The Bible is not kind towards gossip, or, as some translations render it, whispering.
Consider: “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:28; NKJV)
In discussing sinful men who have abandoned God, the Scriptures list their various offenses. We read, “They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29b; ESV)
Gossip is an insidious sort of sin that masks its evil with the veneer of conversation and dialogue, but which, when engaged in, seldom cause anything but unhappiness and strife.
The dictionary defines gossip as “a rumor or report of an intimate nature,” that is, “talking about a person’s private life.” Some, when gossiping, will claim that they are just stating facts, as if facts can’t be used as gossip, but gossip, by its nature, may or may not be true, and the truthfulness of a statement does not make it not gossip.
A good rule of thumb to ask one’s self when discussing individuals with other people is, “what is my purpose?” If you are not praising a third party, and are not seeking ways to help another through the conversation, then there is a good chance that what you are doing is, in fact gossip. We don’t need to share information about everyone we know or encounter with everyone else we know. Talking down other people when they are not around is not going to help anyone, and frequently ends up hurting ourselves and others. Speculating about the details of other people’s lives may satisfy a primal sort of curiosity, but, as often as not, all we end up doing is spreading misinformation.
Gossip can take many forms. We tend to think of gossip in terms of neighbors talking over a back-yard fence, or women sitting around their sewing circle, but in these modern times, gossip has found ways to mask itself, so that many who engage in the practice don’t even realize that they might be participating in a rather odious activity.
There is, of course, social media. The internet now allows us to converse with people constantly, and there are more people than ever for us to talk about. Gossip does not have to be concerned only with people in your immediate circle. You can gossip about celebrities, politicians, and the latest person who has made a spectacle of themselves in some viral video. When you laugh at a person doing stupid stuff online, and then point the same out to your friends, and then discuss the foolishness of the same amongst yourselves in chat-rooms, via messaging, or just in internet threads, you are, in fact, engaged in the lowest sort of communication: gossip. Likewise, when we start talking about what we think of this politician, or that celebrity, characters who have perhaps offended us in some way through their behavior and conduct, it is easy to fall into the trap of gossip, slandering them and criticizing them (obviously behind their back) simply because we don’t like them at that moment in time.
Likewise, if one were to consider the matter dispassionately, one might well be led to the conclusion that a lot of what we term, “The News,” is little more than gossip published on a broad scale. Genuine new reporting, i.e.. a documentation of witnessed events and known circumstances, is not gossip, but much of what is read or seen in the Media is little more than speculation about matters nobody is sure about, quotations of anonymous sources, and debates concerning motivations. Very often, what is “reported” today, proves to be wrong tomorrow, because what was reported were not actual facts, being instead speculation about what the facts might be. Or, in other words, gossip.
Which simply re-emphasizes just how insidious a sort of thing gossip is. The world is filled with it; but the person who wants to be upright, godly and loving towards others needs to guard against it.
The Bible urges us to believe only that which is backed up by at least two or three witnesses. (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19). Certainly, without such confirmation, we should not be sharing the rumors we hear, and even then, we should only be sharing that which helps those we are talking with, and those we are talking about. Malicious rumormongering never helps us. Even when we successfully hurt others with our speech, we also damage our own reputation and ability to interact with others.
We are always better off when we listen to God’s sage wisdom, and try to live our lives the way He teaches. And most certainly, if more people spent less time gossiping, the world would be much more pleasant. Let it start with you. Thus the conclusion: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29; ESV)
If you would like to learn more about how God teaches men to live, the Church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.