All it takes is the pastor teaching on one doctrine that someone doesn’t personally like, or the leadership making a decision that a member thinks is wrong, for it to become fodder for divisive tongues to start wagging and assault the unity of the Spirit in the local church. It is an all-too-common phenomenon in the local church for a wounded ego to want to make his problem someone else’s problem and draw another person into his offense. He’s upset and wants others to know it!
James reminds us that “we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (Jas 3:2). So, we have all sinned with our tongues, yet that is no excuse for the continuance nor compounding of sin. In fact, we are exhorted to protect the unity that the Spirit has established in the church when He placed us in the Body (Eph 4:1-6). We are called to walk worthy of our calling in humility, gentleness, and patience as we bear with one another in love. To assault that unity through sinful gossip or slander is to in a very real way be guilty of schism and dividing the Body by sinning against those for whom Christ died.
Slander and gossip certainly fit within the apostolic prohibition of “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). Thus, what my brother or sister in Christ needs at the moment of disagreement is not my fleshy talk about things that do not build up. Instead, they need Christ incarnated in a tongue driven by a heart committed to glorifying God rather than self, a tongue that is disciplined to speak only that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good report (Phil 4:8).
Gossip is unfortunately practiced and allowed too often in the interaction between believers. So, what should the church’s attitude be? As we shepherd the flock to resemble more her Master in desire, deed, and word, we must be quick and proactive in preventing a wildfire of the wagging tongues. A biblically healthy and faithful church should make very clear a ‘no tolerance policy in the assembly for what causes division, including a refusal to hear gossip (as soon as we realize it is such) and informing person(s) who were the brunt of the gossip.
You see, absolute confidentiality is not something the Bible lends support to. A ‘promise not to tell’ would be a hasty vow that a believer ought not to get wrapped up in. The late Jay Adams warns of the danger of a believer becoming a ‘Typhoid Mary’ in exchanging gossip and thus hindering God’s work, rather than extending it. In proactive pastoral service, we are obligated to be careful what our own tongues have to say, to stop the mouths of those who wish to fill our ears with their pollution, and then to convey information to an offended party, including who did it.
Think of the ripple effect of such upright living and how this would diligently protect the unity of the Spirit rather than assaulting it. Believers would be more fearful of sin with their tongues as they became more aware that their brothers and sisters in that congregation are committed to one another’s holiness and are committed to accountability through local church membership and life-on-life.
Perhaps you are wondering at the moment, “What is the difference between gossip and the legitimate exchange of information among concerned people?”
The first thing to be considered is intent. What is your motive for ‘sharing’ that information? One young many I was counseling years ago tried justifying his actions by saying, “I was just seeking counsel!” No, he was not seeking counsel, as he could have done that in an entirely different manner that would not have caused division. What he did was make his problem other people’s problem. He had an ax to grind and wanted to solicit support for his fleshly desires. Some have the goal of building themselves up by putting others down and presenting themselves as the true repository of knowledge. So, what is your intent, the glory of self, or the glory of God?
Second of all, what type of information is ‘shared’? Gossip mongers speak of the faults and failings of others or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if you say you do not intend to harm, it is gossip. You are tearing others down to present yourself as innocent of such issues, though a host of iniquities resides within. Matthew 7 teaches that our default setting is to see others’ sins with 20-20 vision while not owning our own sin. Paul reminds us that before a brother goes to restore his brother for a legitimate sin issue, he always cultivates his own sinful heart, fixing his attitude and own sin issues first (Gal 6:1-2).
There are a host of passages that address the sin of gossip. Romans 1:29-32, in stating God’s pouring out of wrath on those who rejected His laws since they turned away from His instruction and guidance, Paul lists sins that include gossip and slander. He points to the seriousness of the sin of gossip, as they are under His wrath for “…they are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips and slanderers, haters of God.” In other words, it’s really ugly and is right there with things that hurt people. Brethren, these things ought not to be so.
The most personal of all Paul’s epistles is his second letter to the church at Corinth. He shares his pain, that though he was a man of integrity and faithful to God’s call on his life, his opponents circulated vicious rumors. He was fearful about his coming there to find “strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (2 Corinthians 12:20).
In 1 Timothy 5:12-13, he cautions widows against the habit of gossip and being idle, as they tend to spend lots of time in each other’s homes and working closely with other women. This is a particular sin for them to be vigilant in standing against as they hear and observe situations that become distorted. It seems to be the kind of thing that you fall into when you don’t have anything better to do. But the woman of God guards against being drawn into such matters, becoming a tool for the adversary.
The man whom God endowed with wisdom like no other gives the general maxim of life and relationships that “gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man [or woman] who talks too much” (Prov 20:19). He talks of the wisdom of silence when our flesh desires to sin. “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Prov 17:27). And “He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps silent” (Prov 11:12). Dear friend, let’s be sensible, understanding, and loving to our neighbor by ceasing sins of speech which tears down! “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter” (Prov 11:13)
Unfortunately, we want to hear such tales! “Words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Prov 18:7-8).
Make no bones about it that a “perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Prov 16:28). Do you see that beloved? No matter how we try to minimize our sin to justify it, sinful speech divides rather than uniting, and we become pawns of Satan, to do his work, rather than Jesus’, as Peter demonstrates in Mark 8:33. He was rebuked for setting his interests above God’s and received the harshest correction the disciples ever received during our Lord’s earthly ministry. So, we must be constantly mindful of what pleases God rather than man. Many relationships have been ruined over a misunderstanding that started with gossip.
Those engaging in this do nothing but stir up trouble and cause anger, bitterness, and pain.
They often deny allegations and answer with excuses and rationalizations, minimizing the seriousness of this sin. Let that not be our practice.
Years ago, in a Desiring God forum of “Ask Pastor John,” Piper suggests a few things that mark gossip:
- Negative spirit that is more bent on hurting than helping. It’s not something that is really redemptive.
And it’s deceptive, as people deceive themselves into thinking they are doing good by chattering away…saying ‘let’s pray for that’ OR ‘I’m seeking counsel on something…’ And what they really are getting pleasure out of is the sharing of negative news.
2. Excessive interest in affairs that belong to others. Paul calls it ‘busybodies.’ They are intruding themselves where they don’t belong.
3. There’s a pride. It makes the person savor that they know something that nobody else does. That ‘I know it & can tell you. And I feel in the know, which kind of elevates me a bit.’ So pride is at the root!
Thus, there’s a negative spirit that’s not helpful, loving, or kind.
It’s telling (read ‘sharing’) derogatory information about someone that you have that is shared with others in a tone of confidentiality (even though you expect confidentiality with the gossiper) that is not motivated by doing good to them and so it shows your heart is not humble.
The only remedy is LOVE! Love for the person, love for the church and her unity (that we’re commanded to keep-Eph 4), love for Jesus whose fellowship is sweet enough. He’s the One we need, not the empty, ugly pleasures of spreading strife through negative information.
Many times, the root for gossip-mongering can be a sense of a bruised ego and the emotional drive to get your pound of flesh and make the person pay. When in reality, we’re sinning and sacrificing reward at the Bema seat and thus actually doing self-harm, to say nothing of the harm it wreaks on the Body of Christ, leaving people devasted in the carnage and rubble that remains.
Where do we go from here? Perhaps the Lord has convicted you of how your tongue has been used as a weapon for Satan rather than a witness for the Savior. His Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119), very clearly shows us the biblical process of reconciliation with the Lord and His people who have been wounded and offended. We must be driven to a biblical confession of sin, repentance, and seeking forgiveness at the benevolent hand of God.
Just these three words of theology need to be embraced and practiced regularly.
CONFESS. Biblical confession means saying the same thing about our sin that God says. It’s just as wicked and heinous as He says it is. No minimizing or blame-shifting allowed. We need to learn to own our sin and find mercy and cleansing at the hands of a benevolent God (Prov 28:13; 1 Jn 1:9).
REPENT. That is, make a resolve not to repeat your sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. This includes a renewal of the mind and thinking differently, biblically, and godly about the issue (Rom 12:1-2; Eph 4:23) because right thinking aids us in the right action. If you have been guilty of slander or gossip, a thorough repentance that bears fruit includes going to each of those involved in the gossip and asking their forgiveness for your part of the sin.
Seek FORGIVENESS. At first, we ask the Lord’s forgiveness, knowing that “against You and You alone I have sinned,” that any sin against man is also an offense to a holy God. Then we ask the Lord for the right words and heart attitude as we go to be reconciled. Then carry out this process of reconciliation quickly, and without delay, for the Lord, Himself place a large premium on reconciliation and that which is immediate (Matt 5:23-26).
Having carried out the biblical process of reconciliation, as we live out a repentant life that honors the Lord, let us be careful little tongue what we say!
 Jay Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock, 92.