By Andre Lamb

Ps 19:14
May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer. (TLB)

Gossip Defined
The simple request found in Psalm 19:14 should be common to all humanity. As simple as this request may seem, it is packed with power that has the potential to put us in right standing with God. Our words are extremely powerful. Wars have broken out and ended over words. Hearts have been broken and mended because of words. Relationships have been built and ruined on words. Our words are the expression of our invisible spirit. Our words have two potential results. They will either give life, or deliver death. With that thought, I would like to discuss the topic of gossip and what it says about our character. I believe that all of us, at some point, have participated in or perpetrated gossip. But if we want to please God, gossip should have no place in our lives. We must educate ourselves on the poisonous nature of gossip.

By definition, gossip is a rumor or report of an intimate nature or chatty talk. Therefore, a gossiper is one who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others. In a biblical sense, gossip is used to designate the spreading of secrets or rumors, usually for the purpose of slander. The common term in the Bible used for gossip means “whisperer.” It is closely tied to the Hebrew word which specified the serpent as the most “subtle” creature which involves the use of the tongue – smooth talk, whispering. In this sense, a gossiper is a person who spreads rumors or idle, fruitless tales. Generally, the person spreading gossip has no interest in the matter whatsoever. It does not involve them; they have no particular relation to the parties involved. They simply like to disclose what they have heard or what they think they know. They want to be a part of the action – they are busybodies.

The more common word used for gossip in the King James Version is “slander.” It is an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose. Malice plays a huge role in slander.

When God made man, He made him in His own image and after His likeness. One of the attributes and characteristics of God that is apparent at the outset of scripture is that He is WORD. Everything that God purposes in His heart is expressed by His speech. When nothing existed apart from Himself, He used words to create. The account of creation is now HIStory all because “God said!” As a biblical principle, that which creates is the same thing which destroys. The consequences of sin were also spoken by God via declaration. Since God’s power is made evident by His word, so is mankind’s. After all, we are created in His image and after His likeness! When we understand this, we will spend much more time creating that which is good rather than mounting up curses on our tongues. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit — you choose.”

Avoiding gossip must be tackled from four angles. (1) We must not be the perpetrators of gossip. (2) We cannot repeat and further spread the gossip we hear. (3) We must separate ourselves from those who partake in gossip. (4) There is a fourth aspect of overcoming gossip which lies on the side of the victim and how he/she must respond to gossip, whether the rumors or secrets are true or false. We will discuss all of these aspects of steering clear of the entangling sin of gossip.

Don’t Start None – Won’t Be None!
This is a saying that was quite popular when I was younger. But the principle of this is true and befitting for our topic. However, it is only true for one person at a time. If a rumor is conceived, we must make sure that it did not proceed from us. If all of us made a concerted effort to prevent the starting and spreading of rumors and/or secrets, the body of Christ would adopt a purity that was truly Christian in nature.

I readily admit that avoiding gossip is not easy. By nature, we love gossip. Modern society thrives on it; the media we watch and listen to is filled with it. If you were to take an inventory of what percentage of your conversations breeds gossip, you would be surprised. The sad thing is that many of us do not conduct this type of inventory frequently enough. This is primarily because it must consciously be confronted in our lives and it ultimately shows what kind of character truly lies beneath the surface.

Prov 6:16-19
For there are six things the Lord hates-no, seven: haughtiness, lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, sowing discord among brothers. (TLB )

All of the abominations listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 go through the tongue at some point. For the sake of our subject, I would like to hone in on lying, being a false witness and sowing discord among brothers. These three in particular cannot be committed without the use of the tongue. Here, we find the inception of gossip and the Bible says that God hates it. None of us (in our right minds) would want to take part in anything that God hates. The word “abomination” implies a level of disgust that causes a feeling of sickness. It is repulsive to His Holy character.

Remember that the biblical definition of gossip has the ultimate goal of slander. It is to actually assassinate someone’s name, character, motives, etc. This is where hatred and murder come into play when we gossip. I must warn you that much gossip may seem innocent on the surface but when it is all said and done, it is a cold-hearted sniper-assassin! The assassin keeps himself distanced from the target so as not to be detected. This is why it is imperative to personally go to the people with whom we have problems and lay it all out on the table and work toward healing and peace, if possible. (See Lev 19:16-17) It is innate in Satan to stand in the shadows and whisper rumors about your brother or sister and no child of God should portray any of Satan’s tendencies.

Kill the Rumors

Lev 19:16
Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the Lord. (NIV)

Ps 15:1-4
Lord, who may go and find refuge and shelter in your tabernacle up on your holy hill? Anyone who leads a blameless life and is truly sincere. Anyone who refuses to slander others, does not listen to gossip, never harms his neighbor, speaks out against sin, criticizes those committing it… (TLB)

Not only must we avoid starting the spread of rumors or secrets, but we are given a mandate from God to stop slanderous gossip dead in its tracks when it presents itself. If we are honest, most of us would have to plead guilty to having repeated rumors that we have heard about people, some of us several times over. And we have done this in spite of the fact that the person prefaced the gossip with, “this is just between you and me but… or you didn’t hear this from me but…” God is not pleased with this behavior and according to Psalm 15, we cannot claim Jesus as our refuge when we participate in gossip. Call yourself what you want, but God rejects those who display this evil behavior; it makes Him sick to His stomach.

Gossip generates a lot of income in our society; people actually make a living off of it – a scary thought. For instance, take the sudden and colossal immersion of TMZ. Some in the church spread gossip as if they reported for the Inquirer. As I reflect on the years that I’ve been saved, I would have to say that the amount of gossip that I’ve witnessed in the so-called church is astonishing and I would probably place it on par with that of the world. (I am also willing to admit that I have been a guilty party in gossip.) Inquiring minds want to know but we cannot be the ones to tell it! If we are going to portray Christ’s character, we must be trustworthy. A gossiper stands in contrast to a trustworthy person. (See Prov 11:13) They are NOT to be trusted.

Our propensity to gossip and slander one another in the body of Christ not only causes the sinner to shun us, but it makes those in the body not want any part of such fellowship. This is evident in Jeremiah 9. It is sad when we cross boundaries to a point where there are breaches of trust in the body of Christ. In such a slanderous setting, the weeping prophet warns us not to even trust our own grandmother. He cautions us to even question long-time friendships because of the assassin-filled environment which we have created. This became such a habit that it became "the norm." They had trained their lips to tell lies to the point that the truth became a foreign language. Nobleness had completely evaded them. It is this setting which is ripe for God’s judgment.

Separate Yourself from Gossipers

Prov 20:19
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. (NIV)

According to Psalm 15, not only must we refuse to hear gossip and slander but we must strongly oppose and sharply rebuke the perpetrators in love with a pure heart. If they refuse to change their ways, we must separate ourselves from such Christian imposters. Don’t lose your place of refuge in God by condoning it or participating in it; the stakes are too high.

Prov 1:10
Dear friend, if bad companions tempt you, don't go along with them. (The Message)

It is inherently easy to get sucked into gossip and slander. As noted before, it appeals to our carnal nature but it is fruitless. According to Ephesians 5:11, the true Christian must not busy himself with unfruitful works. On the contrary, our job is to reprove such Godless works. If something proves to be unfruitful, we are to have no part in it. The Christian is required to produce the fruit of the Spirit!

Paul instructed the Thessalonians in his second letter that the saints should distance themselves from those who display a character comprised of laziness, and a wasting of time by gossiping. He said that these people should be marked or singled out and avoided in order to produce shame. Yes, like all other sinners, gossipers should be put to shame! This is because Paul understood the slippery slope upon which fruitless gossip rested. It is also important to note that a spirit of idleness usually accompanies gossip. In fact he was addressing young widows who were likely to partake in gossip for a lack of better things to do with their lives. What would our relationships look like if we begin to put these kinds of fruitless slanderers to shame?

Flipping the Script
On the flip side of the subject of gossip are those who are the subject, target or victims of gossip. It is important for us to understand how to handle the times when we are scandalized. This group can have so many factors that I will not be able to exhaust them all in this article. One might ask, “what if the rumor or secret is true?” One might justify discussing the matter with countless individuals because, after all, it’s true! Either way, none of us want to be the discussion of gossip hot off the wire! So what are we to do?

I’ll deal first with identifying the source. Sometimes the source of gossip may have been someone you confided in. At other times, it may generate from an envious or jealous person who is set out to harm you any way he/she can. Yet, other times, it may be a result of a misunderstanding or mishandling of particular information. In each of these cases, we must use wisdom to put the fire out in a way that will not inflict more harm on all involved.

As stated in Jeremiah 9, the prophet displays an attitude toward being mistreated that many of us may or may not have experienced. An environment poisoned with gossip will cause one to withdraw him/her-self which is a naturally protective human reaction. However, God created us to be social beings. He ordained relationships in which we are to confide in one another. James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another so that healing may come. The sequence is important here; where there is no confession, genuine prayer will not be implemented and there can be no healing. We need people to confide in! But the key is that we need reliable, responsible, trustworthy people.

I must inject that no one should ever confess their sins to people who they know will condone their actions or cover up their evil doings. The goal of confession should be to get from under the heavy load of sin and shame in order to obtain freedom, peace and joy. Simply put, do NOT tell your business to gossipers! Most of us can tell who the biggest gossipers in the church are. At the same time, we should know which of our friends and fellow brothers/sisters are honorable and trustworthy. (See Prov 18:24) Their reputation will speak for itself. Many needless rumors are perpetuated because people simply confided in the wrong person.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gives us the remedy to solve our differences in the body of Christ. If you are the target of slander, be vigilant to locate the source. Do not waste time focusing on all the middle men; things will only get uglier. Once you know the source, pull that person aside in privacy and attempt to rectify the situation. If the situation cannot be remedied between the two of you, bring in two or three other honorable, trustworthy people as witnesses. If the person still won’t repent of their evil doing, present it to the saints in general. If they will not hear the counsel of the saints, go your separate ways and consider him/her as a heathen. I believe this is the manner in which Paul instructed the Thessalonians to put the transgressors to shame. I have yet to witness this in a congregation!

Watch Your Mouth
Some rumors and secrets do turn out to be true. Others start out as truth and turn out to be lies after having been modified by each gossiper. Many of us have played the game where one person starts a chain with some statement and it must make it back to him/her with the statement intact. An astonishing percentage of the time, the statement is not only not what the original person gave, but just about every detail has changed. This is how it is when gossip circulates. It’s like a wild brushfire; once it is ignited, it takes much man power and resources to put it out, but not without having inflicted much loss and even some casualties. Gossip is spiritual arson and it needs to be investigated and the guilty party confronted and shamed for their crime.

The only protection against a malignant atmosphere filled with slander, gossip and character assassination is for us to individually take control of our tongue. James 3 tells us about the power of taming the tongue. James likens the tongue to a horse’s bridle and a ships rudder. Although the bridle and the rudder are significantly smaller when compared to the horse and the ship, the rider and the captain have complete control down to the smallest maneuver. If we want to please God, we must get control of our tongues. Don’t start gossip, don’t repeat gossip, shun the gossipers and if you are the victim of gossip, handle it with wisdom.