Some time ago, a magnetic storm occurred in New York state that caused a conversation on a telephone line to interfere with the radio waves emitted from a nearby radio station. As a result, the conversation was broadcast on the radio without the knowledge of the two talkers. It was a coast-to-coast program!
All of us at one time or another have been guilty of gossip. In fact, there is enough gossip in many a church to make the recording angel weep as he records it. It is a sinful practice which God takes seriously and wants us to stop.
Paul speaks of gossip in 1 Timothy 3:11: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.” Lest we think that men are immune to this disease, Paul similarly addresses them in his second letter to Timothy, predicting that in the last days men will be “unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good” (2 Tim. 3:3).
The Greek word which Paul uses in these two instances is the word diabolos, from which we derive our word “devil.” We don’t need to consult our calendar of saints to know who the patron saint of gossip is! A gossiper is nothing more than “the devil’s mailman.”
Diabolos is also at times translated “slanderer.” Gossip is slander. In the passage quoted above from 2 Timothy, Paul places gossip in the middle of a list of other vicious practices. Clearly, the serious nature of gossip is indicated.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to detect gossip/slander in our own speech. How can we know if we are gossips? There are four questions to ask ourselves when we are tempted to share information concerning someone else. The answers to these questions will likely indicate whether or not we are gossiping/slandering.
1. Why am I saying this? Is my real motive to criticize? Am I really out to help the person about whom I am speaking, or is my goal to hurt them? Often under the guise of sharing a prayer request we are really gossiping/slandering. We rationalize our gossip when our real aim is to put the other person down in order to cast ourselves in a better light. Be careful how you answer this first question. If you catch yourself trying to excuse something negative that you are about to say concerning someone, you are probably on the threshold of slander.
2. Is it possible there is another side to the story? Webster defines gossip as “spreading rumors.” A rumor is an unauthenticated story. If our story is unauthenticated, we are gossiping. It has been said that it isn’t the people who tell all they know that cause most of the trouble in the church; it is the ones who tell more than they know.
3. Would I feel comfortable saying this to Jesus? How would He answer us after we shared with Him some negative information concerning another? Very likely He would respond by asking us what relevance the information has to our following Him (John 21:22). If you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing the tale with the Lord, then it is probably unsuitable to share with anyone else.
4. Am I building up the person I’m speaking to by sharing this? Charles Spurgeon once said that gossip “emits a three-fold poison; it injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told.” We should be very careful to heed Paul’s exhortation: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29).
The answers to these four questions will help us to detect gossip/slander. If after asking them, you are still not sure if what you about to share is gossip, then don’t say it. Is it really necessary that you do?
One last thought: How can we stop this sinful habit of gossiping that not only plagues our lives but invades and destroys churches? The cure for gossip is twofold. First, don’t spread it. Gossip is something that goes in one ear and out the mouth. Bridle your tongue! If you can’t say anything good about somebody, then don’t say anything at all. Secondly, don’t listen to it! You can’t have gossiping tongues unless there are gossiping ears. Don’t encourage the gossiper. Don’t be quick to believe what is said. Steer the conversation to a discussion of the person’s good points. Nothing will more quickly stop the gossiper/slanderer than doing this.
It has been said that gossip has neither legs or wings but is composed entirely of “tales.” Sadly, most of these tales sting and have a poisonous effect on the work of revival in a life or a church. Although we are bothered from time to time by wasps in the sanctuary, may this diabolical pest, gossip, become extinct in our churches.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, what ever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)