From Inc. Magazine to Northeastern University to health.com, the word is out that a little gossip can be a good thing: “Gossip can actually be good for your business, your customers, and the bottom line.”
According to Stanford University researcher Dr. Matthew Feinberg, “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain co-operation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t.” O.K., we get where some of these guys are coming from: there’s a positive side to getting important information into the ears of those who need to hear it. Particularly if you’re trying to sell a product that needs some press.
As you ponder the potential power of gossip, especially via the social media, consider this from the journal Science: “In lieu of direct experience, social tittle-tattle allows people to learn about others across a very wide group … That, in turn, gives people cues on who to befriend (or not) without having to actually have to spend lots of time with them first.”
Not denying potential marketing and social “advantages,” I simply want to issue a loving and pastoral word of caution in the midst of all this “news”: Somehow we may be falling into a cultural trap that considers gossip no big deal.
In God’s universal indictment against the sinfulness of the human race which He gave us through the Apostle Paul, we read these words (Romans 1:29-30): “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. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
It may go without saying, but gossip is nothing trivial in the eyes of our holy God. James 3:8 describes the human tongue as a restless and poisonous evil.
Paul also raised the problem of gossip when he wrote to the church at Corinth (Second Corinthians 12:20): “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish – that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit and disorder.” There gossip is again listed among a number of other despicable human behaviors.
According to Scripture, what are some examples of gossip? Telling a secret (Proverbs 11:13). Talking too much about others (Proverbs 16:28). Using our words to fuel a fight, even if unintentional (Proverbs 26:20). Discussing topics that we should avoid (First Timothy 5:13). Causing division between or among Christian believers (Proverbs 6:19).
Can our words cause division, add fuel to a fight, or betray a confidence even if we believe our statements to be true? You bet they can! That’s gossip.
You and I must avoid speaking gossip. You and I must avoid listening to gossip.
Every pastor I know has had his heart broken more than once by church members who didn’t stop gossip in its tracks. Most church members have likewise been injured by the same speeding bullet at one time or another.
I appreciate this careful analysis from Christian attorney William Bontrager: “Gossip is a means by which we are often drawn into the conflicts of others. We need to know what it is and how to deal with it biblically. It is critical for the Church, individual Christians, and Christian leaders, to know the part gossip plays in conflict, for gossip causes great division in our churches. First, let’s define gossip. Webster says: ‘Idle talk and rumors about others; chatter.’ The Greek word in the New Testament is defined ‘whisperer’ (one who will not speak openly or aloud). The Old Testament Hebrew word meant ‘slanderer or tale-bearer’. I want to propose the following as a definition: ‘Gossip is the vocalization of potentially destructive things about another, whether true or false, when that other person is either specifically identified or readily identifiable, and when that other person is not present and able to respond.’”
When gossip catches a church on fire, the facts are the first thing to fly out the window.
While First Baptist Paducah is experiencing a season of great peace as we are presently enjoying, let us commit to beware of the deadly disease of gossip. While we’re healthy, let’s commit ourselves as a church family to be humbly and prayerfully vigilant to protect this local expression of Christ’s body from all future assaults (from within or from without).
Let’s re-commit ourselves to grace and truth.
Warren Wiersbe, once senior pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, said this: “Truth is the cement that holds society together. If people can get away with lies, then every promise, agreement, oath, pledge, and contract is immediately destroyed. The false witness turns a trial into a travesty and causes the innocent to suffer. But we must speak truth in love and use truth as a tool to build relationships as well as a weapon to fight deception. When truth is in the heart, then the lips will not speak lies, spread gossip, or attack the innocent. People with truthful hearts will keep their vows and promises. People of integrity don’t have to use oaths to strengthen their words. A simple yes or no carries all the weight that’s needed. More trouble is caused in families, neighborhoods, offices, and churches by gossip and lies and the people who keep them in circulation than by any other means. The Lord wants truth in our innermost being, and he wants us to love the truth and protect it.”
May an emerging social trap not trap the church.
Beloved Congregation, I would love to hear from you on this important topic.