(This article first appeared on Medium.)
“What does the Bible say about gossiping?”
This question plagued my mind for three odd months. It kept coming and going in waves and a friend I hold dear encouraged me to pen down my thoughts. I prayed about (read: against) it, but it didn’t go away. All these events have led me to believe that writing this short piece was necessary for me and for all who will see this.
What does it mean to gossip?
It means two main things from which every other meaning flows:
Spreading false reports. (Exodus 23:1)
Spreading what you should not — be it true or not. (1 Timothy 5:13 ESV)
I’ve observed that gossiping is an often-neglected, seemingly insignificant little fox that has destroyed so many vines — churches, families, communities, etc. Although it starts small, gossip intensifies and gathers pace. Like a tsunami, people are always astounded at how something so seemingly harmless can leave a devastating level of destruction in its wake. This sin is very easy to indulge in, very easy to be unaware of and very easy to rationalise.
Different Takes, One Target
We as believers must let our guide — the Bible — speak for itself on all matters, and this matter is not left out. The first time we see gossip mentioned in the English Bible is in the book of Exodus. (I emphasise English Bible because I’m not well versed in Greek and Hebrew languages)
“Do not spread false reports…,” Exodus 23:1a (ESV) says. It’s simple and straight to the point. No confusion. The most common type of false reports is unconfirmed reports. Yes, we haven’t confirmed said reports, but the story may affirm certain biases we already hold. So, we pass it off as fact and truth, with little to no regard for the damage it can cause to the victim’s reputation and/or life. False reports could also mean things we know are untrue but too juicy to not spread.
Arbie Sharp notes while writing on this topic for Newspring Church, Southern Carolina:
“Gossip divides relationships, destroys trust, and the pain associated with gossip is felt long after the words are spoken.”
Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) also talks about the power of the tongue (a metonym for speech); how it can bring about the death of relationships and trust, how it can give life to strife and pain.
The terms slander (Psalm 50:20, Proverbs 11:13 ESV), corrupt talk (Ephesians 4:29 ESV), speaking evil (James 4:11 ESV) and of course, gossip are some of the ways the Bible addresses gossiping.
Busybody (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5:13 ESV), whisperer (Proverbs 16:28, 26:20 ESV), simple babbler (Proverbs 20:19 ESV) are some of the ways the Bible describes those that engage in gossiping.
James takes this a bit further:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
(James 1:8 ESV) (emphasis mine)
James is bringing to light that we be careful about what we use our tongues to do. Since we’re addressing gossiping, he is by extension telling us to be true to our religion and not deceive ourselves as followers of Jesus by being careless with our speech. In simpler terms, DO NOT GOSSIP!
Unintentional, Yet Disastrous
Many times, when we gossip, it may be a well-intentioned and honest thing. A very good place to talk about where this is a serious problem is in the Church. A person may be caught doing something that is far from godly, say stealing for instance. Of course, God doesn’t approve of ungodly behaviour and we as His offspring should follow this way of thinking.
However, in our quest to address this situation, instead of praying for them and restoring them in the spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1 ESV), or reporting to a higher authority; say a pastor or deacon that is wise and has been put in the position to handle this kind of incident, we may begin to tell other people and express our disappointment, hurt or disgust at this behaviour. By doing this, we may damage their reputation, cause them to feel alienated, and unintentionally create an enemy of ourselves and/or of the Church.
We have been called to be slow to speak (James 1:19 ESV), and as much as possible, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18 ESV, Hebrews 12:14 ESV). Exhibiting this behaviour shows that we haven’t tamed our tongues and will lead to us not peacefully co-existing with people.
It is clear that every time this behaviour is mentioned, it comes with negative remarks. Nothing positive is said about those that partake too. We have been called to throw this behaviour away as a result of being in Christ and Christ being in us (2 Corinthians 5:17a ESV).
Paul leaves us with this admonition:
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him”
(Colossians 3:17 ESV) (emphasis mine)
As I wrote this, I found myself flashing back at my life, I chastised myself, and I resolved to evaluate my future actions. This is what the Word of God does; it reads us as we read it.
Disclaimer: My use of the ESV version is for uniformity. You’re free to use any version of choice to check the scriptures quoted.
Ojodale is a young Christian man who lives in Lagos but is really not of Lagos. Weaving faith and life in Lagos is an ongoing experience for him. Though difficult, it has been rewarding. He writes on topics dear to him on Medium and occasionally for City Church.