Posted On September 19, 2016

Gossip: An Insidious Cancer

by | Sep 19, 2016 | The Gospel and the Christian Life, Apologetics, Featured

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts”(Proverbs 18:8 – NIV).

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 – ESV).

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29-31 – KJV).

“Hey, Margaret. What do you think about the new person in the office? How in the world did he get hired in the first place?”

“There goes Jim outside with Sarah again. I wonder if they are having an affair. They sure spend lots of time outside talking. What do you think about that Alex?”

“Man, the boss is such a jerk. Plus he is so incompetent and never listens to our ideas. I told you if he was hired this would happen.”

“I cannot believe our neighbors allow their kids to stay up so late at night. Don’t they realize children need sufficient rest? I would never allow our kids to do that. Hurry up and close the curtains so they can’t see us watching them!”

Have you ever said any of these things or perhaps been unfortunate enough to hear someone else speak these words? Admit it. At some point either at home, church, work, out with friends, at the mall, in a restaurant, or you name it, we have heard someone saying something about someone behind their back. Arguably, most of the time what is being said is not uplifting.

The Bible defines such talk as gossip and God is quite clear throughout Scripture that engaging in such an activity is not in any way classified as righteous behavior. In fact, it is downright destructive for both the individual who engages in gossip as well as the recipient and those who do nothing to shut down such unhealthy conversation.

In his excellent book Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue, Matthew Mitchell provides a helpful working definition of gossip. He defines it as such: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.”[1] This approach to defining gossip encapsulates the verses shared at the beginning of this post. To help us better understand why the sin of gossip is so deleterious and insidious, let’s spend some time examining Proverbs 18:8, Matthew 12:34, and Ephesians 4:29.

Proverbs 18:8, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” 

The “words” mentioned in this passage is the Hebrew noun dabar meaning “words or utterances.” It can also be stated that by extension, dabar can also be reflected in our actions and behaviors.

Gossip is the Hebrew verb nirgan. This verb is often translated as talebearer, whisperer, or lazy man. Interestingly, this verb is derived from an unused root word meaning “to roll to pieces.”

As we continue in this passage we find the words of the gossip/talebearer/whisperer described as “choice morsels” with some translations noting this as “wounds”. While some may comment that “wounds” is much different than choice morsels, such a perspective overlooks the fact that while appearing to be nothing harmful (i.e. choice morsels), ultimately, gossip wounds and destroys.

From a linguistic standpoint, the Hebrew root word is the verb laham meaning “to gulp or swallow greedily”, denoting the idea that at first gossip seems like something sweet and satisfying, much like a delicious dessert. Mitchell aptly comments “Bad news is attractive but not good for us. There is something really wrong within us that makes us want to know and talk about the shameful things that other people do.”[2] Just as eating too many sweets rots our teeth, in the same way engaging in gossip rots our spiritual “gut”.

This rotting of the spiritual insides is reflected in the conclusion of Proverbs 18:8 with the notation that these choice morsels “go down to the inmost parts.” There are a number of interesting Hebrew words used in this phrase. To “go down” is the Hebrew verb yarad, a word that expresses the idea of pulling, casting down, or falling. Furthermore, these choice morsels are pulled or cast down to the inmost parts. “Inmost parts” is the Hebrew noun cheder or a chamber where these choice gossip morsels will take residence. Finally, we have some translations relaying the destination of this destructive yet seemingly tasty talk being the belly, the Hebrew noun beten What is fascinating about the use of beten is that while in some locations in Scripture this word refers to the physical belly, there are instances when beten refers to the depths of Sheol or the grave. Such usage certainly indicates the death that results from gossip.

If we put all this information together from Proverbs 18:8 we can see a rather disturbing picture. Gossip is indeed words and actions that may appear to be harmless. However, in the end, they are likened to an overdose of sugary sweets that will do nothing but rot your spiritual bones to dust.

Matthew 12:34, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

In this passage, Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for their evil words. What is most relevant in this passage for our discussion is where Jesus says these evil words come from.

“Out of the abundance” is the first piece of this passage we must understand. Some translations state “from the abundance” or “what the heart is full of”. If we look at the underlying Greek words we first come across the Greek preposition ek meaning “from”. Thus, what comes out of the mouth springs from something located somewhere.

Our words have a source, a wellspring if you will. This source or wellspring is said to be from the “abundance”. This idea of abundance is derived from the Greek noun perisseuma which perfectly describes this concept of abundance as it relates to this idea of gossip. This term describes the things “in which one delights; that which is left over, residue, remains”.

Hopefully, the horrid picture is beginning to take shape in relation to what gossip is all about. Gossip is evil. Those who engage in gossip are doing that which delights them. There is such an overflow or abundance in their inmost parts that what flows from their mouth is nothing more than the evil thoughts and desires that have taken residence in their “belly.”

We can see from this passage that gossip is not just a passing fancy. Those who repeatedly engage in gossip get a thrill from it. They are so full of a desire to harm others that what continually comes from their mouth is a wellspring of words of death and destruction. No wonder Jesus chastised the Pharisees for speaking evil. They had all the appearances of righteousness on the outside but what came out of their mouths was everything but holiness. Their hearts were full of rottenness. Those who pursue gossip are no better than those Pharisees that were at the receiving end of Jesus’ strong words found in Matthew 12:34.

Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

The Apostle Paul provides the prescription for getting rid of the cancerous disease of gossip. First, he commands believers to allow no corrupt communication to come out of our mouths. Only that which edifies and builds up is to be the focus of conversation, specifically, that which imparts grace to the recipient of our words. To do otherwise is to grieve the Holy Spirit. We can immediately see yet again the impact gossip has on our spiritual walk, namely having the result of grieving or offending the Holy Spirit. This idea of grieving comes from the Greek verb lypeō, a word that connotes the idea of making sorrowful. The horrific destructive words that are gossip sadden the Holy Spirit. Ask yourself why you would want to bring sorrow to God. Gossip is a wretched stench to a holy God.

If anyone remains unsure as to what constitutes gossip, Paul provides a pretty extensive list of what can often be the root causes of gossip: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice. Out of this list, let me point out one word in particular, that being evil speaking. This word is translated from the Greek noun blasphēmia meaning “slander, detraction, speech injurious, to another’s good name.” This idea of injuring someone’s name was very important in the ancient Near East and even during Paul’s day. One would not speak ill of the King.

During my time in the United States Navy, we were always reminded prior to debarking the ship during port visits to Thailand to refrain from saying anything injurious about the King of Thailand for doing so was deemed offensive to the Thai people. A person’s “name” reflects their character, essentially who they are as an individual. To blasphemia another human being is to besmirch, to defame, or to slander another individual. We are commanded to not take God’s name in vain. In the same vein, we are also commanded not to take in vain the name of those made in the image of God.

So what is the proper response to a situation where we might be tempted to engage in gossip? Paul provides the solution to the problem. The cure for the disease of gossip is found in reflecting the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit, specifically the process of sanctification in our lives, will root out gossip. It will dry up that wellspring of acid that is gossip replacing it with kindness, forgiveness, and love. Paul tells us that in the same manner, Christ has forgiven us, we should forgive others.

If someone has wronged you, the response should not be finding a coworker to talk about that person behind their back. The righteous response is forgiveness. If you have no clue as to why someone was promoted in your office, refrain from gossiping about something for which you really have no clue about. Even if the promotion was erroneous, it is not your job to go around the office spouting acidic words of destruction about that individual. Instead, demonstrate an attitude of love and tenderheartedness. The mouth of the believer cannot be the source of both gossip and words of grace. The Apostle James reminds us “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:10 – NIV). In fact, James describes things such as gossip as being from the pit of hell. Do we really want to engage in an activity that is from the father of lies? May it never be!

Gossip is very tempting. If we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit this is a sin for which we so often fall and stumble upon. If you find that you are a gossiper, get on your knees and ask God to root out this insidious activity from your innermost being. It will not be easy for gossip truly takes root down deep inside us all. Keep chopping at that root with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God through the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Surround yourself with people committed to speaking life. Have the courage to walk away from a conversation that is destructive or to say this conversation is unhealthy.

While gossiping may have a momentary rush of pleasure, in the end, it brings nothing but destruction in its horrific wake. Love and forgive just as Christ loves and forgives us. May we all undergo the chemotherapy of God to rid ourselves of this cancer in our lives.

[1] Matthew Mitchell, Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue (Fort Washington: CLC Publications, 2013), 15.
[2] Ibid., 27.

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  1. The Daily Roundup: 4 August 2014 - Servants of Grace - […] Gossip: An Insidious Cancer – Mike Boling shares some thoughts on the insidious cancer that is gossip. […]

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