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.

How we should relate to one another

Today I want us to focus on “How we should relate to one another” in our congregation.

God doesn’t just call and work through individuals. He has called us to be in community; a part of the people of God. That’s how God has always worked. Being in a community together has many advantages –

  • we can accomplish more together
  • we can support one another, and
  • we complement each other with our different gifts as the body of Christ

For these reasons and more to be a Christian means to be a part of the church. It means to be plugged into and active in a local congregation.

But it is also true that being in community with one another can be challenging. Misunderstandings, different personalities and points of view can lead to conflict and pain. But God uses this. This is a part of God’s purpose for having us be together, and not just off all by ourselves serving God independently. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our interactions with each other are meant to make us better.

God puts us together, as different as we are to stretch us and to teach us what love is really all about. And you can’t learn this unless you are in relationships with others. And I dare say in relationship with people who are different than you are. And like all love, this can be painful.

The problem is that when we experience relationship difficulties we too often respond in inappropriate ways, which compounds the situation. We do what comes naturally to us – in our human weakness and self-centeredness. Things like gossip, slander, always thinking we are right, always wanting our way, holding on to resentments and negative attitudes, being mean, being cliquish, being impatient,   being hard-hearted. The list could go on and on.

We have all seen or experienced or even practiced these kinds of things. (It’s amazing what can happen in churches.) And because of this and the pain it brings, many draw back and don’t want to be a part. And thus God’s purpose is defeated.

And so we need to be reminded, not of what comes naturally to us in the flesh; we need to be reminded of what comes supernaturally to us by the Word of God and the Spirit of God working in our hearts – to care for each other in our relationships with one another.

And to remind us of what this looks like and to challenge us to be this way with each other I want us to look at the “one another” passages this morning. These are various verses in the New Testament that have the phrase “one another” or “each other” and which tell us how we are to relate as brothers and sisters in the Lord. (These are most of the positive exhortations that have to do with two Greek words that mean – “one another” or “each other.” [αλληλων; ῾εαυτου. The latter is marked by an asterisk.])

 I have arranged them into several categories. As we go through these I want you to think about how these might apply to you, and how you relate to others in our fellowship. Where might God be challenging you this morning? Who might you need to make things right with?

1. We are to love one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34. Love means acting for the well-being of another. And in this verse Jesus gives us himself as an example. We are to love one another just as Jesus loved us. That is, we are to lay down our lives for one another. We are to sacrifice for the good of one another.

Several other verses also speak to this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7. “Love one another with brotherly affection.” – Romans 12:10. Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

Do we love one another? It’s not about just words or feeling, but about how we treat one another.

2. We are to welcome one another

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” – Romans 15:7. The context here is that of Jews and Gentiles getting along in the church at Rome. Although from very different backgrounds they are to accept each other as fellow believers.

Closely related to this is “Show hospitality to one another.” – 1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality means to be warm and friendly, to make room for someone, to include that person, even if they are different.

Do we welcome one another? Are we warm and friendly with one another?

3. We are to bear one another’s burdens

 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2. The context here is that of gently correcting each other if we fall into transgression. This is a way of showing our concern for one another. As James 5:19-20 says, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death . . .”

But certainly bearing burdens can cover working with all kinds of needs. We are to help one another with our life burdens. The law of Christ is the commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

4. We are to be at peace with one another

 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”  Mark 9:50. The context here is in part that Jesus’ disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Not only does he tell them that to be great you must be the servant of all, he tells them to be at peace with one another.

Other verses that speak to this: Live in harmony with one another.” – Romans 12:16. Be at peace *with each other.1 Thessalonians 5:13 (own translation).

Are we living in peace with one another? Do we work through our disagreements and conflicts? Being at peace doesn’t mean pretending that we get along. It means working through things with love and respect for one another, so that our relationships are whole and life-giving.

5. We are to serve one another

 Through love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13

 A similar verse applies this to using our spiritual gifts to serve each other – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve *one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10.

6. We are to bear with one another

. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love . . ..” – Ephesians 4:2. This means to put up with, to tolerate or to endure. If you are married you know that even those couples that love each other the most still have to do this in areas. Here it has to do with the weaknesses in another believer or the things they say and do that might rub you the wrong way.

How are you doing with this?

7. We are to be kind with one another

 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” – Ephesians 4:32. That is, don’t be hard hearted, but rather mild, generous or considerate.

8. We are to forgive one another

Our previous verse goes on to say, “. . . forgiving *one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32. When someone has wronged you, choose to love them, and seek to work through it, and when they make things right, restore the relationship.

9. We are to be humble before one another

 Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” – 1 Peter 5:5.

A specific example of this comes from Paul, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Romans 12:10. Lift up your brother and sisters in the Lord. It’s like a competition,  not for praise, but to give honor and praise to others.

10. We are to teach one another

 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing *one another in all wisdom.” – Colossians 3:16. We are to share with one another of what God has taught us. To admonish is to teach in a way that warns and corrects.

 Along these lines the writer of Hebrews says, “But exhort *one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13.

11. We are to pray for one another

James says, “Pray for one another.” – James 5:16. We are to care for each other by lifting lift up each other’s concerns before the Lord that he might give grace and help in their time of need.

Do you pray for others among us during the week?

12. We are to confess our sins to one another

Our previous verse in its entirety says, “Confess your sins to one another pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16. Certainly this means that we confess our sins to the one we have wronged. And it could, when appropriate, mean confessing our sins more broadly than this. This all requires vulnerability before others and honesty.

And then we pray for healing for the person from any discipline the Lord may have allowed them to go through, because of their sin. Once the sin is dealt with, the discipline can be lifted.

13. We are to do good to one another

 Paul says, “Always seek to do good to one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15. He says just before this that we are certainly not to repay evil for evil, or harm for harm to one another. You know, “I’m going to get them back!” Rather we are always to do good to each other.

14. We are to encourage one another

Paul says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11. To encourage means to instill someone with courage; to cheer them up, to comfort them. Close in meaning to this is the word “build up,” which means to strengthen or to make more able.

Similarly, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:24. The idea is that we can become complacent or lazy and so we are to act to get each other focused and moving forward.

So here are 14 ways we are to relate to one another:

  1. Love one another
  2. Welcome one another
  3. Bear one another’s burdens
  4. Be at peace with one another
  5. Serve one another
  6. Bear with one another
  7. Be kind to one another
  8. Forgive one another
  9. Be humble before one another
  10. Teach one another
  11. Pray for one another
  12. Confess our sins to one another
  13. Do good to one another
  14. Encourage one another

How are you doing? Do you need to make some changes?

Let the power of God’s Word work in your heart and mind to show you the way. And ask the Spirit to come in power to change your heart in any way that might be needed, so that our relationships with each other will be strong and pleasing to God in every way. And so that we can work here together in unity to do God’s work.

May our relationships be so full of Christian love that people can sense it when they come in to worship with us. May God make this so.