A minister friend of mine contacted me earlier this month because he was concerned about something I’d written and wanted to better understand my point of view. It seemed to him that I was endorsing an idea that runs counter to what I profess to believe as a Christian.
We talked it out over lunch man-to-man and eye-to-eye, and I was able to clarify his confusion while also gaining an invaluable insight as to how I had neglected to communicate myself clearly.
It was good.
We parted as brothers, without rancor, and having come to a better understanding of each other as friends. All it cost was a little time (on my part) and a willingness to speak candidly (on his part). My friend admitted his awkwardness in doing so, and said he was worried he might somehow offend me. I reassured him that only a fool despises counsel and that, even in the most unwarranted criticism, the wise could find something worth deeper consideration.
During the course of my various comings and goings, I hear all manner of absurd and scandalous tripe about myself from others. I’ve also gotten more than my share of nasty emails from those few precious souls who think less far less of me than I do. Furtive missives dismissing everything from my religion to my politics, or even to my needlessly baroque and self-important style of writing.
But it’s all good. I can appreciate the sour that comes with the sweet, and I am thankful for those who take the time and effort to confront me directly with their concerns and complaints. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding, sometimes it’s just opposing viewpoints, but I’d rather be rebuked with the truth than be poisoned by lies spoken in secret.
Gossip is a sin that is drenched in subtlety. It’s so easy to go from talking “about” someone to “talking about” someone, if you catch my meaning. Both as a member of churches and having worked at them as a minister, I’ve seen people’s lives and relationships torn asunder by gossip. Like cancer, it is a silent killer, but I would argue that it is even more pervasive.
The dictionary definition of gossip means to give a malicious report about other people, which often included information that is at least partially falsified. This kind of behavior is described many ways in the Scriptures: slander (, 15:2Mark 7:22), a “backbiting tongue” (), and of course gossip itself ( 25:23), just to name a few. 12:20
It is a behavior that, in my opinion, clearly reflects a hardness of the heart and is vehemently condemned by the Lord (; 19:16Proverbs 10:18; Psalm 140:11). Indeed, the wise man knows that “one who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” (Proverbs 20:19)
Even so, gossip is one of those besetting sins that ensnare all of us at some time or another. The reason for this indulgence often emerges as willingness to capitulate to the worser angels of our nature. We are, after all, a broken people who must daily continue to be conformed into the image of Christ.
But we often fall, and oh do we ever.
The words of a whisperer, it reads in Proverbs 18:8, are like dainty morsels. They go down into the innermost parts of the body. This paints a beautiful picture of the process, for no one ever has to endure gossip. We eagerly and greedily devour such “dainty morsels” on the failings of our friends and peers. We listen to it because we like it, we all want to have “the goods” on each other. We love it so much that we can’t wait to turn around and share it with others.
In our relationships with our brothers and sisters I daresay this evil proclivity accounts for much of what is wrong with our churches. If the tongue is a fire (James 3:6), then gossip is dry kindling soaked in kerosene.
Even a viper is not immune to the venom he carries in his own mouth. So too is it for the hardhearted gossip.
Thus, my hope is that we could, if not at least love each other enough to be charitable with our words, that we would at least be wise enough to refrain from speech (Proverbs 10:19) and maintain at least some vestige of honor.
But in any case, the question that ought to govern our behavior is “What would love have me do?”