Proverbs 26:20-26 Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
This morning in church, I was reminded of how we are to put off gossip. Gossip is something that most everyone engages in at one time or another. It doesn’t just affect the one speaking it, but also the one hearing it and the one who is the topic of conversation. We can begin gossiping without much thought. It can happen under the guise of truthful information, or even as a misguided prayer request. But even though it can creep into our conversation so easily, it is not taken lightly by God and it is sin.
Gossip typically involves rumors, opinions, or confidential information. Gossip doesn’t have to be lies or false information. Gossip can also be disguised as truth. Gossip, by its very nature, desires to exploit the sensational aspects of someone’s personal issues. It’s easy to know if gossip is happening if you pay attention. It usually takes place in a lowered tone among a select group of people. Remember that listening will encourage the gossiper to continue gossiping.
There are several reasons why people gossip or listen to gossip. Having the “inside information” is one way of gaining attention for those who are seeking it. Those who listen may feel flattered by being included in the select group of people who are gossiping about the inside information. There are some people who just like to fan the flames of contention. Some people are very insecure and attempt to build themselves up by putting others down. Feelings of envy can lead one to gossip as can boredom.
How should we respond to gossip? First, we can certainly discourage it by stating such things as: “Have you checked out the facts?” I don’t really pay much attention to the grapevine.” “Things can get misunderstood by people outside of those involved.” Body language can also be helpful.. Instead of leaning forward and closer, step slightly away which will discourage confidences. Cross your arms and turn slightly to the side. This will give the impression that you are closed off to the information. If you find you are the subject of gossip, take action and go to the source of the gossip and set the record straight with the appropriate truthful information. Many gossipers will deny ever saying anything but will usually stop once they know they’ve been identified as the source. Of course, if your personal integrity, credibility, job, or Christian witness are not in jeopardy, ignoring it is a good option as well.
3 John 9-10 describes a gossiper. John writes: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” Diotrephes had apparently become a leader in the church, but he likes his position a bit too much. He loved having “preeminence” according to John and so he felt threatened by anyone else. Therefore he refused to give hospitality to traveling ministers and evangelists and forbade anyone else from doing so also. He also engaged in malicious gossip. He spoke evil of John and the other ministers of the gospel but he was lying. His words were causing division among the believers and had to be stopped. Gossip is compared in scripture as a wildfire. Wildfires leave destruction everywhere they go. The next time we see or hear a spark of gossip, we should stomp it out completely. The only sparks we should pass on are the sparks of God’s love.