Did you hear about that meeting? Can you believe what she said? Do you know what happened to him? Gossip is as old as human speech, as common as dust. It is not unique to rich or poor, male or female. We all let it happen, some less obviously, but nearly all of us talk about other people, some of the time. People share gossip for many reasons – to enhance their own social status, to gain attention from others, to subtly let others know their opinions, out of boredom, to get even with another. The fact that ‘everybody does it’ does not make it right.
A few days ago someone shared a morsel of gossip with me that she heard about my supposed pending retirement from ministry. There were a few shreds of truth in what was said but what was alleged about my motives and decisions was complete fabrication. I laughed it off, but wondered if anyone believed it? Most likely it got started in a conversation of speculation and after a few repeats, somebody’s ‘theory’ turned into ‘facts.’ (By the way, just to set the record straight, I have no plans to retire anytime soon, nor have I asked for a pay-out from the church.)
Words, even idle gossip, are powerful, capable of bringing pain and trouble to others. On school playgrounds kids chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that isn’t not true. Words can hurt, badly. You know that, and so do I.
What kinds of words flow from your lips? The wisdom of the Word teaches us these things –
Proverbs 16:28 – A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.
Proverbs 18:8 – Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you really want junk like that in your belly?
Proverbs 26:20 – When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.
Paul sets a goal for each one of us in the use of our words. He corrects some feuding Christians – “So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words.” (Romans 14:19)
The answer to gossip and critical speech is not a padlock on the lips; it is confession of sin which allows the Holy Spirit to transform our mind. If we want to replace negative, critical, destructive words with encouraging, positive, and life-giving ones, we must have a genuine change of heart, an inner work of the Spirit. Jesus reminds us that the words we say flow out of our inner-most person. What we think, what we value, who we really are – is revealed by what we say.
A slanderer, a gossip, is telling the world – “My heart is empty, without the positive, inspired qualities of the Spirit.” I know this personally! When I am exhausted or discouraged, when I do not make the choice to be renewed in prayerful conversation with the Holy Spirit, the overflow of my lips becomes faithless, negative, and too often, critical. And yes, when I walk with the Spirit, renewed in Him, in the same kinds of situations, He makes me capable of being encouraging, of speaking honestly, lovingly building up others.
Let’s call gossip what it is – harmful, destructive, and ungodly. No more excusing it as ‘being human’ or ‘just that thing that happens.’ When we find ourselves falling into it may we have the courage to apologize and to repent! Gossip is a sin against God and others. Treat it as such. Pray instead that God will transform your words. Pray that it will be life, not death, that results from your conversations.
The word from the Word is a bit lengthy today, coming to us from the practical letter of James.
“We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong.
So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:2-11, NLT)
Make me a blessing, make me a blessing;
Out of my life, may Jesus shine.
Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray;
Make me a blessing to someone today.