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The Sin of Listening to Gossip



"They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:29-32).

 I wish to draw attention to just one of these awful sins—gossip. Paul lists it with murder, slander, deceit, and malice, among other great evils. It is part of the complete depravity and dissolution which man falls into as the result of refusing to glorify God:

"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:28).

What does Scripture tell us to fill our minds (and therefore our speech) with?

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

Gossip is very seldom about praiseworthy things. It is about bad things, and it is harmful to the people who are talked about. Telling and listening to these things give pleasure, but gossiping is not an innocent pastime. It is a great evil.

"A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret" (Proverbs 11:13).

"A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28).

Many years ago we knew a U.S. Air Force Chaplain named Augie Kilpatrick. On one occasion, my wife Bessie asked Augie how he handled gossip. He had a ready answer.

“I take out my pocket notebook and write down, word for word, what I am being told. After I have taken it all down, I read it back to the person and ask him if it is correct and if it is true. Once I have an affirmative answer, I hand him the notebook and my pen and say, ‘Please sign here.’”

Many years ago we arrived in a new town and found a church. We had barely settled in when Bessie got a phone call from one of the church ladies. She had some gossip about someone else in the church.

Bessie asked, “Is that true?”

“Yes.”

 Bessie said, “Let’s you and I go see her and correct her.”

 “If you go to see her, don’t tell her I told you!”

This does not stop gossip, but it does keep you out of the circuit. We are normally left out of the loop. When people bring gossip to my attention, they know I am going to tell them to go to the person directly. They also know that I know they are not going to do that.

"Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).

Practice and approve. Gossip is approval of sin. It is vicarious enjoyment of someone else’s transgressions. It is a means of enjoying sin without actually doing the sin. The talk may even have the tone and content of disapproval. The gossiper appears innocent (at least to himself) because 1) he is not doing the sin himself and 2) he is voicing disapproval. He deceives himself and his listeners.

"For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret" (Ephesians 5:12).

 These are the consequences of rejecting God:

"They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity…They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful…they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:29-31).

Read through the full list again. Alongside the terrible sins of murder and God-hatred are the things we enjoy—gossip, slander, envy, and boasting.

There are always opportunities to gossip at work, online, at parties, church, and over the back fence. Newspapers and magazines capitalize on the great demand for gossip. Gossip is not limited to the teller. Listening to gossip is as bad as talking it. Our need to share in gossip is immense, and it is great sin.

"Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down" (Proverbs 26:20).

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