We are taught a simple rhyme as children to help us cope with other children and develop thick skin:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never harm me.”
Unfortunately, we have all learned that this is not the truth. Words are extremely destructive and hurtful, and there are times that we would probably prefer someone to just hit us rather than continue to talk about us. This is why James says,
– James 3.6
James teaches us that our tongues, not by their nature of existence, but by the words that they say, are those while defile our entire body. They can destroy everything. They are ruthless, and are a fire set ablaze by Hell. He even says that no one can perfectly tame the tongue, it is “a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3.8). Yes, it is a terrible thing to hurt someone physically, but we can also destroy someone with the words we say.
Thus Scripture regularly admonishes us not to gossip.
“A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.”
– Prov 16.28
– Eph 4.29
There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.
– Prov 6.16-19
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
– Titus 3.1-2
Gossip is not always telling lies, it can be telling half truths as well as just talking about someone in an unsavory way. The expectation for Christians is to only speak words that are edifying. Thus we can always test ourselves by asking if the story we are preparing to tell will edify the listener and/or the subject. Does it build one another up? Or does it tear someone down?
We are commanded, quite simply, not to gossip. Thus – as with all other commands – we can understand and tell ourselves to “just stop it”. As with any other sin of habit, however, we must intentionally fight our sin. How do we do that?
- We agree with God that it is a sin. If we desire to stop gossiping only because we know it hurts people, there will come a day when we want to hurt someone. However, if we relinquish authority over our own lives and realize that God is King, and submit to His commandments and will, there is a greater power at play than our convictions and feelings. God said do not do it, there will be consequences if we do, and it displeases Him. Therefore, we recognize that gossip is indeed a sin.
- We recognize our tendencies. Gossip may be so ingrained in our lives and personalities that we are unaware of it. It may be second nature to update our friends and family about everyone in our lives that we do not recognize when we cross the line. We must be thoughtful about our words and actions, examining them and asking if it is edifying to others and glorifying to God.
- Enlist an accountability partner. Secret sin is exceptionally difficult to conquer, and even if we find victory for a season, there is little to keep us from slipping back in a moment of weakness. An accountability partner can be a spouse, a friend or an acquaintance who has found victory over the sin in his life. You do not necessarily have to air all of your dirty laundry, you can ask this person to hold you accountable on one specific topic. Maybe he sends you a text once a week asking if you have gossiped. Maybe you meet up for coffee once a month and discuss your successes and failures. The moment you know someone will be asking you, and you have committed to transparency, you will watch what you say much more intimately. Bringing our sin to the light will reveal it for its wicked nature and will help us find victory.
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”
– John 3.19-20
- Fight the battle in your mind. All sin begins in the mind, with temptation. Some people us fighter verses, some people practice the discipline of replacement. A fighter verse is a verse you have memorized on the topic at hand. When you find yourself thinking about gossiping, call to mind that verse about edification or James declaring our tongues a fire set ablaze by Hell. Quote it to yourself, pray it to God, ask for the strength to control your tongue. The discipline of replacement is to be aware that simply cutting something out of our lives is difficult, but if we do something else in its place we can more easily create new habits. If we find ourselves ready to gossip, we can say something up-building about that person or situation. Or we can pray for them. Our thoughts pass through our minds before we say them, and if we catch them before they become action, we save ourselves a lot of grief and heartache.
- Remember that we will only find victory by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives. It is His job to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness (John 16.8). Our human nature is to sin, and as long as we walk by our flesh, we will sin continually. We must, therefore, declare war on our flesh and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5.17, 24). Paul says,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
– Gal 2.20
We cannot find victory over sin which is glorifying to God unless we submit to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to live through us.
- Remember that we will fail. James says that no one can tame the tongue. If a man is perfect in what he says, he is a perfect man. We will not attain perfect. We will all fail. But when we do fail, we must remember that we have an advocate who intercedes for us. We confess our sins to one another (our accountability partner and the person of whom we spoke ill), and we move on (1 John 1.9, 2.1-2).
What then, when gossip is running rampant around you?
Churches have, by-in-large, failed at addressing personal sin. Jesus gives us crystal clear instructions about handling sin in our midst:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
– Matt 18.15-17
If someone is gossiping to you, call it out as sin. Immediately. If he does not respond in repentance, or if he continues gossiping even in a later situation, then enlist someone else in your circle to confront him. If he still does not listen, then go to the pastor and bring it before the church. If even this will not draw him to repentance and change, then we remove him from the church and disassociate ourselves with him. Paul goes so far as to say we should not even share a meal with such a one (1 Cor 5.11). Why? Because such a one claims to be a child of God but yet refuses to submit to God by killing his sin. He knows the Gospel and has refused to submit to it. He is dangerous.
This system squashes gossip on all levels. First of all, it changes the heart from one of judgment and disdain to love for the brother. If someone offends us or hurts us, instead of talking about it to everyone else we confront him and make it right – for his soul’s sake. We desire to see him freed from his sin.
Second of all, it outlines how to come to a healthy end. Often times we gossip because we see the situation as stagnant. There is just nothing we can do to change it, and we “vent” to our friends out of frustration. But when there is a plan in place to address the situation, it is easier to control our tongues and not blow up or talk about it at inappropriate times.
Third of all, it makes the situation known when it needs to be known. When the sin is brought before the Church, everyone hears what needs to be said about the situation. The pastor takes ownership, the situation is clearly explained, and the sinner either repents and is restored, or removed from the church. End of story. No one is left wondering, no one is left confused, and therefore there is no need to gossip about what happened. It is a closed matter. People do not just slip out the back door, feelings are not left unresolved.
This is why we bring things into the light, and live transparently as a body and as believers. We must fight our own personal sin, and we must also fight one another’s sin – out of love and concern for one another.
The bigger churches get, the more difficult this becomes. But if you are part of a large body, do not let that hinder you from Jesus’ command. Perhaps the church confrontation would be with your small group, or in a member’s meeting with a specific audience. Your pastor will know how to best handle the situation, should he need to intervene. We cannot make peace with sin – and we must squash it before it gains a foothold in our churches.
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
– Heb 10.26-27