This post is Part 1 in a short series about gossip and taming the tongue.
This week Ike and I had an incredibly awkward encounter with someone. It was the type of encounter that was uncomfortable in the moment, but hilarious after the fact. It was one of those experiences that makes for great party fodder, the kind of thing you tell your friends on a Friday night as you all relax on the back porch, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.
The only problem is this: there’s no way we can tell the story in a way that honors the other person. No matter how we tell it, they will come off looking bad; the story will always have a flavor of ridicule. There is no way to relate the interaction in a way that represents the person the way they would want to be represented.
So, I have spent the last few days in the throes of an internal debate. Part of me wants to share the story with some close friends because I know they will get a big kick out of it. The other part of me feels convicted about the rightness of spreading around a story that tears down the reputation of another person.
I must confess that I have already shared the story with a person or two, but that was before I examined my motives. Was I really that desperate to make people laugh? Did I really need people’s attention that badly? And at the expense of another person?
Even now, knowing I should bite my tongue, I still wanna tell people this funny story, and I mean bad. Which is kind of weird, don’t you think? Why is it so hard to sit on a story, or a piece of information, that you know would dishonor or mock another person?
I’d love to say this is the first time I’ve felt such a strong compulsion to over-share, but it’s not. There have been many times when I was privy to a juicy piece of gossip or a funny story that I just had to share. There have been many times when I promised myself that I would not share a story, only to burst open like a floodgate at the slightest pressure.
Why is it so hard to tame my tongue?
Gossip, which the dictionary defines as idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others, includes all of the above scenarios. The definition is broad, which means that gossip is more than the “Did you hear what Jennifer did?” sort of talk. Gossip encompasses any talk that one might consider idle. And the Bible has a lot to say about it.
In the next few posts I am going to explore the nature of gossip–what it is and why God warns against it–but today I want to examine the compulsion I just described. When it comes to gossip, why can’t I help myself? Even when I know I should stay quiet, why is it so hard?
Scripture has an answer to this question. In both Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 we find the following words:
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
This powerful word picture tells us something important about the nature of gossip. It tells us that gossip has a delicious quality to it. Our appetites for gossip are almost like our appetites for a piece of rich chocolate cake. In the same way that I cannot resist a decadent piece of Tuxedo Cream cheesecake when it is placed on the table in front of me, I find it hard to resist gossip. There is something about my fallen humanity that craves the taste of someone else’s vulnerability, or humiliation.
Gossip is also like a delectable dessert in a second way: its nutritive value. Cake may delight my taste buds, but it has little in the way of substance. If I were to exist on chocolate cake alone, my body would not get the nourishment it needs, and I would eventually become very sick.
Gossip is similar. Like cake, it’s appealing. It’s interesting. It gives texture and intrigue to my everyday life and conversations. It can even be fun. But gossip is also without substance. It cannot nourish my relationships, and it can even make them unhealthy.
As these verses communicate, it’s hard not to gossip. That’s why so many of my conversations consist of “idle,” empty words, devoid of true substance.
Even so, I find myself strangely encouraged by Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22. These verses name the reality that it’s HARD to tame the tongue. It is tantalizingly tempting to gossip, and it’s even harder when the people around you do it too.
But the good news is that God knows it’s hard. Proverbs attests to the deliciousness of gossip twice because it is a common struggle. I am not uniquely broken in this way. Everyone wrestles with this sin, which is why we all need Jesus.
So banish the shame that says you are alone in this struggle, and begone with the guilt that paralyzes you from changing. Instead, take this week to do something simple: pay attention to the substance of your words. Take note of the compulsion to consume gossip as if it is a “choice morsel,” and identify that temptation. Consider the content of your speech, whether it is idle or edifying. And most importantly, ask the Holy Spirit for help. Pray for the eyes to see your words as they truly are.
It’s a small step–the act of simply acknowledging the sin–but it’s an important one. Matthew 15:18 says, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart. When you invite God to search your heart, you open the door for Him to create in you a new one. Let’s begin there.