Drawing the line in gossip
Rarely does gossip represent the full story, it’s simply the side of the story we like to talk about. Most people are drawn to gossip because it seems to build social credit. Yet we dislike being the target of gossip ourselves. God’s Word says that gossipers are like those who invent evil and hate God.
Romans 1:29-30 ESV They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
Matthew 7:12 ESV “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
We will reap the consequences of godless chatter
Gossip is defined as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.” There is gossip everywhere – in our news, social media, and gossip magazines. It is modelled on television shows, our own families, and social circles.
The Bible reminds us that all “godless chatter” separates us from God and leads to more and more godless behaviour.
- Gossipers are blocked from God’s presence and blessings | Psalm 15:1-3 NLT Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.
- All gossipers will have to answer to God for every careless word they speak | Matthew 12:36 ESV I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
- God will destroy gossipers and slanderers | Psalm 101:5 ESV Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.
2 Timothy 2:16 NIV Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
Understanding why we gossip
God created every human being with a deep need to connect with others. Gossip seeks to form connection but out of insecurity, not love.
Often times, we gossip because we subconsciously want to:
- Avoid rejection and fit in | Romans 8:31 ESV What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
- Draw attention to ourselves | Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
- Target someone we are jealous of | 1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV … For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
- Avoid talking about ourselves because we feel insecure | Proverbs 17:27-28 ESV Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
- Take revenge or hurt someone | Leviticus 19:18 ESV You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- Make ourselves feel better by making others look worse | Luke 6:31 ESV And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
We hit others “below the belt” with gossip because we think we can get away with it behind their backs but in reality, God watches everything and takes a detailed record of our behaviour and words.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Galatians 6:7-8 NLT Don’t be misled–you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
The dangers of gossip within Christian communities
Gossip should not be tolerated within Christian circles.
Gossip can even be disguised as sharing “prayer requests,” “observations,” or “concerns” on behalf of other people without their permission. The Bible warns us that until we learn to control our tongues, we deceive ourselves and our religion is worthless. God takes the misuse of our tongues very seriously because it is destructive. At its extreme, gossip has been known to lead to cyberbullying, divorce, and depression.
James 1:26 ESV If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Without Christian communities, gossip hinders all the things God calls us to do.
- Gossip destroys trust and kills open confession and sharing | Proverbs 11:13 NIV A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
- It destroys friendships and separates people | Proverbs 16:28 NIV A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
- It stirs up conflict and quarrels | Proverbs 26:20 NIV Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
Drawing the line between gossiping and sharing
There will be times we may need to discuss someone’s well-being behind their backs because we are genuinely concerned for them. Here are a few easy measures to ensure we do not cross the line into gossip.
- Have we asked for permission to share sensitive information? Otherwise, have we made all efforts to keep the identity of the person completely hidden?
- What are our motives? Is our conscience clear? Can we look at the person in the eye if they found out what we said?
- Do our words build up? Or will we create division, judgment, mistrust, and confusion instead?
- Who do we share our concerns with – is it someone with integrity, restraint, and loving wisdom? Or someone who is careless with their words?
Some responses if we are a gossiper’s target
It hurts to find out that someone has gossiped about us or shared something personal we told them in confidence. And it hurts all the more when it was a fellow brother or sister-in-Christ. We hold Christians to higher standards and rightfully so. Nonetheless, we will need to exercise some discernment.
1. Be angry but do not act on our anger
Anger is a natural reaction to being gossiped about and we should not have to pretend that we are not hurt, upset, disappointed, or dismayed. The first Person we can vent all these emotions to is God Almighty, who receives all our grievances. It may be tempting to vent to people but wisdom will hold us back until we seek the Lord.
Proverbs 25:23 NLT As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger!
Psalm 142:1-2 ESV With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
Also, see Please vent to God, not to people.
2. Consider if there are lessons worth learning
As much as we don’t enjoy having people talk behind our backs, they may have had their reasons. Have we given people the green light to gossip about us by gossiping about other people? Does the gossip have some element of truth? Have we been humble and open to welcome what people might have to say to us?
It takes humility to reflect on ourselves before we judge others too quickly.
3. Test informants and their motives
Some things may be misconstrued as gossip when a person’s words come back to us in an incomplete form.
Wisdom will lead us to test the “informant” who repeated the gossip and pray about what to do about it. Who is the real gossiper – the informant or the person they are accusing? What is the informant’s true motivations? Can he/she be trusted to be objective and accurate? How does the Holy Spirit lead us – should we confront the informant or the accused? Or should we leave both for God to deal with? How should we respond to the informant?
4. Expect some gossip but discern the spirits
It is almost impossible to avoid those who love “godless chatter” in any group setting. Such chatter is mostly harmless – unless it becomes the source of slander, false accusation, division, mistrust, and confusion. Such chatter is ungodly and certainly not led by the Holy Spirit. We are called to test the spirits and discern if Satan has been tempting people within our own communities to ambush and break God’s family of believers apart.
1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…
1 Peter 2:1 ESV So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…
5. Confront the person if the gossip is malicious or divisive
God’s Word teaches us to personally speak with anyone who has truly slandered us. Such confrontations ought to be done with the hope to clear any misunderstanding and allow the other person to clarify or share their perspective, so that we can all be reunited in one spirit.
Philippians 2:2 ESV complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Wisdom will lead us to seek mutual understanding or talk about how we feel, rather than accuse anyone conclusively. Healthy communication opens the way for two-sided conversations and will not put someone on the defensive. No one likes to be accused, even if they know they were wrong. It is far healthier to focus on whatever honours our Heavenly Father the most, rather than on who was right or wrong. Also, our confrontations need to be backed by indisputable facts. Otherwise, it may lead to circles and “he said, she said” debates.
As Matthew 18 shows, the matter should only be escalated when our best efforts at godly reconciliation have been rejected.
Matthew 18:15-17 ESV “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
6. Ensure that we have a clear conscience at all times
As God’s children, we are called to do all things with a clear conscience at all times.
Do we also do the very things we wish to confront others about? Have we judged and slandered the gossipers – or have we obeyed God to forgive and bless them instead? Do we desire revenge or are we willing to “turn the other cheek?”
1 Peter 3:16 ESV Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Matthew 5:39 ESV But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Romans 2:1-3 ESV Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
Romans 12:14 ESV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Our consciences, however, are hard to test when we are upset. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit will comfort and guide our hearts when we first seek God through prayer and fasting.
Also, see The significance of fasting.
7. Give all shame or humiliation to God for His redemption
It can be humiliating or upsetting when someone gossips about something we prefer to keep private. Let us be comforted by the fact that there is no shame or condemnation before God when we confess those private things to Him. Jesus has promised that everything that is concealed will be revealed one day anyway. Let us use such circumstances to praise God for His unconditional love and redemption and seek to do what brings Him glory. Our greatest sources of shame can become our greatest testimonies for Jesus.
Romans 8:1 ESV There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Luke 8:17 ESV For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.
8. Bless those who wrong us and remain in God’s favour
After we have done all things in a God-honouring manner, we can leave it to God to discipline and change the gossipers within our Christian circles. Hopefully, our humble confrontations and mutual enlightenment will be enough to encourage them to repent before God. We are called to admonish and build each other up, not sweep things under the carpet.
Hebrews 12:6 ESV For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastises every son He receives.”
Colossians 3:16 ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Some responses if we meet a gossiper
There are some ways to identify someone who is likely to gossip. He/she is likely to:
- Have a personal agenda.
- Want some influence or power over people.
- Desire to be accepted and liked.
- Love to talk a lot but lack the skills to talk about interesting ideas.
- Be constantly thinking of something to say that will impress others.
- Will share “secrets” as a way to connect with others.
- Seek attention.
- Boast that he/she knows a lot of people.
Proverbs 20:19 NIV A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.
A gossiper is likely to say things such as, “Did you hear…,” “I’m not sure if I should talk about this…,” “Don’t tell anyone I told you this…”
We may also hear such statements within Christian circles and will need to discern if someone is about to gossip or share a genuine concern for someone. Someone with genuine love for others will:
- Demonstrate integrity and humility
- Desire to build others up
- Provide just the bare skeleton of the story and keep key details confidential in order to protect the person they are talking about
- Share with the intent to help someone and will then do something about it
Gossipers will merely engage in idle talk and have no intention to help or love anyone.
If we know someone is about to gossip, we should stop them in their tracks. Gossipers may not necessarily intend to be malicious but their lack of control over their own tongues will eventually ruin their reputations and relationships.
1 Timothy 5:13 ESV Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.
1. Only share private matters with someone whose integrity is proven
It is always wise to practise discernment on what we talk about until we have the opportunity to observe a person’s words and their actions. Not everyone we meet in Christian circles reveres God or is submitted to the Holy Spirit. Those that do will honour others before themselves.
2. Guard our hearts regarding what we unintentionally hear
Our brain records everything we hear subconsciously. We are all affected by the gossip we hear, even if we have not willingly participated in it. Let us therefore be conscious about what we allow ourselves to listen to and check the condition of our hearts. We can pray and confess our participation in gossip and invite the Holy Spirit to cleanse our conscience and clear our minds of any gossipy garbage.
Proverbs 17:4 NIV Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.
3. Stop the gossip in its tracks
We need to stop gossip in its tracks before it gets repeated again and becomes the “subconscious truth” that people start to believe. God tells us not to ignore gossip that damages the lives or reputations of other people.
Leviticus 19:16 NLT “Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the LORD.
Here are some possible responses to a gossiper.
Intercept and correct
- “It seems you talk about him/her a lot. What is it about that person that interests you so much?”
- “Talking about this makes me feel uncomfortable. Shall we change the subject please?
- “Hold on please, have you asked for his/her permission to share this?”
- “If you continue talking like this, people will eventually not trust you. Is that what you want?”
- “I wonder if God is pleased that we are talking like this.”
- “Is this something you would feel comfortable saying if he/she is here? If not, can we please not talk about him/her?”
- “Before we go further, can we please pray and invite the Holy Spirit to guide our conversation?”
Model appropriate behaviour and redirect
- “The Bible calls us to thank God in all circumstances. What can we thank God for about him/her?”
- “Let’s talk about you instead, shall we? How have you been?”
- “Instead of talking about him/her, why don’t we talk about how God has been leading you recently?”
Some responses if we have gossiped
God is always present with us and He watches everything we do. If there is something we don’t feel comfortable saying in God’s presence, then we probably shouldn’t.
Psalm 139:7-8,11-12 NLT I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
1. Seek counselling for our insecurities
Spiritually healthy people will find gossiping fruitless and even distasteful.
We gossip mostly because we wish to cover up for hidden insecurity that hasn’t been confessed and presented to the Holy Spirit for His gentle healing and renewing. Without addressing our heart issues, we may struggle to stop gossiping. All of us need some renewing of our minds and hearts. Godly counselling can be helpful in such instances.
Matthew 15:18 NLT But the words you speak come from the heart–that’s what defiles you.
2. Confess and ask for forgiveness
The Bible shows that God reserve His favour for those who are humble and contrite. This includes everyone who is willing to repent for gossiping and ask the Holy Spirit to renew and guide us. God may even lead us to confess to and ask for forgiveness from those we have gossiped about. Let us be open to making right the wrongs we have done behind people’s backs.
Isaiah 66:2 NIV Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the LORD. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.
3. Study God’s Word
It is easy to use our tongues in ways that offend God when we don’t know His desires for all of us. Studying and planting God’s Word in our hearts is an important part of becoming familiar with God’s will for our words.
4. Check our hearts and intentions before we speak
Keeping our hearts pure is an ongoing exercise for every believer who desires to follow God. We are reminded to glorify God with our bodies and to beware that our tongues can “corrupt the entire body.” The tongue can be “set on fire by hell” when we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in how we use it.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
James 3:6 NLT And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
5. Learn new ways to communicate
We may have been exposed to gossip all our lives and not know how else to hold a conversation.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to use our tongues to build people up. How can we use our tongues to comfort, encourage and instruct others in godly ways? How often do we praise God and testify of His goodness?
Ephesians 4:29 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
We may even need to learn how to be comfortable with some silence in our conversations without feeling the need to fill in the gaps with “mindless chatter”. As long as we learn restraint and self-control, God’s Word promises that we will become “perfect” in His view.
Proverbs 10:19 ESV When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
James 3:2 ESV For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
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