Gossip is bad. If you disagree, it’s probably because you’ve never been on the receiving end of it. It stings, wounds, and separates close friends.
Scripture testifies to the reality of our experience:
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered. (Proverbs 11.13)
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. (Proverbs 16.28)
So gossip is bad. What can make it go away?
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. (Proverbs 26.20)
When there’s no whisperer, there is no wood for the fire. The trouble, of course, is that there’s more than just wood necessary for a fire. You need oxygen and a spark. And with gossip, you need not just a whisperer, but someone to whisper to. And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.
We all know that we should not participate in gossip (speaking or listening). But it’s hard to stop when it starts! We can talk about godly gossip and various other methods of extinguishing the flame of gossip, but when it comes down to it, in the moment, gossip can be very appealing to our fleshly appetites.
Today I read 1 Thessalonians 4.11. My first thought was, ‘I wonder if this is the most forgotten-about command of the New Testament?’ This is how it reads:
… aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…
How many church conflicts, how many rumours, how many hurt feelings would have been prevented if we listened to this command? How many times have we pursued busyness, noisiness, and in our boredomophobia-driven society pursued activity at all costs? And what is the net result? More stress, more tiredness, more strenuous relationships.
When I consider the cost of not trying to live quietly, of not minding my own affairs, and not being content to simply do my job, I see that it’s clear how Paul connects this to brotherly love. Immediately before these commands, Paul says,
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… . But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly…
In other words, this command to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work hard at the job God has given you is an enactment of brotherly love. When you keep your nose out of someone else’s business, you’re loving them. When you are not a back-biter or a gossip, you are loving other people. When you stick to your job and stop being a busy-body (in the church and out of it), you are loving others.
Recovering a Pauline Practice
One of the things we try to build into the rhythm of church life at Grace Fellowship Church is something called ‘Identifying Evidences of Grace.’ By that we mean the practice of deliberately seeking proof of God’s grace at work in those around us and then speaking it to each other.
A practice like this is helpful for so many reasons. But like all things, a practice like this can quickly become rote. It’s easy to forget why we do it, or think we do it just because it’s a good habit, or tradition or something. Some people have even objected at times that this discipline might be forced and unnatural, or drawing too much attention to the person, or even mere flattery, which is never healthy.
Recently, however, I’ve been reading through Paul’s epistles and I’ve been reminded again and again that this practice of identifying evidences of grace is actually something that is biblical. It is something worth defining by the word itself.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed about evidences of grace in Paul’s letters so far:
1. Gifts and Character, Not Personality
Biblical evidences of grace are not, ‘Your smile is so pretty!’ or ‘I love the décor of your home!’ Rather, it is clearly pointing out how believing the gospel has changed someone’s speech, or deepened their knowledge, or enabled them to receive powerful spiritual gifts (1 Cor 1.4-8).
2. Grounded in Truth, Not Flattery
In 1 Thessalonians 2.5, Paul writes, ‘We never came to you with words of flattery.’ What’s so significant about that is that he had just identified evidences of God’s grace in their church (1 Thess 1.2-10). This means that when we’re speaking about God’s grace acting upon and in another person, we’re doing it to build up God, not butter up people.
What the Bible Says about Gossip
Can gossip ever be godly? Certainly not by the standard definition of the word. Here’s a quick glance at some of the proverbs about gossip:
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. (Proverbs 20:19)
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered (Proverbs 11:13)
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)
What is so evil about gossip? It springs from a heart of competition; the gossiper desires people to think more of them than what they think of the person being gossiped about. Gossip is evil because it runs down those who are not present to defend themselves. Rather than speaking what is good for building up, it actually tears down. It gives us reason to think less of the person being talked about.
Could Gossip Be redeemed?
But what if the desire were reversed? And what if the effect was reversed? Could there be a godly form of gossip? Could we find a way to speak of those not present in a way that would honour their God and edify those who hear?