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The Lord loves a straight shooter. How do I know this? Because this is the embodiment of the wisdom imparted in Proverbs, including this helpful little gem: “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you” (4:24).
Crooked speech is talk that isn’t straight. It is bowed, off-kilter, circuitous, meandering. There are a few examples we could name, including outright lying and even hypocritical living, but one of the most glaring examples of crooked speech that is practically epidemic in the church is the sin of gossip. But what is gossip?
One reason gossip can be so difficult to define is that it so often masquerades as something more mundane, perhaps even beneficent. I’m sure you have witnessed plenty of prayer requests shared on someone’s behalf that seemed to include unnecessary details or salacious information. You’ve probably heard your share of “words of concern” that bordered on insinuation or improper speculation. Maybe you’ve offered such words yourself. I know I have.
If we had to boil down gossip to a straightforward definition, we might say that gossip is saying anything about someone that you wouldn’t say to them. That at least captures the way gossip violates Proverbs 4:24.
So how do you know if you’re hearing (or sharing) gossip? Here are some clues as to the various motives that fuel gossip.
When we are voicing criticism or accusation of another person to a third party, we must take great care first of all that we have the other person’s actual best interest in mind. If we really do suspect a sin issue, the responsible thing to do is to lovingly, gently confront the subject of our concern.
In Romans 1, Paul actually connects gossip as a character trait—“they are gossips” (v. 29), not simply that they commit gossip—to deceit and maliciousness. Gossip is a sin no matter where you find it, whether it’s in the aisles at church or in the aisles of the grocery store. But it is especially egregious in a church setting, where gossip works the satanic ploy of undermining the unity of the Spirit and Christ’s call to love one another as He has loved us. Gossip is anti-gospel, and therefore it is representative of the Antichrist.
This kind of gossip is the particular domain of the church’s “Nosy Nellies” and the Internet’s self-authorized “watchbloggers.” You will notice that the sharing of actual sins, assumptive accusations, and out-and-out speculation has really nothing at all to do with edifying the person in question. This gossip is clearly malicious, but it’s also something else—it is served up as entertainment, as a delectable morsel to delight, intrigue, or otherwise stir up other critical spirits against the person in question.
Some people, frankly, just like entertaining themselves with “juicy” details at the expense of other people. Paul warns about these types of gossips when he instructs his young protégé to beware of “idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Tim. 5:13). The connection of idleness with gossip is significant, as the kind of gossip Paul has in mind here doesn’t even pretend to be helpful to anyone. It only serves as self-oriented curiosity. This is the kind you see on tabloid magazine covers and, unfortunately, hear in many church hallways.
Pride or Envy
This is the kind of gossip, driven by malice, that is aimed squarely at making oneself look better by comparison. Paul has this kind of gossip in mind in 2 Corinthians 12:20 when he names this sin in conjunction with jealousy, slander, and conceit.
This kind of gossip is usually prompted when we hear something good said about a person whom we dislike or distrust. When a friend tells you about the excellent work of a coworker with whom you think of yourself in competition, and you reply, “Maybe. But he always comes into work late, and I heard he got fired from his last job,” that’s the gossip of envy.
All of these varieties of crooked speech can catch fire in a church community and create the kind of quarreling, suspicion, and division that Satan loves. So, how do we avoid gossip and confront it? Here are three tactical steps to do battle against this pernicious sin:
1. Don’t say anything negative about someone that you wouldn’t say to them.
Simply put, if it’s a matter of enough concern to share with another, it’s a matter of concern to share with the person in question. If it’s not, it shouldn’t be shared.
2. Redirect others’ gossip with a gentle query about the intent.
“Have you spoken to them about this concern you have?” is a great way to nip gossip in the bud. “I don’t think you should share this with me if you’re not prepared to share it with them.”
3. Rebuke repeated gossip and discipline unrepentant gossips.
Name the sin directly to the person involved. Not angrily or in a spirit of judgmentalism, but as a loving confrontation of something no one should make a regular practice of. Paul is pretty clear on this sin. It is not to be tolerated because it can be so destructive to Christ’s body. And when direct confrontation doesn’t work, it is likely that unrepentant gossips must be handled according to the biblical instructions on church discipline.
If we care not just about the reputations and well-being of our neighbors, but also the reputation of Christ’s body and the well-being of its members, we won’t give crooked speech an inch, because it will always take a mile. Shoot straight with all so that the line between Christ’s grace and our brothers and sisters will not be interrupted.