How to respond to gossip

We’re continuing to talk about gossip this morning. As I said last week gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether family, friends, work or the church. Our focus today, however, is not on the one who gossips, but on the one who hears the gossip. It takes two to gossip and listening is just as crucial as the sharing, for gossip to take place.

We love to hear gossip, don’t we?

Proverbs 18:8 (also 26:22) says it this way, “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels.” The Contemporary English Version says, “There’s nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip!” Even if we might have qualms about dishing it out, we nevertheless love to consume it.

There are several reasons for this. We’re curious about the hidden lives of others. We also wonder if other people have weaknesses and problems like we do and, perhaps, take secret joy when their problems seem worse than ours. Also, as sociologists point out, sharing secrets is a means of social bonding. It makes you feel special if someone shares secrets with you; you’re on the in. And unfortunately, gossip can be a part of this bonding process.

So we like to hear gossip, but before we leave this “eating” metaphor behind – let me just say that when you consume gossip, what you’re actually doing is consuming the other person. In a church context those delicious morsels (Proverbs 18) are your brothers and sisters in the Lord, cut up and served in bite sized pieces.

In other words, receiving gossip is a form of cannibalism. As Paul says in Galatians 5:15, “if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”

Instead of consuming we need to learn new ways of responding when gossip comes our way. So I want to share with you three things this morning that will get us started in the right direction.

1. Learn to recognize gossip

As we saw last week, there are three kinds of gossip:

  • Groundless speculation about the affairs of others.This is when we know just a bit of information, but then fill in the rest with our ignorant conjectures; usually assuming the worst about the person and what’s going on in their lives.
  • Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone entrusts something to you, but you just can’t resist telling others.
  • Spreading negative information about others.Whether true or not, the sharing is done to tear down the person.

What I’m saying here is that we need to become attuned to gossip so that when you hear it a light goes on; you become aware of what’s happening. And you can respond appropriately.

And even just to ask the question is a good practice. After church last week several of us were talking and someone asked, “Hey wait, is this gossip?” That’s great! It shows that we’re trying to be careful and monitor what we say about others.

2. Don’t receive the gossip

That is, don’t let gossip shape your opinion and outlook toward others.

First of all, don’t receive it out of humilityIn humility we need to recognize that our ability to size up other people is quite limited. Only God knows their heart and all that is going on in their lives. And in humility we must make allowance for the fact that others who share with us get things wrong.

So accept that you don’t know the whole situation and neither does the person sharing. I have learned that there are always (at least) 2 sides to every story and the reality is usually much more complex than what’s being shared. Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t mean you really know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

Don’t receive it out of loveAs we saw last week love always hopes the best for others and thinks the best of others, not the worst. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “love believes all things, hopes all things.” Also, love wants to build others up and is grieved when others are torn down. As I Corinthians 8:1 says, “love builds up.” And so our love for others keeps us from accepting secret dirt on them.

Don’t receive it and if you need to, talk to the person face to face: If you hear something negative either suspend judgment by accepting that you don’t really know what’s going on and so you don’t let it shape your opinion of the person. Or if it seems serious, check it out for yourself by going to the person or persons involved face to face, according to the principle laid out in Matthew 18:15. Only then can we come to conclusions on what’s going on in a situation.

We need to covenant with each other in this that we will not come to conclusions about each other based on gossip and mere appearances, but only after face to face contact. As Jesus says in John 7:24, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

3. Help the gossiper to stop

Let’s just note first that it’s really easy to fall into gossip, and some people are not fully aware of what they’re doing; some are not being intentionally malicious even though what they are doing is very wrong. And we need to take all this into account in terms of how you respond. Some gossipers are intentional and malicious; perhaps most are not.

Remind them of humilityJust as you apply this to yourself, apply it to them. Remind them that they most likely don’t know the whole story. Ask, “How do you know that?” “Are you sure you know the whole story?” “Is that just your interpretation of what happened?”

Remind them of love: Encourage them to think the best and hope for the best of the person. Say, “That sounds serious, what should we do to help so and so?” Or say good things about the person which takes all the fun out of it and makes the gossiper uncomfortable. Or say, “This is a sensitive issue, I bet so and so wouldn’t want others to know about this.”

Send them to the person in question according to the principle of Matthew 18:15: Ask, “Have you talked to the person yet?” “Did you get permission to share that private information?” We have to work hard at breaking apart triangling, that is, going to a third party, instead of to the person in question. So we do this by sending the gossiper back to the person they’re talking about. Offer to go with them, if needed.

Tell them to stop: If there’s no response to previous efforts we will need to be a bit more firm, especially if it’s a pattern of behavior in their life. As Luke 17:3 teaches, “If your brother (or sister) sins, tell him (or her) to stop . . ..” Say it how you want, according to what fits with the situation, and your personality – as long as it is gentle and loving. But admonish them to stop. Say something like, “You really shouldn’t be saying things like that.” Or, “You need to stop before people get hurt.”

Finally remember –

It takes two to gossip

Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Well, if gossip fuels strife, as this verse teaches, it’s listening ears that fuel gossip. And if we take away the fuel of listening, gossip will fade away. So my appeal is – let’s stop listening to gossip! Let’s be a gossip resistant church. Let’s be gossip resistant people.

May the Spirit help us in this. May the Spirit cause us to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord more than we love to hear gossip.

Gossip: Poisonous whisperings

I want to talk about gossip today. I want us to look at some scriptural teaching on this to remind us to avoid gossip; to stay clear of such poisonous whisperings. I think this is needed. Gossip is a real problem in our relationships – whether it be with our families, our friends, or our work situations. And yes, it’s often a problem even in the church.

First of all, let’s work at some definition –

What is gossip?

Here’s a good start. It’s inappropriate sharing about others who are not present. Often the information is revealing or sensational in nature and gets responses like, “Really?” or “Wow!”

For sure, not all sharing about someone who isn’t present is gossip. There are two key parts that make gossip, gossip. First, it’s secretive, in that you don’t want the person to know what you’re saying. In other words, you would never say it to their face. I believe that much of our gossip comes from not knowing how to deal with problems and conflict with each other. Instead of going to the person who has offended you, seeking peace and resolution of the issue, face to face – as Jesus teaches, you go to someone else and tell them all about it.

Second, usually it’s negative in that what you say is meant to tear the person down. It’s not done out of love for the person or with respect for the person, nor is it a part of a process of trying to help them.

Today I want us to look at –

Three kinds of gossip

1. Groundless speculation about the affairs of others. The word for this is found in two verses. In 1 Timothy 5:13 Paul says of young widows in the church in Ephesus – “they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips (φλύαρος) and busybodies, saying what they should not.” In 3 John 10 John says of a renegade leader in a congregation, “So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense (φλυαρέω) about us.” (NIV)

The word means babbling, or nonsense. It has to do with talking out of ignorance. You may have a bit of information, but you have no idea what’s really going on in a situation, but that doesn’t stop you! You fill in the gaps with your ignorant conjectures, usually assuming the worst about the person. These are silly, negative, meddling speculations about other people’s business.

Here’s an example of this kind of gossip: Fred has been struggling financially, but he comes to church in a new car. So someone says to another church member, “Wow, he doesn’t make enough to drive a car like that! He must have been playing the lottery! Either that or he’s found a way to cheat the IRS!” Here we see a toxic combination of ignorance and a malicious spirit.

2. Revealing secrets & breaking confidences. Someone tells you something and expects you to keep it in confidence, but you’re just dying to tell someone! So you do and figure telling one more person isn’t that big a deal. But then that person think just like you did and so they tell just one other person and the pattern repeats itself on and on until everyone knows.

Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.” (NRSV). Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.” (NRSV).

With regard to Fred, an example of this might go, “Well, how strange is that, a new car! I just happen to know that last year he got a gift from the benevolence fund because he wasn’t able to pay his electric bill.” This is an obvious breaking of confidence; sharing what should be private.

3. Spreading negative information about others. The word for this shows up in two texts that list out various sins. Romans 1:29 speaks of “gossips” (ψιθυριστής – gossiper), and 2 Corinthians 12:20 talks of “gossip” (ψιθυρισμός – gossip). The word here means “to whisper” – in a negative sense; you’re telling tales about others and don’t want to be found out.

The content might be false information, in which case it would be secret slander or false rumor. Or it might be true negative information, but unnecessary to share. You share it to tear down and not with concern for the person’s well-being or reputation.

With regard to Fred, a false rumor could go like this, “Hey, did you hear that Fred used the benevolence fund money to help buy a new car! Can you believe that!” Here’s an example of true but unnecessary sharing, “Fred has always been poor, and his family was before him. It seems to run in the family.” This may be true, but it’s pointless to share, other than to make him look bad.

Poor Fred, the truth is that a friend loaned the car to him, while he’s getting his fixed. He’s actually doing better now financially than ever before. So you can see how he was unfairly picked apart and torn down by all this gossip. He really went through the shredder.

Now for many, gossip is an everyday thing; no big deal. But-

In Scripture gossip is deadly serious

Why is it so bad? It destroys the reputation and standing of another. If angry words are like murder, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:21, a kind of frontal verbal attack, then gossip is also like murder, but it’s like poison administered in secret.

Why is it so bad? It causes strife and broken relationships in a group. Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Conflicts go away! Proverbs 16:28 says, “a whisperer separates close friends.”

If we ask, how bad is it in God’s eyes? Well, in Romans 1:29 it’s in a list of sins that evidences a “debased mind . . .” along with homosexual practice, murder and hatred of God. It’s one of the practices that “deserves death” as a punishment from God (Romans 1:32).

 What should we do instead of gossip?

1. Instead of groundless speculation about the affairs of others – we should shut up and get a life. I don’t mean to sound harsh. But I do mean it. I say shut up, because we are to stop our silly, ignorant, critical speculations about other peoples’ business. I say get a life, because this kind of gossip is associated with idleness in I Timothy 5:13 (as we saw earlier). It often happens when you’ve got too much time on your hands.

The answer comes in I Thessalonians 4:11. Paul says, “aspire to live quietly (shut up), and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands (get a life).” Get enough positive things going in your own life so that you don’t need to sit around and try to analyze others.

2. Instead of breaking confidences – have integrity. If something is entrusted to you as a private matter, ask permission before you share it with others. This is a simple rule that we can all keep.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’” (NRSV). If you indicate you will keep a confidence, keep it. Be trustworthy (Proverbs 11:13). Keep your word.

3. Instead of spreading negative information about others – speak the truth in love. This is what Ephesians 4:15 tells us to do, “speak the truth in love.”

  • If what you share is false, learn to speak the truth about your neighbor.
  • If what you share is true but unnecessary, learn to speak in loving ways about your neighbor.

This last one, when the information is true, is probably where we struggle the most, so let’s look at this just a bit more. Only speak when there’s a redemptive purpose. Perhaps you are working through something that involves the negative behavior of another person and you need input on how to respond. Or you are involved in a process that is seeking to help the person.

Have regard for the person’s well-being and reputation. Ask, “How would I want them to speak about me if the roles were reversed?” Think about this before and while you’re sharing. This will help you to be fair to the person. The key is that you are not seeking to tear down the other person.

Let’s end by looking at –

The real issue: Your heart

Jesus says in Matthew 12:34-35, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” We all have stored up in our hearts a treasure, whether good or evil. And when we speak it reveals what’s in our heart. If you’re struggling with gossip, you need a change of heart!

Do you have a negative spirit that assumes and thinks the worst of others? You need love in your heart so that you think the best of others. As I Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love . . . believes all things, hopes all things . . ..” Love assumes the best in others; it gives them the benefit of the doubt; it hopes for the best.

Do you have a critical spirit that picks apart and tears down others? You need love in your heart for others so that your words build them up. As Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

May God help each of us as we seek to overcome gossip in our lives. And may God work deep in our hearts to change us from the inside out.