Frederick Darrell tells a story from his childhood in Guyana. His family lived along a small stream in the country. They raised their food including chickens. There came a time when the family noticed they were missing chickens but they couldn’t figure out where they were going. Maybe some were just wandering off or maybe someone was taking the birds. The family never heard any commotion and never found any evidence of theft. One night Frederick was in the yard near the chickens. They had roosted around the stream and on some limbs overhanging the water. Suddenly Frederick hears a splash. Fast movement in the water, a swirl of the water and a few feathers floating down. The chicken that was sitting on the limb was now gone in a flash. Frederick found the answer. An anaconda also lived in the stream and would feast upon the chickens perched just above the water. The same stream Frederick and his family washed in and played in was concealing the giant snake!
Gossip is a lot like that snake. It lies just out of sight in our churches, workplaces, classrooms and even our homes. We don’t think of it too much but it is there. Sometimes gossip rises up with great ferocity and terrible consequences. Like Frederick’s chicken, people are destroyed before they ever know what hit them.
Sometimes the intent of a gossiper is to harm someone else through secretive whispers. There is not much we need to say abouct vicious gossip as everyone knows the awful nature of it. Persons who spread vicious words ought to be marked and we ought limit our associations with them. Their poison is sure to infect our lives sooner or later.
But sometimes we find ourselves in an odd position. We do not originate the gossip but we repeat it. Of course we do not view it as gossip. Usually we think we are just informing someone or bringing them up to date on some situation. Use extreme caution here! Our reason for gossip is irrelevant. The damage is done nonetheless. David called upon God to punish those who were wicked with their speech (Psalm 59:12).
Well Intentioned Gossip
Not everyone who gossips does so out of impure motives. Sometimes the intention is good. We really do not think we are gossiping yet the effect is identical. Consider the following conversation:
“Have you seen Tom at church lately?” she asked.
“No I haven’t. I hope everything is ok” came the reply.
“Well, you know he and Mary are having trouble.”
“Really? I wonder if there something I can do?”
“Yes, John told me they argued all the time and just couldn’t get along”
“Have you talked to either of them?”
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want to cause a problem…”
The conversation continues from there and usually goes downhill. Using information from a third party which may or may not be true is wrong. If our imaginary conversant was interested he should have expended his energy calling Tom and asking question for himself. Instead his interest, which probably had a good motive, became fodder for gossip.
“That was a great sermon you preached yesterday, I really enjoyed it.”
“Thanks, that’s very kind” the preacher replied.
“You know somebody really needs to talk to Tom about his kids. They are really creating a ruckus during worship.”
“Really? Have you mentioned it to him?
“Who me? No, no, I wouldn’t want to cause a problem…”
He wouldn’t want to cause a problem but he would be happy for the preacher to do it for him! The person may have a point. The children may be disruptive and Tom needs to know it. But passing the task to someone else is almost always wrong regardless of our motives.
Consider a quarterback. He takes the snap. He looks. He throws. Intercepted! The player runs the ball back for a touchdown! The quarterback intended a good play. He really wanted to win. But his throw may have cost his team the game. It is the outcome that we must consider.
The Bible on Gossip
I think there are at least three foundational Bible passages that we should examine. The Lord sets a high standard which Christians ought aim for. Given that gossip can be so destructive we shouldn’t be surprised that the topic is addressed.
James spoke plainly about the dangerous tongue.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:6-12)
Our speech can be a great tool for good (Proverbs 15:1) or a horrible weapon of destruction (Psalm 64:3; Psalm 140:3). Being aware of the power of words is the first step towards controlling what we say, to whom we say it and how we say it. Discussing another’s weaknesses and struggles with someone not involved does not build up and will most certainly tear down.
The Golden Rule
You have been the victim of gossip haven’t you? Most of us have felt the sting of secrets made public, troubles broadcast and embarrassments publicized. You have felt the Cassian knife pierce you through, wielded by a trusted friend. Gossip hurts.
Any and all gossip is prevented by the application of the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (NRSV).
If you do not want to be gossiped about – don’t gossip. It’s a profound truth that when people but themselves in the place of others goodness always follows. I would insist that a universal application of the Golden Rule would instantly end all gossip. We are not naive, there will never be such a global adoption of this Biblical precept but we can apply it to ourselves and thus change our attitude and actions toward others.
The Bible Way
Sometimes issues do arise that must be discussed. The Bible teaches that we should insert ourselves into certain situations. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2). We cannot ignore problems and troubles in the life of a friend. There is a way to approach the problem without gossip.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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” (Matthew 18:15-17).
The process is so simple and so effective:
- Two or three to one
- Group to one
- Expulsion (1)some people will not hear and may be impossible to be with or work around (Romans 12:18)
The Bible way works. It prevents needless embarrassment, waging tongues and conflict. Most people appreciate the courage and concern it takes to confront another directly. Try it.
Gossip can destroy relationships instantly. Friendships built over decades can be wiped away with a thoughtless piece of gossip. It’s time to stop it.
Next week I’ll post 5 Ways to Shut Down the Gossip Machine. Please be sure and watch for this important article. Be sure and subscribe to The Preacher’s Study Blog so you won’t miss a single article. There are different ways to subscribe and all are completely free. Join those who already subscribe by clicking on the link above or going to the Subscribe tab at the very top.
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