Christians should despise sin. And we should be vigilant to remove it from our lives. However, we tend to deal with sins like gossip the same way the government deals with terrorism: It’s impossible to eradicate it so we have to accept it and do our best to keep people safe.
The Bible teaches us that sin is something devastating. It should never be tolerated. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), the price paid for redemption from sin is death (Romans 5:6), the reality for a believer is they’re dead to sin (Romans 6:11), and the ongoing priority for Christians is to put sin to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5; Hebrews 12:1-2).
This includes all sin. Every. Single. One. Even gossip.
GOSSIP IN SPIRITUAL NO MAN’S LAND
Gossip is a sin that can fall in spiritual “No-Man’s Land” between passivity and vigilance. But this shouldn’t be. Gossip is the RPG that blasts holes in the fabric of the church.
Every time someone gossips, they cause great damage. In addition to sinning against God by disobeying his Word they inflict damage on others. Gossip harm at least three people: the one speaking, the one hearing, and the one who was gossiped about. Add to this that gossip is usually not a one time deal but rather involves multiple conversations. Gossip is the Devil’s Ponzi scheme to get rich quickly on disunity and provide quick returns to those seeking to gratify the flesh.
GOSSIP IS BAD, AND, DEEP DOWN WE KNOW IT
Let’s be honest; we know what gossip is. It is speaking about someone in a way that defames, dishonors, or otherwise hurts their character. As has been said, gossip is what you’d never say to someone’s face, and flattery is what you’d never say behind their back.
Sometimes it can be subtle, like grumbling about someone. Other times it is loud, like ranting about them. Furthermore, sometimes the content of what is said is accurate. Other times, it’s not. Either way, the person hearing does not need to know the information, they don’t benefit from it. And, most times, it is not actionable; they are are not going to go and help the person. Instead, they are just going to tuck away the information for selfish use.
Gossip, and its cousins: slander, divisive speech, and deceitful speech are roundly rebuked in the Scriptures (Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 6:16–19, 11:13, 20:19; Titus 3:2). Instead of cutting people down with verbal assassinations, we are to give words of life and grace (Ephesians 4:29).
I don’t think we need to convince people what it is, but we can bring an awareness of how God feels about it and how destructive it is in the life of the church. We need to know what to do about it. We need to know how to shut it down.
HOW TO SHUT DOWN GOSSIP
(1) Refuse it
The obvious first step to shutting down gossip is to convince people of how God views gossip. We can do this by showing them what the Bible says. We can remind people in sermons, conversations, and prayer of the destructiveness of gossip. This is merely calling attention to it. Instead of being passive (not talking about it), we need to be active, without becoming preoccupied with it.
If done faithfully, people will become aware of gossip when it comes to them or perhaps when they find themselves scratching the seemingly insatiable itch to dish up a little sumthin on someone. They will also think twice about vocalizing their grumbling about another person to someone else. If convinced of the vileness of the practice in God’s eyes, then they will carefully avoid “gossip-baiting” people. This is the practice when someone thinks that someone else may have some intel on another person or situation. Then they subtly begin talking about it, gently massaging the perimeter of the topic while waiting to see if the person will take the bait and give up the goods.
What if the church could spot gossip a mile away? What if they hated it? What if they believed the Bible and were convinced that to gossip displayed hatred for God and others? What if they thought that it served to fracture the unity that Jesus bought and the Spirit created? Then they would react like an NBA big man and reject the gossip by swatting it into the 3rd row.
For example, as a pastor, someone might come to me and say, “I need to talk to you about something.” I usually reply, “Something or someone?” If they “someone.” then I say, “Did you talk to ‘someone’ yet?” I redirect them back. I don’t want to hear about someone if that someone hasn’t heard about it first.
This may be different for laypeople. Perhaps someone will come up to you and say, “I am frustrated with ______ ‘s attitude. They walk around like they own the place. She never says ‘hi’ or even looks at me. What is her deal?” You may be tempted to say, “Yeah. You’re right. I’ve never noticed it, but she ignores me too!” But, let me encourage you to think God’s thoughts after him. Reject the gossip. Instead, something like, “Have you talked to her about this? Please don’t drag me into your issues with her. You need to work this out–whatever it is–for the sake of Christ.” This rejects the bait of the complaint and sheds light on the issue.
(2) Rebuke it
Let’s say someone is talking about another person. They may get started slowly, but soon enough, they are carving up their character like a Thanksgiving turkey. As you get your bearings and manage to interrupt the onslaught, you should say something like, “Brother/sister, you are speaking negatively about ____ is this even true? This is gossip. Have you ever spoken to them about this?”
We have to be on our toes because this is tricky. Sometimes gossip wears a disguise. It comes to us under the mask of piety, “I need you to pray for me” before unloading the juicy tidbits on another person. Sometimes it wears the mask of vulnerability. It comes asking for a friend to bear burdens before quickly pivoting to tearing down others.
Go on to show them what the Bible says and how destructive this is. Show them that they are slandering their brother/sister, a child of God. Explain how this assaults God’s plan and harms God’s people. Call the sin of gossip what it is and tell them that they should repent and bear fruit in repentance by controlling their tongue and speaking words of grace. Once we understand the damage of gossip, we will become vigilant to ensure that it is expunged from our churches. This means that we will be compelled to have the difficult conversations that call it what it is and demand that our brothers and sisters think God’s thoughts after him, even about gossip.
(3) Redirect it
There are three aspects of this: first to Christ, second back to the person, and third to others they have gossiped to.
First, redirect people back to Christ. The reason for gossip is because they are believing a lie about God and themselves. Remember, Satan was the first gossiper when he talked trash about God. Show them how Jesus died for their sins, even the sins committed post-conversion. This sin should be a magnet to draw them back to the person and work of Christ for repentance, forgiveness, and refreshing. (In this, it should be noted that their issue is not just with another person but Christ. Jesus is Lord of the church, and so they are sinning against him.)
Second, redirect people back to the person. If they have an issue with someone, they should go and talk to them. If they have done some damage to the person’s character, then they should go and tell the person in humility and ask for their forgiveness. I will often say to the person that I will follow up with them in a week or so to see how the conversation went.
Third, they should also go in humility to the other people they have gossiped to. This closes the loop and reinforces the need to reject the sin of gossip. It reminds or perhaps educates those who have been exposed to this sin, of the nature and danger of it.
Gossip is nasty. Sin is never good and should be despised by all who love Christ and his church. Instead of being passive and tolerating something widespread, we should be vigilant to remove something destructive. Let’s step our game up and, starting with ourselves, work to shut down gossip.
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