Gossip is something we encounter everywhere. We have all witnessed it and maybe even we are guilty of being in on it. Being a part of the group that has nothing better to do than waste time in speculation and idle chatter about others’ lives. And you can call it whatever you want and it doesn’t change what it is: gossip, pure and simple.
Yes, gossip is an issue that all of us at one time or another will have to face. It is something that is hurtful to those you are speaking about, and to everyone you speak to. Gossip can ruin lives, without doubt. Look at the Salem witch trials. They were started by a few girls with spare time and loose tongues in an hospitable kitchen. Tales were told, exaggerated, and brought home to parents who then acted in fear. We do not know how many people were murdered over some idle chatter that a few school girls spread around the community. These were people who were innocent of any wrong doing, other than being different than those around them. We see and read about the repercussions of gossip. The Salem Witch Trials made history and we must learn from our past mistakes. Yet, still countless reputations are injured by our wayward tongues.
As a young lady, I can say that a group of girls is prone to gossip. It is a sin we have to watch for when we are gathered in groups. I can’t speak for the young men, but from a girl’s perspective it is a struggle oftentimes to keep a conversation focused, in a Christ centered manner. All it takes is just one person who knows too much to start talking and get others interested and no amount of naysaying can change the conversation back. There is then only one option, that of walking away.
What is gossip? I am a firm believer in identifying the terms we use and giving clear definition to words. “Gossip”, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is: “Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature. A person who habitually spreads intimate or private rumors or facts.” So we see that gossip is telling someone something that someone else told you in confidence, as well as spreading rumors (things that you know aren’t true) whether purposely or naively.
We should be encouraged to persevere in this struggle for holiness in our speech and conversations with others as we turn to the Scriptures, seeing that hundreds of years ago people the same as you and I struggled with this same issue. Paul exhorted the young widows of his era to marry, lest they “learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”(1 Tim. 5:13).
The reason he gave to Timothy in suggesting this was a desire to “give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” (1 Tim. 5:14). Paul understood that spreading stories about others would create divisions in the church, giving a false testimony of who his Savior truly was. We should all desire to give a pure testimony to the world around us of who Christ is. Yet how can we do so when we are arguing among ourselves, spreading malicious talk, even unintentionally?
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, desiring them to “study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you….” (1 Thess. 4:11). The Geneva Bible notes tell us: “He condemns unsettled minds, and such as are curious in matters which do not concern them.” Matthew Henry puts it this way:
“Do your own business. When we go beyond this, we expose ourselves to a great deal of inquietude. Those who are busybodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbors.”
And we do cause “great disturbances” to those around us when we speak about them behind their backs. Even if we are saying nothing that is inherently evil perse, it is not our place to run our mouths to others. In Leviticus 19:16 we are given a clear command from God about this. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people…I am the Lord.” The Lord knows our hearts. He knows our sinful natures and therefore He seeks to guide us in His will by giving us a clear directive – “Thou shalt not.”
There are many places in Proverbs where Solomon speaks of those who would be gossips, warning us about them and leading us away from their paths:
“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” Proverbs 11:13
“A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” – Proverbs 16:28
“It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” – Proverbs 20:3
We need to be careful in spreading tales of others. A genuine prayer request told anonymously is one thing. Giving someone the story of someone else’s life is another. As R. C. Sproul wrote in a fictional letter of warning: “Gossip flowers first in the rich soil of their pride in knowing, second in the warm sunshine of having knowledge that others crave, and third in the slanting rain of being in the inner circle, which together form the very trinity of pride. They baptize their folly by feigning to be concerned for their brothers, or frame their gossip as passing along prayer concerns.”
We need to be careful of this. We must be careful of thinking more of ourselves than we ought simply because we know more about another person than someone else does. We need to be careful how we verbalize prayer requests for our friends. Yes, pray for them, by all means. But in a way that doesn’t share too much information.
Families – especially large ones – need to be careful to shield themselves from gossiping about one another. I have heard many times from different people way too much information about their families that I didn’t need to know in order to pray for them. Yes, I know that sometimes it is a relief to unburden your heart to a person whom you know will point you towards Christ. It is helpful to speak freely to a person who you can trust, who you know has wisdom and discernment. When your family is falling apart, when you feel sad and alone, when you need the comfort of another human being understanding and being there for you – then yes, talk it out with someone. Not through gossip, not through giving too many details, but tell about yourself. It is a sad day when you have to withhold information from a family member because you don’t want it spread everywhere.
The internet and social media platforms of the twenty first century have given us a ripe platform for gossiping about others. It gives an easy means for sharing what you normally would not share in a face-to-face conversation because you feel more secure in the privacy of your own home. Be wary of this. I have experienced churches falling apart and splitting up through idle words written online where oftentimes half of the church did not know what was going on.
Let me put it plainly. If I am such good friends with you that I divulge something to you and trust you with it, then I expect you to honor that trust. I don’t tell you with the expectation that you are going to bring the information I told you to other people, talk about it behind my back, or make it a general conversation starter. Even if I am friends with a person you are telling, if I myself did not tell them, or give you permission to tell them, it can be assumed (and probably rightly so) that I don’t want them to know. It would not be your place to bring what I tell you to other people.
With that being said, I personally don’t view it as gossip to bring to my parents what I have been told, especially if I am in doubt about it. When I was younger, we had this rule: if someone says “Don’t tell” you went immediately to our parents with it. Especially if they expounded on it: “Don’t tell your parents!” This wasn’t because my parents are busybodies or want to meddle into our business; it was because they loved us enough to make sure nothing sinful was going on in our lives.
There have been many times that we have brought information we have been told to our parents for guidance and direction when we ourselves have been told too much, something dangerous and sinful, or something that needed to be stopped. As we have grown older, we do have more freedom in this area as we prove to our parents that we are mature, discerning people. At the age I am, I have had several friends share courtships, pregnancies, and other things with me with a request along the lines of, “I told you so you could pray, but I would prefer it not to be general information.” In which case I would honor that. request. This is because there is a difference between someone trying to hide sin and someone sharing a prayer request that won’t get others – or themselves – into trouble.
We have had situations in our family where someone has been told too much information. Where someone shared something that they were doing that was sinful and needed the intervention and wisdom of parents to step in. Please understand that it is NOT gossip to tell a secret to your parents, or their parents, for that matter, if they need intervention in their lives.
Yes, it can be hard to walk away from gossip. It can be hard to walk away from a story being told when you have a true concern for that person’s soul. But we should still do it, simply because we have a desire to honor our Lord in all things and to obey Him. This should be our greatest desire.
May the Lord help us as we struggle to attain pure conversations that are well pleasing to Him!