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A close friend in high school was accused of shoplifting. No official charges were made, but rumor carried the informal accusations throughout the small town. In spite of his denials, the gossip of the locals counted him guilty. Several months later, the real perpetrator was quietly exposed. No apologies, privately or publicly, were made for the false accusations. Most of the community continued to think my friend was guilty, even though his innocence had been proved.

There are warnings throughout the Bible about the sins and dangers of slander and gossip. These are not insignificant sins. Paul writes powerfully about the depravity of mankind in Romans 1:28–31:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 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, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

In the midst of speaking about evil, murder, ruthlessness, and hating God, Paul speaks of slander and gossip. These two malicious acts are not considered misdemeanors in the sight of God. Yet slander, and especially gossip, is freely practiced daily, as if we had a license to do such evil.

So what is slander, and how is it different from gossip? Slander is a false statement that damages a person’s reputation. Gossip is idle talk that may or may not be true. We sometimes excuse our gossip by claiming that we are only repeating what we know is true. Gossip is sharing information that should not be shared. It may be information that we consider sensational, but it is not beneficial to the people involved. The Greek word translated gossip means “whisper.” We whisper when we gossip because the information we share about another individual may be intimate, deeply personal, or injurious. Usually, gossip is news that we would not want shared if it were about us.

What good will be accomplished through the information I am about to share?

Gossip is a means of tearing others down while we exalt ourselves. We use “true” gossip to denigrate people that we do not like: “See, I told you what kind of person he is.” We use gossip to justify our own positions: “See, this validates what I told you.” We use gossip so that we can be the irrefutable source of important information. We want to be the first to have the distinction of announcing the latest news to our group of friends. Regardless of our spin, God calls this a dire sin that is listed with what we consider the worst of evils. I am thankful that the editors of Tabletalk asked me to write on this subject, because my study has reminded me of my own guilt in frequently indulging in this dark art in which my tongue serves satanic purposes.

How, then, do we keep ourselves from this insidious sin? What must we do when we hear gossip? What must we do to keep from becoming a channel through which gossip travels?

We must first seek to know the truthfulness of what we hear. If it is not true and we repeat it, then our sin is multiplied into slander. If it is true, then we can become a conduit of grace toward the person who has sinned or a conduit of comfort to the person who has been wronged. If the gossip is not true, then we are to speak to the person who communicated the lie to us. The purpose of seeking the truth should never be so that you can transmit the gossip with a clear conscience.

Second, we must ask ourselves: “Is our speech a blessing to the world around us? Do our words promote comfort, healing, and peace?” The writer of Proverbs said, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (16:24). The Holy Spirit should fill our daily discourses with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness—not with gossip. This means asking ourselves several important questions before we speak. What good will be accomplished through the information I am about to share? Is this information best held in confidence? How does sharing this information reflect on my own integrity?

After writing these words, I am tempted to say, “I will just take a monastic vow of silence.” But such a vow would keep me from speaking words of help, comfort, healing, and warning—yes, words of warning are sometimes a necessary and holy response. Great harm has been done by well-meaning Christians when they have withheld needed information in crucial situations. They needed to speak the truth in love to help responsible individuals make right decisions. But not wanting to share negative information, they kept silent. Sometimes we are called on to give an evaluation of a group or individual. Significant decisions will be based on our requested testimony. Such assessments are not gossip. Failure to speak the truth in those situations can have devastating effects.

Dear reader, controlling our conversations is not easily done. We should memorize these words from James:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (3:7–9)

Gossip is a daily temptation, and it is conquered only through a constant and focused intention empowered by the Holy Spirit. We will be greatly helped if we take our bit of gossip and say it to Jesus in prayer. When we tell our gossip to Jesus, we are apt to hear Him ask, “Have you not done the very same things?” (see Rom. 2:1).

Heart and Mind

Vocation and the Christian

Keep Reading Misunderstood Biblical Words and Phrases

From the August 2022 Issue
Aug 2022 Issue