to it. But, do we really even know what gossip is?
Or are our minds filled with the false notions that "gossip" is talking about someone who is not around, or in general saying something "negative" about someone else who is doing bad things. If we have the wrong idea of what gossip is, we will not obey Christ's command concerning how to deal with sin in the Church. Jesus said "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." He continued: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" [Mk 7:8-9] Our man-made religious tradition has incorrectly defined gossip as "talking behind other people's backs." Let's think this through... If true, the apostles and early disciples used gossip to spread the gospel; and the Bible is then a book of gossip, in general. We need to take this idea captive, and make it obedient to Christ.
Let's look at scripture to see what gossip is and what it is not. First, to illustrate what gossip is not, consider the following questions (the answers should be obvious):
Was Luke gossiping when he tells the embarrassing story "behind his back" of how Peter denied Jesus three times? [Luke 22:55-62]
When Chloe reported to Paul about the "divisions", "party-spirit", and "man-following" carnality of the Corinthians, did Paul rebuke her for gossiping, or receive this news as from the Lord and base several chapters of Scripture on this "negative" report she gave him? [1Cor 1:11]
Was Paul gossiping when he reported Peter's dramatic failure in Galatians 2:11?
Do you think Mark got permission from John and James before writing about their misguided desire to "be first"? [Mark 10:35-44]
Was Jesus gossiping when he said "negative" things behind the backs of the Pharisees and Herod [Mk 8:15], the Teachers of the Law [Lk 20:45-47], and the Sadducees [Mt 16:6]?
Was it gossip for Jesus to warn His disciples against false teachers and prophets, etc., when these teachers and prophets weren't around?
Obviously, we should not define "gossip" in a way that would accuse the Apostles, Scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit! God is light and He reveals and discloses true things--both positive and negative things--hidden in darkness. These instances mentioned from scripture are clearly not gossip.
Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."[Luke 12:1-3]
If anyone shared all of the details that Paul, Mark or Luke did in their writings, wouldn't they be labeled as a "gossip"? If these things weren't shared then how else would we learn from the mistakes or failures of others? God intends for us to live in the light; and let's not forget that darkness is a great place to hide-out for sinners--especially sinning "ministers"?
In 1Cor 10:6,11 it says "Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did... These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...
If our religious traditions of "gossip" were true, all news would be gossip. So then, what is gossip?
Gossip is inherently a "false witness" of slander. Slander is the lie, and gossip is the spreading of lies.
The danger is that gossip is not always completely false--it may have some relevance to the truth. But it will always have a perverted "twist" to it, and that is the lure. In some situations, a gossip is repeating some slander that someone else told them. The problem with misunderstanding what gossip is, is that it cuts both ways. It is spiritually stifling to label normal human conversation as gossip, but it is also a shame not to spiritually recognize real gossip when we are confronted with it, or when we are participating in it.
Here's an example of my own emotional reactions concerning this. It warms my heart to think that people are talking about me behind my back: telling others of my faith, mistakes, life, etc. It is my hope that the testimony of my life would edify and help others. The thought of this brings me not the least bit of concern, whatsoever, unless what is being said is slanderous or untrue.
However, let's look at when talking about someone behind their back may be wrong, even if it's not gossip. Suppose something true--or thought to be true--is said, but it's said in disobedience to the commands of Jesus in Matthew 18. When, and why, is it wrong to speak behind someone's back about something that you are convinced is true?
Matthew 18:15-17 tells us how to handle a situation when a person has sinned. "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." When Jesus was speaking in this passage of scripture His audience was all Jewish. When He told them to treat that person as a Gentile the Jewish audience would have know what he meant. In that day, a Gentile was considered to be an "outsider". If someone disobeys the first step of this command, then they should be confronted with love and humility and reminded of God's Word. But, we shouldn't call it gossip; except in the case where what is being said is maliciously made up or not true. Rather than misapply sins and brandish labels incorrectly, we need to simply encourage each other to obey the Lord.
But, if a person has been "shown the fault" and they do not repent, what is the next step? Think this through. To take "two or three" with you, you are going to have to talk about the situation with others to make your case, to see if they agree with you (as it relates to scripture), and so on. Interesting, isn't it, that obedience to the direct command of Christ would be instinctively thought of as "gossip" in many churches. We will never get around to obeying the Lord if we have false religious traditions of "gossip" buzzing around in our heads. "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him." [Luke 17:3 ]
Isn't it fascinating how satan can cripple our ability to obey the Lord with just a simple, obvious and incorrect idea about gossip? Gal 2:11 says that "When Peter came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." We can imply that this was not a rash accusation and that Paul had heard from "two or three" witnesses that what Peter was doing was wrong. Again, was this information picked up in normal Christian conversation, or "gossip"?
Satan has certainly affected how we think about gossip.
Now that we have defined what gossip is and is not, let's talk about it. The penalty for the sin of gossip is the same penalty as for the sin of murder. In our human reasoning, we can find ourselves minimizing certain sins and elevating others. Sin is sin, and the Lord abhors all of it. Gossip is a sin that is often overlooked and rationalized away. "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." [Prov 6:16-19] We need to understand how God feels about this and how destructive it is in the community of those professing to know and abide in a close relationship with Jesus. "Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure." [Psalm 101:5] "Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler." [Prov 20:19]
There is another instance when sharing information that is truthful is wrong. When we have been entrusted with information that is expected to be held in confidence, or when someone has shared sensitive personal information that they would not have shared unless they trusted you. "A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter." [Prov 11:13]
I believe that one of the primary tests over the things we speak is the intent and motives of our own heart. We plant seeds with our words. Keep in mind, the Bible promises us that we will reap what we sow. James 3:5 tells us, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Jesus had some harsh things to say about the words we speak: "You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." [Matt 12:34-37]
Even subtle insinuations can mislead others into thinking wrong thoughts, especially if the conclusions are based on gossipy hunches. Proverbs 26:20 tells us, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” [Luke 12:3].
"If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man's religion is vain." [James 1:26] Does this mean what it says? Yes. We have to realize that gossiping is dangerous to us spiritually. "But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth." [Colossians 3:8]
Even though we live in a generation that revolves around reality TV and real life dramas, we can't let ourselves get sucked into the vortex, especially after we have been shown the truth in God's Word. You can't un-know what you now know. We are accountable for the truth the Lord has revealed to us. Gossip comes in many flavors, and it involves listening as well. Proverbs 17:4 notes: “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.” Yikes! James 5:9 says, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” We may think we’re just passing on the latest news. But, could it hurt someone? Uh. Maybe. If there are no genuine intentions for reconciliation, authentic prayer, a lesson learned or to reach out to help then it isn't necessary to share.
“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” [Proverbs 13:3] This is serious in the eye's of our Lord and not only does He know your heart He sees it all. "For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline they will die led astray by their own great folly." [Prov 5:21-23]
So, how do we stop something that has become a bad habit? There isn't an exact formula that will keep you or me from ever gossiping again (we are, after all, human beings who fall short). But the more we seek Christ and genuinely spend time with Him, the less desire we will have to gossip or to do anything that contradicts His instructions. The more we meditate on what He's told us we begin to grow in Him, and we lose the appetite for things that God dislikes. We begin to think with new thoughts as our mind is transformed by the Word of God. Our old thinking is rooted in the ways of the world, but when we read the Bible, it begins to renew our mind and reprogram our thinking by the power of the Holy Spirit as He illuminates truth in our hearts.
1. Seek His forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9] Bring the truth to God, stand at the threshold, vulnerable and open-hearted. Repenting of the gossip opens us to God’s healing hand.
2. Ask the Lord to remove the desire for gossip. Pray for His Spirit. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10]
You can be sorry and still not repent. Repentance means that you actually stop doing what you are sorry for. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." [2 Cor 7:10] If you don't "feel" sorry then ask the Lord to bring you to repentance and to help you to have a desire in your heart to obey His Words.
3. Put it into practice. The not-so-fun-and-sometimes-awkward-but-rewarding part…
The first step to shutting down gossip is to convince people of how God views gossip. We can do this by intentionally putting it before people. This is simply calling attention to it. Instead of being passive (not talking about it); we need to be active, without becoming preoccupied by it. If someone has an issue with another person, then encourage them to go and talk to them personally... share Matthew 18. But, we need to take a stand upon God's Word and humbly share this truth. It is an opportunity to explain what God has been teaching us personally about gossip. You can share that you are trying to be obedient and live in a way that pleases the Lord. If we gossip, it is important to go in humility to the people we have gossiped with and ask them to forgive you. This closes the loop and reinforces the need to reject the sin of gossip. It's also an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of the person you are speaking with as they witness the evidence of Christ working in your heart. “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” [Proverbs 21:23] New opportunities to gossip will come, and with them also, a time for you to make a choice. We know God will help us. Remind yourself of some of these verses.
“Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” [Psalm 141:3]
When we want to see change in our lives in an area where we struggle, we should know where to go. The answer is found in the Lord. We can do all things through him who strengthens us. [Philippians 4:13]
"Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." [Titus 3:1-2]
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." [Eph 4:29]
Father, we honor your name this day for it is to be greatly revered and esteemed. We pray that you will forgive us for the sin of our lips. Help us Lord to put a guard over the words that we speak. Deliver us from evil and lead us in the way we should go. Help us to humble ourselves and not walk in pride or arrogance. We forgive those who have sinned against us, just as you have forgiven us with an unmerited grace that we don't deserve. Draw us into your Word and change us by it. Strip away the lies that we have believed about ourselves and others. Help us to see, know and understand the truth of your Kingdom, your character and your ways. Help us to resist temptation and empower us by your Holy Spirit to overcome it. Let our testimony lead us to praise you and to bask in your presence as your name is glorified. May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the name above every other name our King Jesus. Amen!