George Harrison of The Beatles was right when he referred to gossip as the “Devil’s Radio.” In an age of overabundance of information, it is easy to tune into the frequency of social media where news are often blown out of proportions. Perhaps, in no other generation like ours is discernment required to such a great degree. While the gospel calls us to confess our sins, gossip confesses other people’s sins. Gossip broadcasts people’s weaknesses and sins in a whisper while others tune into the frequency. But it is always wiser to put a hold on any given subject until we’ve gained a fuller picture. We are all transparent before the Holy Spirit who sees and knows all our thoughts. I am transparent to my wife and other elders who speak into my life biblically and truthfully.
Everything is naked and laid bare before God, to whom everyone must give an account (Heb. 4: 12, 13). I believe we are to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another as priests (Jas. 5:16). I believe in the kind of transparency that Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). But what is often passed off as Christian transparency is sometimes-
Faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts. This exhibitionistic “virtue” is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.
Sometimes discretion may be better than transparency precisely because it takes spiritual maturity to be entrusted with confidential information. In some cases, you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone and the gossip had already started. What should you do in such a case?
1. Listen objectively without taking sides and hold back judgments.
“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18: 17). Listen with sympathy about the person being talked about, knowing that the person being talked about is not present to be able to defend himself/herself. Don’t chime in or endorse!
In some cases, the person may come crying. When that happens, out of love for the person it is easy to believe everything the person says. Sometimes, people cry not because they are innocent, but their burdens have become too heavy. In such cases, tears can also be manipulative.
Think about when Esau returned from his hunt, he wept bitterly. Esau was the victim of his own foolishness. He sold his birthright eagerly for a morsel of food to his brother, and when the blessing was given to Jacob (the swindler), he blamed it all on Jacob with tears—without admitting his own foolishness. We are all skilled self-swindlers. Besides it’s easy to feel sorry for the one who’s crying rather than the dry-eyed one–because when people cry, they can look like they’re the victim. We must listen well with compassion, without being prejudiced in our discernment.
2. Gossip can destroy respect for the person being talked about.
It is wise to refrain from arriving at conclusions based on what you heard about the person. Gossip is second, third, or fourth hand information and when a morsel of truth is passed on, truth gets distorted and is diluted.
Even an element of truth becomes disproportionate and mixed up with personal opinions and judgments on the person’s character and reputation (sometimes this is done by well-meaning people).
For example: Person A may really respect person B, and because person A eagerly believed what he heard about person C say of person B, now person A has lost his trust and respect for person B (which may actually be partial truth but poisonous nonetheless).
Nothing may be as poisonous and destructive as gossip is in a community.
The Apostle James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (4:10-11). The word “speak against” is not necessarily a false report. It can mean just an “against-report.” The intent may be to belittle a person or be contemptuous. It can mean to disdain, mock, or rejoice in purported evil. These are subtler yet sinful forms of speaking against a person created in God’s image. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18: 21ff). So we can either speak life or destroy a person with gossip.
3. Realize that chronic gossip is in itself a deep character problem.
For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The tongue, James says “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3: 8). Proverbs says that those who gossip are untrustworthy: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Prov. 20:19). In Asian cultures, group conformity tends to encourage people to avoid confrontations to the extreme, whereas in Western culture, individualism tends to lead people to err on the opposite side of over confrontations (Mat. 18:10-15). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11: 13). Those who gossip to you will gossip about you because they are not “trustworthy in spirit.” In any case, prayerfully discern when to avoid the gossiper next time, or gently confront the sin (recognizing the ugliness of your own sin and the grace you have received) (Gal. 6: 1-2).
4. Pour water (not more fuel) to the fire.
In other words, refuse to become a channel of gossip and walk in love (Eph. 5: 2). Leviticus 19:16 says, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.” Gossip is smearing a person’s character. Gossip may involve details that are not confirmed as true. It endangers a person’s credibility and can bring your neighbor’s reputation to ruins. It is the opposite of the commandment to love your neighbor—who bear God’s image. Even if the report being said about the person ends up being true, be hesitant to become a carrier of bad news. Remember how instead of piling up all your bad records, Jesus has cancelled them on the cross (Col. 2:14).
Seek prayerfully for clarification; ask God, before you ask others, what to do with the bad report. Proverbs 16:28 tells us how destructive gossip can become in relationships: “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Fight the urge to add more fuel to stir up “conflict” that separates close friends. Satan is the master of division!
Someone once said that gossip is giving others some strife instead of peace. It always brings more strife than peace! Gossip pours fuel on the conflict setting the entire community on fire. It poisons relationships and multiplies misunderstandings. Gossip never has positive outcomes! Besides, there is a lot of truth that need not be passed around by people who are recipients of God’s lavish grace.
Gossip is always on the erring side because gossip is confessing other people’s sin without giving them the chance to repent.
Gossip is a like a terrible drug and very addictive. For many, it is impossible to live without passing on bad news about someone, some churches or ministries because gossip has become a chronic illness. Hence, gossip becomes an idol—something you can’t live with—something that gives you a false sense of superiority and self-righteousness over others.
The solution is not to simply try and control the tongue, because to be free from gossip an axe must be laid at the root of gossip. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (Jas. 3: 6). Therefore, the root problem of gossip is in the heart: “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6: 45). Pray and give room and time for grace, repentance, healing and restoration to take place in a relationship that has been torn by gossip.
“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” –Proverbs. 26: 20
With the passage of time, as the gospel takes root in the heart whisperers repent, and if no “whisperer” passes on gossip, quarrels and strife will cease. John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Instead of kindling the fire of gossip, it must be killed.
While moralism flails at the branches, the gospel cuts to the roots of gossip.
Ultimately, Jesus was slandered on our behalf. The Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by Beelzebul (the prince of demons) yet he was the purest of all (Matt. 12: 24). All the accusations hurled at him were wrong. Yet he endured them all on the cross for our sake. He was accused of demon possession when he did not even know sin in purity. Each one of us deserves to be put in His place, but we received what we did not deserve because of Him.
Even his most noble motives were challenged, yet in weakness he conquered the power of Satan, sin, and death. Jesus came not to condemn but to save sinners—which is the opposite of speaking against a brother or sister and hurting or destroying their reputation. In Christ, God offers us a clean heart, a new heart, with which we can honor our neighbors truthfully, and give praises to our God.
Do you struggle with gossip?
- There is nothing in our sinful nature that has not already been covered by the blood of Jesus, so confess your sins instead of other people’s sins.
- Preach to your heart and say, “I am worse than what people think I am, but Jesus loves me more than I can ever imagine. He already covered me with His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, I am free to discern the evidence of God’s grace in others instead of lending wood to the fire of gossip.”
Joey Zorina is a church planter in an artistic neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan. He writes articles, essays and devotionals for Living Life, and blogs occasionally @regeneration). He asks that you please pray for them and the Japanese. You can connect with him at https://twitter.com/JoeyZorina