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We know that gossip is wrong. We know that it is best for us not to participate in gossip, listening to it or ourselves speaking it. Gossip causes conflict and, in most cases, is not accurate information. One of our church members approached me and asked what Gossip is. So, for the benefit of the body, I want to take the time to define gossip and explain why I think it is the primary creator of division in the church (or in any group for that matter).
Gossip is an interesting word to try and define. I have heard everything from “If it’s true, it’s not gossip,” to “Gossip is simply talking about someone.” These are two extremes. One definition seeks to justify gossip while the other would even keep us from being able to teach about the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Every person I have met, even the worst gossiper, would consider gossip to be absolutely wrong. Where our confusion is, I think, is in knowing what Gossip is. According to GotQuestions.org (a great resource that I recommend, though I don’t personally agree with every theological point made on the site), gossip is not the same as the sharing of information. According to the author of that article, “What does the Bible say about gossip,” gossip is distinguished from the sharing of information in two ways:
1. Intent. Gossipers often have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge.
2. The type of information shared. Gossipers speak of the faults and failings of others, or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if they mean no harm, it is still gossip.
If my goal is to make myself look good or to make others look bad or unworthy, I have gossiped according to this article, and I think the designation is correct. Also, if I share things about others that are in some way shameful and that I don’t have permission to share, I have gossiped. There is a great little book by Matthew C. Mitchel called Resisting Gossip that makes these points in more detail. It is worth purchasing next time you check out on Amazon.
This is not to say that there is never a time and place to air grievances. Jesus gives us the only Godly method in Matthew 18. If someone sins against you, go to them personally (that’s one on one). This instruction discourages gossip. We should not be in the habit of “tattle-telling” or going to the leadership in any context in order to tell them what someone else is doing that is wrong (or in a wrongly way) or to share what we don’t like about someone else. We go to the offender personally and if we can’t to that, we let whatever it is go. Then, and only if there is actually unrepentant sin (which is not based on our preferences or personality likes or dislikes), if there is no repentance, we take one trustworthy person with us. Then if there is still no repentance, we tell the church (which begins in our local church’s case with informing the elders only). If there is no repentance concerning actual blatant sin in the body, then a person is to be rejected or cast out from the body and treated as a sinner and tax collector so that, after being rejected, he or she might repent and be restored in grace to the body. This is the opposite of gossip and works for the good of every offender. If a person is born again, there will always be repentance and a turning from sin. If a person is not born again, there will always be resistance and the person will continue to slander, gossip, malign, threaten, accuse, and will continue to point out the splinters in the eyes of others while willfully ignoring the log in his or her own eye. Those who are saved bear fruit that is consistent with repentance while those who are not saved do not (Matthew 3:8). Indeed, I believe that a person is unable to see the log in his or her own eye without the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This is why in Titus 3:9-11, Paul instructs Titus to reject a divisive man (one who engages in foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law) after a first and second warning. He goes on to refer to this divisive man as perverted and sinning, being self-condemned.
How do we keep ourselves from gossip?
James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote, “…no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been mad in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
You can find that in James 3:9-10. James is very clear. Our nature keeps us from resisting gossip. We are unable to tame our tongues. Our tongues are a restless evil, poison. No level of experience or knowledge can grant us the ability to tame the tongue. In the next two verses (11-12), James wrote,
“Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”
Because people are people, they gossip. We cannot from the spring of our common human condition (what we refer to as depravity) produce anything that isn’t consistent with that condition. Our condition has to be changed in a very real way and we don’t have the power to produce that for ourselves according to James. Jesus said it this way in John 3, that we must be born again to even see the kingdom of heaven.
This is humbling and it is the same way with every sin. God must be the one to sanctify us. He is the one who kills our sin and He is the one who clothes His people in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, His Eternal Son. It is why, until God kills our tendency toward gossip, we still ask these question and why we are still tempted by our own desires (James 1:14) to talk about others in ways that are inappropriate. We are all self-condemning until we are not.
There is a way, Biblically, that we can participate with God as God does this work. In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul wrote that God has provided pastors to equip the saints (those who have been born again) for the work of ministry so that the saints will be built up. The result according to verse 13 is that the people who are rightly sitting under the teaching of God’s word will be made mature and complete in the stature of Christ. Being a committed member of a healthy local church is really the key to our willing participation in God’s sanctifying work on this earth. This is why the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3 include their not being quarrelsome or double-tongued or malicious gossips.
The general rule would be simple. Strive to be more concerned about your own shortfalls than those of others. Practice forgiveness. Try not to participate in the gossip of others. In fact, reject a divisive person after a first and second warning. As a pastor, I know that those in my own congregation will fail. It is not my responsibility to constantly point out their shortfalls and in so doing place heavy burdens on others like the Pharisees did. This is the sanctifying work of God alone by His Holy Spirit. So, I content myself to preach God’s word alone with gentleness and respect and to follow Scripture’s instruction in rejecting a divisive person after a first and second warning. God will convict and God’s people will be sanctified according to God’s word alone.