I recently talked with a good friend and the conversation turned to (among many things) the topic of gossip. It went something like this:
- Person A – “I don’t think people realise the wider impact gossip has on a community.”
- Person B – “What do you mean?”
- A – “It robs one person of an opportunity to apologise and to pursue reconciliation.”
- B – [Intrigued, tell-me-more nod]
As we talked, it became clear to me that as hurtful as gossip can be in the moment, there are much further reaching and deeper consequences that I had just not considered (and that I’m grateful were shared with me). What they said is too good not to share.
Ironically, if someone feels they haven’t been shown the grace, care, or love they desire and takes issue with that, by gossiping they are actually depriving others of the very same. There’s no grace in gossip and depriving others of something we clearly value so highly just doesn’t make sense (Leviticus 19.18, Matthew 7.12).
By involving others in the airing of our annoyances (an awkward position that nobody wants to find themselves in) instead of speaking with the source, we’re actually withholding the opportunity for it ever to be made right. We find ourselves, maybe without even thinking, doing the very thing we claim to be offended by, and we totally miss the moment to see the Gospel at work among us.
“He/She ‘did this’ or ‘said that’ and therefore didn’t treat me right … so I think I’ll complain to someone else about them and by doing so not treat them right …”
Barriers to Seeing the Gospel At Work Among Us
One wonderful aspect of the Gospel is that when we accept that we are sinners (Romans 3.23), when we accept that we can’t earn our righteousness nor prove ourselves good enough (Romans 3.20, Isaiah 64.6), we have the opportunity to turn to God in repentance and faith to find grace and forgiveness (Daniel 9.9, 1 John 1.9, Isaiah 45.22, Joel 2.12-32).
Gossip, however, cuts off this crucial step of acceptance. We simply cannot repent of things we’re totally unaware of. Leviticus gives specific commandments for sins committed in ignorance but even they have to first be accepted before the sacrifice can be offered (4.1-2, 27-28). Gossip, again, removes the first step to forgiveness: an acceptance of sin by the sinner. When gossip is present, the rest of the beautiful process that is forgiveness and reconciliation will never be allowed to continue.
Let’s be clear: gossip is a serious sin (Romans 1.29, 32) and contradicts Jesus’ very clear teaching on conflict among believers (Matthew 18.15). As I read recently,
“It hurts others, divides friends, and damages relationships.” 1
Beyond this short and straight truth it causes, as I have learned in conversation and through experience, collateral damage that (hopefully) nobody intends. We deprive others of forgiveness as we plunge ourselves into sin.
Gossip is the opposite of the Gospel.
It’s bad news that cuts people off, not Good News that restores.
I saw this in 2022 more than any other year. It was, honestly, the hardest year of my pastorate to date. The times that hurt the most and the times that were not-so-easily rectified in a Scriptural and edifying manner contained a case of gossip, specifically that which Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3.8 as being ‘double tongued’:
“…must the deacons be grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre…” (KJV, emphasis added)
The Spirit working through Paul chose the word there, δίλογος:
δί, meaning double, or two,
and λογος, meaning words, speeches, or subjects.
Practically, it means saying one thing with one person on a given subject and another with another person (specifically with the intent to deceive one or more of those parties). Gossip and being double-tongued are, simply, sin-siblings.
On multiple occasions in 2022 an act of double tongue-ness (is that a word?) was in play, and the damage it caused to relationships was real, the hurt it caused me personally was (at times) devastating, and the impact it had on certain areas of the church family was tangible. It’s unbelievably frustrating, and upsetting, to find out that a relationship you perceive as friendly, polite, supportive, and mutually respectful is simply a veil as the other party is actively saying otherwise to other people.
Gateways to Seeing the Gospel At Work Among Us
Friends, it must not be like this among those who claim the same Lord and Saviour in the risen Jesus.
Writing on the conduct expected of believers and demonstrated by our Lord, Peter quotes Isaiah 53 and says:
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
‘He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.’”
(1 Peter 2.21-22, NIV, emphasis added)
There should be no gossip or deceitful double-tongue found coming forth from the mouths of those who profess to follow Jesus;
We should speak the truth in love to and about one another (Ephesians 4.15).
We should speak highly of one another to one another for the good of one another (Ephesians 4.29-31).
We should speak to one another for one another’s strengthening, encouragement, and consolation (1 Corinthians 14.3).
To find out that you have been spoken about to another in ways that completely contradict how you have been spoken to face to face is personally heart-breaking and potentially community-splitting.
I hope and pray that you will join me now in committing to doing our earthly best to avoid this in 2023 and beyond.
1 Matt Mitchell, “What is Gossip? Exposing a Common and Dangerous Sin,” Desiring God. Last modified May 26, 2021, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-gossip.