Well, gossip is no small problem, even for Christians. Spreading damaging reports about others feels so good and comes so naturally to all of us. But why? Why is this impulse so natural? And how do we fight against this natural impulse to speak damaging things about other people behind their backs? That’s the question today from a listener to the podcast named Amber. “Hello, Pastor John — and thanks for this podcast! I’m wondering how God defines gossip. What’s the difference between gossip and simply sharing information about another person? And how do I avoid becoming a gossiper?”
Here are my three keys for not becoming a gossiper: (1) humility that does not need prominence, (2) love that does not hurt others, and (3) large-hearted purposefulness that is not empty or aimless. Now, let me show where I got those three earlier today when I was pondering this from Scripture.
Words of a Whisperer
First, consider Proverbs 26:22: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.”
Now, just a side note here: the Greek word translated gossip in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and Romans 1:29, at root, means “one who whispers.” This may affect this translation from the Old Testament, so I think when they say a whisperer, they mean somebody lowering their voice and saying things which we call gossip.
But here’s the point. There are whispered words about other people which taste really good. They are like a morsel that’s going down “into the inner parts of the body.” I think that means the person who speaks them has eaten them with relish, and now, the person who’s listening and who’s hearing is eating them with relish. We all know what this feels like.
There’s a pleasure that comes from being one of the first people to hear some juicy piece of news about someone. We can hardly wait to let others know that we’re in the know. We’ve heard the news, and we might be the first one who could tell somebody else about it.
Of course, gossip like that can be of two different kinds. It can be what I call “hard gossip,” which means you really are mean and want to hurt somebody. Or it can be “soft gossip” (which is what I think Amber is really asking about), where you may not have any intention to hurt another person. It just feels so good — “so delicious” — to be in on the scuttlebutt and to be able to tell somebody who doesn’t know yet.
Leave the Stage
Now the question is, why does gossip feel so good? What drives this thing? Why does hearing something before others hear it and then being the first to tell someone taste so delicious?
I think at least part of the answer is found by looking at the context in 2 Corinthians 12:20. It goes like this: “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish — that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” Now, when I look at that list of eight destructive forces in the Christian community and try to fit them all together and find out which one of them is at the bottom giving rise to all the others, I think at the bottom would be the word conceit — being puffed up. I think this is why gossip is so delicious, why it tastes so good. It’s because it feeds pride, which is endlessly hungry.
You got the news first. You get to tell somebody else before anybody else can tell them. In the chain of gossip, you have become center stage for a moment. You got the news. You give the news. Aren’t you something?
So I conclude that the key to not being a gossiper is humility — humility that doesn’t need prominence. You have a deep, humble contentment in God, and you don’t need to feed your craving ego with delicious morsels of being the first to hear and the first to tell the juicy bit of gossip.
Cover an Offense
The second key to not being a gossiper is love that does not hurt others. Here’s Proverbs 26:20: “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”
In other words, if you put to death the pride that craves prominence and are willing to get no credit whatsoever for being in the know, and if you deny yourself the delicious pleasure of hearing and telling news that may stoke the fires of quarreling or dissension, you are acting in love. You’re doing what you can do to keep from adding hurt to others — “for lack of wood the fire goes out.” And covering an offense is the pursuit of love.
The key question is “Are you being motivated by love or pride? Are you motivated by the pleasure of being seen as in the know?” So the second key to not being a gossiper is love that does not hurt others.
Get a Vision
The third key is large-hearted purposefulness that is not empty and aimless. Here’s where I get that. (This was new for me — a new insight that I thought about in this particular context.)
Paul cautions young widows in the Christian community who have had their ordinary patterns of purposefulness in life ripped away from them in losing their husbands. He urges them not to become “idlers, going about from house to house” — and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not (1 Timothy 5:13).
Now notice, on one side of gossip is the word idler, and on the other side of gossip is the word busybody. An idler is someone whose heart is empty and aimless. They just have nothing purposeful to do. More time on their hands and no purpose, no vision, no great dream for their life. They’re just coasting from day to day. The result is they become busybodies, meddlers.
They don’t have any significant affairs of their own, so they nose into the affairs of others. Sandwiched between emptiness and aimlessness on one side (idlers) and intrusiveness on the other side (busybodies) is gossip. So my conclusion is that the third key to not becoming a gossiper is large-hearted purposefulness that’s not empty and not aimless and doesn’t need to poke its nose into other people’s business or promote oneself in the spreading of what belongs to somebody else.
So, Amber asks, “What’s the difference between gossip and simply sharing information?” My answer to answer that question is to ask these three questions.
- Is the sharing of this information a mark of humility that does not need prominence, or is it motivated by pride that loves the delicious feeling of being in the know?
Is the sharing of this information motivated by love that wants to avoid hurting others, or is it indifferent to what the destructive effects may be?
And finally, is the sharing of this information part of my large-hearted purposefulness in life or simply an echo of how empty and aimless I really am?