Today I want to get practical about gossip, but let’s do a quick review from last week.
Lots of people inside the church offer the advice, “Don’t gossip,” as if the period at the end of that short command says all we need to know. But as I mentioned before, that leaves a lot of open questions that aren’t always easy to answer. Which is where we are headed this week.
Let’s get practical about gossip, drawing what lines we can using the Bible as our standard.
It is just as cowardly to judge an absent person as it is wicked to strike a defenseless one. Only the ignorant and narrow-minded gossip, for they speak of persons instead of things. ~
First, let’s review the definition of gossip offered by Martin Manser, a British lexicographer (dictionary compiler) and author of Dictionary of Bible Themes.
Idle talk which foolishly or maliciously spreads rumours or facts. The effects of gossiping are divisive and destructive.
And, let’s remember that the Bible uses several different but related words that translate into our English word gossip. Using the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew, we learn the following:
Proverbs 11:13 and 20:19 talk about a gossip betraying a confidence. The word used here means a person who spreads “harmful information about another person, as a semi-private, hushed communication.”
Proverbs 16:28, 18:8, 26:20, and 26:22 dig into the effects a person who gossips has on the people around them. The word used here means to “complain, grumble, i.e., to express discontent in low tones.”
Moving to the New Testament, Romans 1:29-31 (speaking about those who know about God but do not follow Him) and 2 Corinthians 12:20 (addressing the Corinthian church as a group) use related words, one naming the person (psithyristes) while the other names the action itself (psithyrismos). The Dictionary of Biblical Languages defines them as “one who gossips in whispers and hushed tones,” and “gossip spoken in low tones and whispers.”
Practical about Gossip
Okay. With all of that fresh in our minds, let’s first recognize that the advice in the Bible about gossip is consistent and for a broad audience. None of the verses offer a warm and cuddly feeling about either gossip or gossipers, and It’s not addressed to only Christians or to only busybodies. The advice states or infers a similar tone to all people, believers and non-believers, practicing Christians and backsliders.
Secondly, one characteristic made its way into all the definitions: hushed communication, low tones, and whispers. Someone may think, does that mean we just need to make sure we’re talking in normal tones? Umm, no. It doesn’t. Rather it’s a detail to pay attention to.
Think about it: when you are talking to another person about someone else and the overall meaning of the conversation isn’t to brag or boast, what do we tend to do? Lower our voice. Even if we are in a private area. I want to be clear that this isn’t an automatic sign that you are guilty of gossip. But, when you notice your volume decreasing, take a moment to consider if you should continue with the discussion.
One additional tidbit.
One other clue offers a warning that we may be about to gossip. The first two verses in Proverbs talk about harmful information. Before you speak, think through what you are about to say about another person. And keep in mind that you must look beyond determining whether the information is positive or negative. Instead, ask yourself if it is harmful or helpful.
What’s the difference? Well, first we have to define the difference between harm and hurt. And to do that, let’s think about the dentist.
A horrible procedure.
A couple of years ago, my oldest root canal failed and infection filled the area. My dentist went above and beyond, showing up on her day off to see me, diagnose the problem, and put in a prescription of antibiotics to start the healing process over the weekend. Early the next week, I returned to have the tooth extracted. After birthing three children, enduring abdominal surgeries, sitting through other root canals and extractions, stitches, healing from sprains and pulled muscles, and a variety of other painful events over the years, this was by far the most painful thing I’ve ever endured in my life.
That poor dentist gave me vial after vial of numbing agents, gradually increasing the strength and giving each vial time to soak into the area. Nothing worked. The infection had so surrounded the tooth that no medicine would penetrate. I had to make the conscious choice to sit in that chair and let her work. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I strived to swallow as many cries of pain as I could rather than further distress this woman who was struggling to work while knowing she was hurting me.
Back to gossip.
The pain was for my best. The only way to health was to allow her to remove the dying tooth. Allow her to hurt me. But in view of my long-term health, she wasn’t harming me. She helped me. Even though it hurt.
Gossip doesn’t care about helping. Oh, it may pretend to. You may hear jokes about gossip hidden beneath a “prayer request” or a friend wanting to be sure you are “fully informed.” But what is the motive of their heart? When you share information about another person, do you want to harm them? Or, do you see their pain, look with concern toward their future, and want to be part of the process that may usher in health and joy?
Don’t quickly make your choice here. Pray about it and let God reveal your heart.
Gossip needn’t be false to be evil—there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around. ~
I know many of us would prefer a checklist so we can easily know if we’re participating in gossip or not. However, life is rarely that simple. Yes, we can use some general guidelines like the volume level of our voice or the negativity of what we’re sharing. But to get practical about gossip, the truth is that we must pray and let the Holy Spirit guide us.
Sometimes we need to share hurtful things so that someone we love can find healing. And sometimes God will ask us to pray but to otherwise keep our mouth shut and let Him or another person do all the talking.
Let me know if you have any questions about or thoughts on gossip by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
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Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes.1996.
Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament). 1997.