The topic of gossip is one that is often minimized in Biblical discussion even though we see it all around us. It is often portrayed as something funny or harmless, and the understanding of why the Bible speaks against it is lacking. So what is gossip?
Webster defines “gossip” as, “One who runs from house to house tattling and telling news; a talebearer; an idle talker.” The word “gossip” is not used in the King James Version of the Scriptures, because the word was not in circulation with this meaning until the 20th century. The word that is equivalent to it in the Scriptures is that of “talebearer” or “tattler.” Notice how these words are used in Scripture.
One who is a gossip loves to tell stories about other people, but beyond that, they love to tell stories that are harmful to another person. A gossip is one who is more than happy to reveal secrets from someone who has confided in them (Pro. 20:19). A gossip is one who is trying to stir up trouble against another person by revealing something damaging or embarrassing (Pro. 26:20). A gossip is one who tries to wound another by talking about them behind their back, hurting their reputation with others (Pro. 26:22). Paul argues that such actions often come from those who are idle and have nothing else to do but talk about someone else (1 Tim. 5:13).
Gossip, though commonly practiced and regularly found both inside and outside the church, is never regarded as a positive trait by God. In fact, it can stand between an individual and the salvation that person desires to receive. Therefore, one must very seriously consider the question, “Am I a gossiper?” Look at some things that gossip is and is not.
Gossip is not… information intended to assist an individual in decision-making. If a congregation were looking at hiring a preacher, and one of the elders called the congregation where he had been preaching to ask about the man’s character, work ethic, and so on; it is not gossip for the congregation to impart their experience and what they have seen of that man’s work. They are giving information intended to help another congregation and are giving (if they are righteous) an honest report on the individual in question.
Gossip is not… letting someone know another needs help. Again the intent is not to injure the person’s reputation or influence, but rather to help, encourage, and strengthen that individual in time of trial. A gossip would simply tell all they knew without the desire to help. One seeking to assist another would give the amount of information necessary for help without trying to diminish the individual in question. However, if the assistance would pertain to something the informer has been asked to keep secret, there should first be permission given for that information to be revealed.
Gossip is… a statement made with the intent to injure or damage the reputation of another. It is not intended to be helpful or to give assistance but, instead, its purpose is to lessen that individual in the sight of others. Oftentimes such a statement will begin with a phrase akin to, “I don’t want to speak badly about someone, but…” Such statements are almost always an introduction to gossip. Another phrase often used to introduce gossip is the old line, “You didn’t hear it from me, but I heard…”
Gossip is… giving information intended to be private for others to hear and know. When you promise to keep something in confidence, you have made a promise that should not be easily broken. Certainly there are times when the necessity of revealing something given in confidence is present because of the actions of the one who was the source of the information. But the majority of the time, things expressed in confidence is not a matter of life and death, nor is it something that affects others to the degree that revelation is necessary. We must be very careful with the promises we make. Do not promise something that you do not intend to keep, and if you do, recognize the wrongful dissemination of such knowledge is nothing short of gossip and sin.
Gossip can be… performed by men or women. It is not relegated to one sex or one portion of society, one side is just as guilty as the other. Gossip can also involve truth or lies. An individual can tell the truth and it is gossip, depending on the means and motive by which it is given. Often it is thought that gossip only involves lies; though those are often present, gossip can just as easily be delivered with truth.
We need to be ever concerned with the prevalence of gossip. If someone begins gossiping about another, walk away or ask to change the subject. On many occasions one may be gossiping without knowing that is their action. In such instances we must show our love for that person by kindly pointing out their error.
This is an action that can cost someone their soul. Consider the words of James, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh” (Jam. 3:9-12). We must work diligently to ensure we do not become guilty of gossip.