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.