This post is Part 2 in a brief series about gossip. To read Part 1 click here.
Whenever I write about the topic of taming the tongue, whether I address gossip, sarcasm, or other speech related vices, I always meet with a similar critique. Without fail, one or two commenters almost always protest, “But you define it differently than I do. I don’t define gossip, sarcasm, coarse joking, etc. that way.”
You know what, I think that is fair. Words take on different meanings in different contexts. The exact same conversation might be gossip in one context, but not in another. A joke might be totally appropriate and funny in one group of people, and totally inappropriate in another.
Perhaps that is why the Bible doesn’t always spend much time on definitions. Rather than give us extra rules to measure our righteousness by, the scriptures exhort us to seek wisdom and the heart of God. More than anything else, His character is our compass.
Along those lines, there are two ways to identify gossip. The first is our motivations, which I discussed in the last post. The second is by its fruit. Scripture informs us that gossip has a very distinct set of fruits, and they can be summarized this way: gossip destroys relationships.
Gossip is relationship poison. It hinders our individual friendships, while also infecting the larger community culture. It tears down, and it prevents real intimacy from forming. According to Scripture it does so in three particular ways:
1. Gossip creates division
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
Bertrand Russell once wrote, “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” Even when the information is 100% factual (which it rarely is), gossip tends to seize on another person’s weakness. It tears them down in the eyes of others. It represents them in a way that they probably would not represent themselves. Whether the rumor is true or false, gossip destroys a person’s reputation, and consequently shatters the hearts of everyone who loves them.
But the destruction doesn’t end there. In Galatians 5:9 Paul compares sin to yeast, saying, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” Gossip, as a sin, has that cancerous quality. Once it is unleashed, it can spread anywhere in the community.
Just think–how many times has someone begun a conversation with you this way: “You have to promise not to tell anyone, but…” And how many times have you turned around and shared that information with somebody else, likewise prefacing the gossip with, ““You have to promise not to tell anyone, but…”? I wonder how many hundreds (or thousands!) have been informed of a rumor under this guise of discretion.
Gossip sickens a community from the inside out. In such a culture, no one is truly safe to be vulnerable, and the soil is fertile for lies and miscommunication to take root.
2. Gossip deters people from confiding in you
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.
I don’t know about you, but I take these verses to heart. Whenever I hear someone gossiping about another person, I wonder what they’re telling other people about me. I also make a note to avoid confiding in them. In fact, my husband and I have had conversations along those lines, choosing not to confide in an indiscreet couple because of all the personal things they told us about others. It’s a shame that we had to withhold our lives from them, because it prevented us from having a close relationship with them, but that’s what happens when you’re not trustworthy. People are less inclined to draw near to you.
3. Gossip creates false intimacy
Ever since my husband and I became parents, our time alone together has become even more precious. We have less of it, so we want to make the most of it. Unfortunately, I sometimes notice in myself the temptation to fill any silence with empty chatter. If our conversation hits a lull, I jump in with a random tidbit I saw on Facebook or the internet.
The problem with this habit is that it squanders our time. Rather then building true intimacy, I waste the time indulging in false intimacy.
Although gossip feels like an easy way to connect with people–especially when the conversation is awkward or new–gossip doesn’t foster true connection. Gossip does not enable us to grow closer, or to learn anything about one another (other than one another’s propensity to over-share).
The foundation of gossip is no foundation at all. It has no substance to it. When I bond with someone over the misfortunes or personal affairs of another, I am not investing in the qualities that make a friendship thrive, such as love, trust, encouragement, or wisdom. Why? Because the connection fostered by gossip is one of allies, not friends. Just because we are similarly aligned in targeting/gossiping about/disliking another person, does not a friendship make.
Gossip is a sin that few of us take seriously. It seems small and benign compared to others sins like murder and sexual promiscuity. But there is a reason this sin is listed alongside murder. It may not take a physical life, but it certainly has its own destructive quality to it. Relationships are the core structure of the church, and gossip goes after this structure. It undermines the integrity of Christian community and destroys us from within. It hinders our witness and our effectiveness in the world.
That’s why gossip matters. It may seem harmless in the moment, but stop to consider the fruits of your words. What does it profit you, your friendships, the subject of your discussions, or the larger community around you? If it profits them nothing, then perhaps it is better left unsaid. Remember, all it takes is a little yeast.