James 3:9 says, “With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness.” The tongue is a very small part of the body yet so powerful. For instance, how many times have we been hurt by insensitive comments, biting words, or hidden gossip? Likewise, think about the times when we regretted our words, either in person or through social media? If only we could press the delete button for words we didn’t mean to say or post!
Gossip seems harmless because they’re “just words.” Jerry Bridges, in his book, Respectable Sins, includes gossip as an example. Bridges is perceptive here because it seems gossip is overlooked as an actual sin. Gossip seems like an acceptable sin, but it must not be, because God cares about our words. As children of God who have been redeemed and live by the power of the Spirit, we are to replace “foolish talking” and “crude joking” with thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). It’s sobering to read Ephesians 4:30, “don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit,” by acting like our old self, before we believed in Christ as our Savior. Gossip doesn’t edify others or build up the body of Christ. Nothing good results from gossip. Nothing.
Gossip is a Deeper Problem
Gossip and other verbal sins, such as slander, reveals a deeper problem than mere words. We speak from our hearts. Our hearts, which includes our thoughts and emotions, reveal our treasures (see Mark 7:21-23). When we speak, we can ask ourselves if we’re aiming to glorify God in how we speak of others. We could pray to God for help if we tend to speak carelessly around certain people. Being more aware of God’s care over our words will affect how we speak of others.
What if we’re struggling to love others with our words? Sometimes, we gossip or tear down others in response to being offended. This could apply to relationships with family members, church members, or co-workers. Gossip becomes our form of complaining about someone. According to Proverbs 10:12, 16:28, and 17:9, we stir up conflict or gossip about others when our motivation is hatred. Proverbs warns us that gossip can separate our friendships with others. In Proverbs 16:28, the gossip can also be translated to mean “whisperer.” This person lacks integrity and is deceptive. It’s easier to talk about people behind their backs than it is to take the time to talk to them.
Confront or Cover an Offense
What if we’re around someone who is known to gossip? We have two options really. We can choose to promote unity or disunity by staying or leaving. If leaving isn’t an option, we could kindly let the other person know that we’d rather talk about something else. We could also say that we’re uncomfortable with the conversation. Another option is to encourage that person to schedule a time to meet with the person who offended them. Perhaps one of the reasons God takes gossip seriously is its dividing effect on a community. People start taking sides, adding their stories, stirring up conflict, or becoming suspicious of others.
In the Proverbs passages above, the opposite of gossip is concealing or covering an offense. The motive is love for the other person, which enables us to control our tongues and build up others. It’s love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:7-8) and maintains friendships by not repeating a matter (Proverbs 17:9). Love is gracious and doesn’t confront petty matters.
Love, however, does not mean covering repeatable offenses or ones that are destructive, such as self-harm or harm unto others, especially criminal behavior. Actually, it’s love for that person that compels us to say something or seek additional help. If we love someone, we won’t enable harmful or sinful behavior. Knowing when to confront or not is sometimes unclear. The temptation is to avoid the conflict and talk to someone else about it, then another person, and another person. If something bothers us to the point of dwelling on it, we could confront the person in love or if we’re unsure whether that’s wise, we could talk to a godly person for wisdom. The more important issue is that we’re promoting love rather than hatred for others, and this love will give us the courage to confront or cover an offense.