The stench of rotten fish can ruin your appetite for pap and beef. Similarly, gossip destroys the pleasant aroma of authentic Christian life and community. In a technology-saturated world, where information about others is only a few clicks away, gossip features on most daily menus. For many, it is the exotic spice that enlivens conversation. It is subtle and almost innocent within Christian communities and churches because it permeates and punctuates daily discussions under the auspices of concern and care for brethren.
Gossip destroys the pleasant aroma of authentic Christian community.
We begin this article by defining gossip. Then we will consider its consequences, especially among Christians, before contrasting it with genuine concern for others. Next we’ll consider what the Bible teaches on the subject. Finally, I will propose how Christians should respond to it.
What is Gossip?
It is worth noting that the Bible does not define gossip. Instead, God describes the act of gossiping. For instance, “a gossip walks about telling a secret, but the trustworthy in spirit keeps the matter” (Proverbs 11:13; 6:28; 18:8; 20:19). Thus John Loftness is correct in his definition of gossip. He says it is, “telling someone privileged, negative information about another when the recipient is neither part of the problem nor part of the solution.”
All of us have been perpetrators and very likely victims of gossip.
Taking Proverbs and Loftness together, gossip is making a private matter or subject public. This manifests in various ways within the church, which can often be unintentional. Someone might offer up a prayer request: “let’s pray for Derrick. He’s still struggling with his online gambling addiction.” Similarly, preachers might expose things shared in confidence from the pulpit. Though we wouldn’t describe gossip as such, all of us have been guilty of ‘confessing someone else’s sins for them.’ It’s safe to say all of us have been perpetrators and very likely victims of gossip.
Is it Really so Bad?
Gossip usually results in broken relationships. It hurts people, who will be tempted to walk away from the Christian community. Thus gossip, intentional or not, is divisive. It is contrary to Paul’s plea to the church to be of one mind in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10). Gossip is like a malignant weed that grows amongst fertile crops, eventually choking up the healthy crops and killing the harvest if it isn’t uprooted. It sprouts insidiously, and its roots deeply damage the communal fabric of the church.
Gossip dishonours people, ruins reputations, and breeds mistrust.
Gossip also dishonours people and often irrevocably ruins reputations. Furthermore, it breeds mistrust. The sad result is believers who are emotionally distant from each other but display a superficial appearance of unity. People are weighed down by challenges they cannot share because they are afraid of the gossip mill. This inevitably makes it difficult to reach out and pray for each other. Some have abandoned the faith bearing the indelible scars of gossip and slander. Instead of building up the body of Christ, gossip tears it down (Ephesians 4:29).
Don’t Make Genuine Concern into Gossip
Genuine concern for others is desirable. However, it often results in more harm than good, if not done with loving discretion. The distinction between gossip and slander is vital to note. With gossip, the information shared is usually true albeit sensitive. Whereas with slander the information is false. The motive behind sharing a particular piece of information must always be examined. Is it being shared to help someone or to make them look bad?
Genuine concern for others can result in more harm than good.
While discussing the subject of gossip amongst believers, my biblical counselling lecturer, Kyle Johnston, said that “disclosure is only good when it is done with the intent to help and not to harm. If one is made aware of a brother or sister struggling, he or she does well to share with the pastors or elders to pray and offer support. However, it is good to consider gaining consent before divulging personal information whenever possible.” Kyle replaced the word “gossip” with “disclosure” to encourage us to cautiously share certain information with the right people, especially concerning issues that need immediate attention.
Words are Powerful, and We’re Accountable
The call to exercise caution in our speech cannot be overemphasised. James refers to the tongue as a minor member that can set a forest ablaze (James 3:5). With it, we bless, and we curse (James 3:9). Similarly, divulging private matters about a brother or sister takes only minutes. But the consequences are as monumental as they are far reaching. Knowing that we will account for our words one day, we ought to prudently guard our tongues (Matthew 12:34-37; Proverbs 10:19).
Knowing that we will account for our words one day, we ought to hold our tongues.
Gossip is a sin. As such, God forbids it (Exodus 23:1; Leviticus 19:16). While the tongue can wreak havoc, gossip is a symptom of a sinful heart. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). So gossip on our tongues is an outworking of pride and malice in our hearts. When we indiscreetly talk about others’ issues, we are like the Pharisees who demanded that the prostitute be stoned, forgetting that they too were sinful and in need of a Saviour. Because we have so graciously received the gift of salvation, we are called to freely and selflessly give. We do this when we esteem others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). This must be applied to our speech as well.
Why Does Gossip Flourish?
Gossip isn’t something we usually worry about until we are a victim of it. Its familiar sting resonates with how pernicious it is to the body of Christ. It breeds hate and resentment because there has been a betrayal of confidence (Proverbs 11:13). As Christians, we are called to do to others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12). Our speech ought to be gracious and kind simply because we desire the same to be done to us (Colossians 4:6).
Many bear the indelible scars of gossip and slander within the church.
Many bear the indelible scars of gossip and slander within the church. Those who seek solace in the church, instead find sorrow, because of the church’s tolerance of gossip. As Christians, we are not called to fight with one another but to forgive those who have wronged and maligned us. However, forgiveness is not easy. Jesus Christ’s example on the cross holds a formidable and timeless appeal. When our hearts heave with pain and resentment, may we look to the one who knew no sin and yet still took our place on the cross.
Pursue Unity by Putting off Gossip and Putting on Love
Remember, not only does gossip destroy the purveyor and the subject, but it also frustrates the church’s spiritual growth on the whole. As such, Paul writes, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:9-10). In other words, for those in Christ, love is a continual part of our relationships with the believing community.
The psalmist gives us a sharp contrast of how pleasant unity is instead of discord. He writes, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Whereas the aroma of gossip is foul, the aroma of unity effortlessly draws one in. As members of one body, may we draw each other in by moderating our speech.