A recent news story piqued my interest. Four Hooksett, New Hampshire town employees with 46 years of service between them were fired, in part for gossiping and discussing rumors of an improper relationship between the town administrator and another employee that Hooksett residents now agree were not true. The administrator complained, and after an investigation the town council fired the women, finding, "Gossip, whispering, and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."
"When I was given my termination papers, I just looked at the gentlemen that were present in the room and I said, 'You've got to be kidding!'" said fired worker Sandy Piper, who insisted her comments weren't out of line. "We discussed it on a lunch break, and then it ended."
The same thing happens everyday (except for the termination part) in offices all over this great land. Gossip happens everyday in neighborhoods, car pools and in annoying public cell phone conversations that I am forced to hear. Gossip is a cottage industry in America. We have gossip magazines and television shows. Gossip columnists make careers out of spreading half-truths and rumors.
The recurring theme of these humble ramblings is not to rail on what the culture is doing but to examine what the followers of Christ should be doing. And the answer is clear and it should be articulated directly like the soup guy from the Seinfeld TV series. No! No gossip for you!
If the founding church fathers had added an 8th Deadly Sin I would nominate gossip. I have seen the devastating effect that gossip has in the church. You may have heard this too close to the truth joke.
Coming out of church, Mrs. Smith asked her husband, “Did you see that piercing that the Johnson’s daughter is parading around with?”
“I didn’t even see her,” admitted Mr. Smith.
“And that dress Mrs. Davis was wearing,” continued Mrs. Smith, “Really, don’t tell me you think that’s the proper outfit for a mother of two.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t notice that either,” said Mr. Smith.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” snapped Mrs. Smith. “A lot of good it does you to go to church.”
Gossip is a huge problem in the church and sometimes gossip is very stealthy. Satan has a slick marketing trick that he sells to Christians. We don’t call gossip by it’s name. We like to call gossip by euphemisms like “sharing our concerns” or “venting to a brother or sister”. We gossip when we divulge unnecessary details in prayer requests as if God needs to be brought up to speed on the entire situation. We like to think we are in the clear if we know that the information is true and we are simply being “honest” and “telling it like it is”. But Frank Clark correctly stated that “gossip needn't be false to be evil - there's a lot of truth that shouldn't be passed around.”
The Bible is very clear about gossip. I found fourteen specific mentions of gossip in Scripture. A couple of Old Testament highlights…
“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” Leviticus 19:16
They visit me as if they were my friends,but all the while they gather gossip,and when they leave, they spread it everywhere. Psalm 41:6
A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends. Proverbs 16:28
Paul reveals how seriously he ranks gossip when he includes the act of gossip in this not so attractive menu of sins.
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.
Seriously, do most of us lump gossip in with hate, murder and deception? Paul does. The church at Corinth also had an ugly list of problems and gossip made the list.
For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. 2 Corinthians 12:20
If Paul were to write a letter to the modern church he would surely include gossip in his list of rebukes. A follower of Jesus certainly should not spread gossip any further. Gossip is a parasite that requires a host organism to survive. Don't give gossip a place to live.
Solomon wrote this in Proverbs. Fire goes out without wood,and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. Proverbs 26:20
Think of how many times you have believed something to be true only to find out the information was mostly or even totally wrong. I find it interesting that the threat of a libel or slander lawsuit will cause us to be cautious about our remarks in the public square. How naive that we think it is okay to denigrate a child of God and somehow think that there are no repercussions to that action. Are we really more concerned about the People's Court than the Kingdom's Court? Pastor Rick Warren makes a great point when he says that "The problem with Christians is that we take ourselves too seriously and we don't take God seriously enough."
God takes seriously how we communicate about others in the flock. Peter said to "Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless-that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing". 1 Peter 3:8-9 (MsgB) So there is an added bonus for your Godly communication…a blessing at no extra charge.
Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle writes how his church handles the topic of gossip.
About 20 years ago, I said something impromptu to the new members lined up across the front of the church. As we received them, the Holy Spirit prompted me to add, "And now, I charge you that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone—myself, an usher, a choir member, or anyone else—that you stop that person in mid-sentence and say, 'Excuse me—who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it Pastor Cymbala? Let's go to his office right now. He'll apologize to you, and then we'll pray together so God can restore peace to this body. But we won't let you talk critically about people who aren't present to defend themselves.'
"I'm serious about this. I want you to help resolve this kind of thing immediately. And know this: If you are ever the one doing the loose talking, we'll confront you."
To this day, every time we receive new members, I say much the same thing. That's because I know what most easily destroys churches. It's not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds. Rather it's gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.
Powerful. And so achingly true. God is not glorified when we spread gossip and idle chatter. The test is very simple. If I am not part of the situation or a part of the solution I should not be talking about it. James is typically to the point in this brutally honest assessment.
A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. James 3:6 (MsgB)
Vaccinate yourself with a couple of scriptural truths about gossip. An injection of biblical truth and a dose of how God views gossip can control the deadly virus. And that will make the body of Christ a whole lot healthier.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com