May 3, 2016

Gossip: When Assassination Becomes Acceptable

by Jordan Standridge

As I type this, there are three ladies right next to me that are assassinating reputations.

gossipSome girl they all know can’t keep a job. Another common friend is always complaining about everything. One of the girls’ boyfriends is selfish, and his mother makes Jezebel look like the Proverbs 31 woman. They have probably talked about over a dozen people whom, if they were standing here in my place, would be in a puddle of tears. It is grossing me out. But now I’m thinking about my conversations over the past weeks and suddenly I’m grossed out with myself.

Gossip is seen as inevitable in our day and age. People are so bored with their own lives that they must talk about everyone else in order to have a conversation that lasts longer than 5 minutes. TV shows, Magazines and blogs use the word in their title as a positive.

Gossip is something that we all struggle with, but it is something we must fight as hard as the sins we deem unacceptable. Matthew 12:36 says “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak”; we must take it seriously and fight to kill this sin in our lives.

As I’m sitting here listening to these ladies, and rethinking my own careless words there are several truths about gossip that are coming to mind.

It murders reputations

I can’t imagine a scenario where, if the people these ladies are talking about were to hear what was said about them, that they would ever have another conversation with them, not just because of anger, but embarrassment. In order for us to decide to start killing this sin in our lives, we must recognize it as evil.

Gossip is murder. There is nothing that screams, “I hate you” more than speaking badly about someone behind their back. And John tells us that when we hate our brother, we are murderers (1 John 3:15). In fact, we must realize, if we believe James 2:10, that one act of gossip truly condemns us to an eternity in hell. Gossip is evil because it destroys people’s reputations. Gossip is rebellion towards God. The Bible tells us that God hates gossip (Psalm 101:5) and will destroy the gossiper.

It’s shameless

As I’m sitting here, these ladies could care less who hears them. There are probably over a dozen quiet people around them, listening to their conversation, and it hasn’t dawned on them that they are doing it. To them it’s just another day in the office. And it’s fascinating to think about conversations I’ve had over the years, and realize that I too have had no shame as I shattered other people’s reputations.

It has become so accepted that it is not shameful at all. Romans 1:29-32 warned us about this. In fact, it has gotten so bad that we vote for people who make slander their way of life. Every time I share the Gospel, especially on college campuses, I get shocked more and more about what sins people are willing to admit that they partake in. They have no shame. Sins that are about as gross as you can imagine. If they are willing to admit to those, I can’t imagine how much the sin of gossip is approved. We must be different. We must rescue the shame of gossip in our hearts.

It is justified 

For some reason, it is one of the sins we most often excuse in our own minds. We think we need to talk about it since we know and care about so-and-so, but our talking about it cannot fix the problem. We think that as leaders or since it affects us, we can verbally express frustrations and complain about someone to someone else.

Although we attempt to justify other sins as well, gossip is one that we have an easier time convincing ourselves that it’s okay. We may preface statements with, “We need to pray for so-and-so!”, or “Have you heard about so-and-so? Someone should talk to them!” We are constantly talking about other people. And while at times it is necessary if you’re in leadership, far too often we slander people under the guise of “shepherding”. We mustn’t justify sins that Christ shed his blood over.

It is insecurity about ourselves 

Philippians 1:15-18 talks about men who spoke out against Paul. Perhaps they saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to climb the ladder of church leadership. Paul calls it selfish ambition. It’s the desire to rise the ranks by taking other people down.

With gossip, you cheat. Instead of winning “the game” by throwing more touchdowns than the other team, you win by trying to injure as many players on the other team and hoping they have to forfeit. It is a declaration of inability.

Perhaps we want the person listening to think worse about someone so that by comparison, we will look better. Perhaps we want to be known as the ones with the juicy scoop on everything. Regardless, it is a prideful desire that springs from discontentment with who God made us, and what He has given us. It is a shaking of the fist at God. Instead, we should be thankful for the way He made us, and be thankful for the opportunities He gives us to glorify Him. And rejoice with how he has made others as well.

It’s the sin of comparison

When a religion is works-based, it thrives on comparing one’s self to other people. As long as you find someone on earth who is worse than you, you can appease your conscience. Christians act the same way when they gossip. They find sins and attitudes that they find repugnant and consider those worse than their own. They forget that if any human being got their hands on a video depicting their own thoughts and actions of the past week, they would be mortified. And rather than focusing on themselves, or even better, going to the person and helping them, they go to someone else and deliver the juicy news.

It takes two to tango

no gossipThe gossiper needs a listener. He can talk to himself about other people all he wants, but it only becomes gossip when he has an audience.

This is the antidote to gossip. Don’t listen to it. Change the subject. Call them out on their gossip. Chances are, if they gossip to you, they are probably talking about you to someone else. The righteous man in Psalm 15:3 will not believe or even entertain gossip. He shuts it down.

Proverbs 20:19 reminds us, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.” In order to protect the Church from serious problems, we have to fight against the sin of gossip, and we must destroy the gossiper that lives within our hearts.

In conclusion, we must remember that simply not gossiping will not solve the problem. Of course the saying, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all” is a helpful start but it will not fix the problem. We must see each human being as not a means to an end, but rather as a soul that we will either spend eternity with, or someone who must be evangelized, not gossiped about. We also must remind ourselves of the importance of prayer. If a story is juicy enough to talk about, then the person probably needs someone to pray for them, and instead of talking to another mere mortal, let’s talk to the Creator of the universe who can actually do miracles. And ultimately we must speak kind words about others. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion.
  • Alex

    Hey Jordan, thanks for the helpful article. I would love to hear you discuss more about the difference between helpful, heartfelt discussions about the state of another person’s spiritual life, and gossip. You certainly allude to the necessity of the former under the principle of shepherding, but don’t provide any clues as to how you distinguish it from the latter.

    Perhaps a series of diagnostic questions we should ask ourselves before we begin to speak about another person to guard against wandering into gossip?

    • Michelle Viljoen

      Please also consider to write on how one would differentiate between calling out a sin like in 2 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 4:10 and gossip. Thanks for this article!

    • The first key is are you in a shepherding position and is the person you’re talking to in a shepherding position. Unless it is a discussion between elders (or spouses discussing a child) it’s probably gossip.

      • Holly Mathis Tartaglia

        Elders and shepherds are just as prone to gossip as the average church member… why would being in a shepherding position exempt one from gossiping? From a leadership position, i would think a person would have to be even MORE careful since they are often privy to information that others may not have.

        • The question was about having a conversation about someone’s spiritual state in the context of shepherding. Shepherds share information in orders to shepherd and pray for the flock.

          • Holly Mathis Tartaglia

            Thanks, John, for clarifying. I guess the way you said that, it appeared that talking about people was permitted in a shepherding context…so if I misread that, forgive me. And we know that there are many men in positions of eldership in churches across America who are unfit to be Elders, but find themselves Elders regardless. My husband has served alongside some of these people. My comment was that I don’t see the Scriptures distinguishing between leaders who are “allowed” to talk about people and issues and regular church members. And I think it IS possible to have discussions about issues without discussing people and it not be gossip…even among “regular” people.

        • Alex

          Well, one would hope that elders at the church aren’t “just as prone” to gossip, albeit perhaps just as “susceptible.” And I’m not just mentioning that to win some imaginary argument points. I think it is a big distinction to be made.

          I think the very nature of shepherding is that we rely on one another for wise counsel in difficult and messy situations within the body of Christ. And those conversations are not always possible in the abstract.

          Perhaps the distinction here is related to Jordan’s post. Is the motivation for the conversation related to disparaging another, or redemptively loving another and the health of the body.

          And let me add, I don’t think shepherding makes someone exempt from gossiping. In fact, I think you rightly point out the higher degree of exemplary conduct needed for a shepherd – as one who will be accountable to Christ for the manner in which he cared for His bride.

          • Holly Mathis Tartaglia

            Yes, Alex. Perhaps you stated it better…they are just as susceptible. And if given a “free pass” in the context of shepherding, they may be in fact, more prone. But that, of course, would depend on whether the shepherds and leaders were godly mature men. There are certainly plenty in those positions who are not. And while I agree that there are times when it is not possible to discuss things in the abstract…so, extreme care must be taken and again, as one in a leadership position, who is most likely privy to details that others are not, must also be careful as to what he shares because some of those details may not pertain to that exact situation.

      • Alex

        Well, I’m not sure that it as cut and dry as you are presenting in that scenario. It leaves no room for fellow believers who have a genuine concern about someone to express that concern. Let me try to present a real-life scenario.

        Three guys, all Christians, who are roommates together. Is there really no room for two of the guys to bring to one another genuine concerns about the third? “Hey Mike, do you think we should talk to Tim about his relationship with Cindy?” That is a very different sentence from “Hey Mike, did you see what Tim and Cindy were doing last night?”

        All I’m trying to express is that the distinction between gossip and not gossip is probably a motivational issue, not an ecclesiastical or hierarchical issue. Thoughts?

        • If Mike’s relationship with Cindy is sinful Matthew 18 comes into play, and step 1 is to go to him directly, not discuss it with another.

          • Starrocks923

            You didn’t mention the verse number, but I’m pretty sure you’re talking about verses 15-17 here. I’ll repost them here:

            15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    • Starrocks923

      I would probably agree with John here. From Wikipedia, which surely can be trusted without reproach:

      “Gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others; the act of is also known as dishing or tattling.”

      Like John said, having a shepherding position in this person’s life helps. Talking to elders or family is a far cry from bringing up the subject with a random member of the congregation, or a friend of the person. If you need to bring up the subject of that particular sin with the hypothetical person, it’s better to have some a discussion in private than in public for all to hear.

      The intent of discussing the subject is also a deal breaker here. The original title of this article, if I recall correctly, was titled, “Assassinating Reputations”. If what you’re saying is meant to humiliate or shame someone, you aren’t showing the love of Christ in your words and actions.

      I’m no pastor or elder, but I think diagnostic questions are a splendid idea. Here are a few I came up with while waiting for Jordan’s reply:

      1. First and foremost, how will bringing up this subject show the love of Christ and bring even more glory to God? (I consider that the litmus test for all Christians to follow.) Have you prayed beforehand, asking God for wisdom and guidance, as well as for the softening of the sinner’s heart?
      2. Who are you discussing this hypothetical sin with? Family? Church staff? The person?
      3. What is the setting? Are you alone with the person you are talking to? Can others overhear your conversation?
      4. What are your intentions? Galatians 6:1 tells us, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Are you trying to restore them or assassinate their reputation?
      5. As Paul writes in Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Do your words and actions reflect the fact that where sin is great, grace is greater still? (Romans 5:20)
      6. What is the necessity for bringing this subject up? (My very educated guess is that it would be church membership for you, specifically.)

      You always ask wonderful questions, Alex. I’d love to talk to both you and Jordan about this sometime.

  • Michelle Viljoen

    Please also consider to write on how one would differentiate between calling out a sin like in 2 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 4:10 and gossip. Thanks for this article!

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Thank you for this reminder, Jordan. This is one of those disciplines that seems to need constant attention and (I believe) is the result of not being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. When I think of Christ’s mercy to me, I must recognize my gossip as nothing more than me being a coward to not confront someone privately and preferring to expose them publicly. And if I don’t know them well enough to confront them, to pray that God will send someone who can. He is sovereign after all.

    “Real love would rather cover over the faults of others than delight in exposing them.”

    • Jason

      “When I think of Christ’s mercy to me, I must recognize my gossip as
      nothing more than me being a coward to not confront someone privately
      and preferring to expose them publicly.”

      I agree, and I think that lays responsibility on the recipient of gossip as well as the gossip themselves. Otherwise, we’re not so different in that we don’t take the opportunity to help a brother or sister to deal with a sin we now know is at work in their lives.

      Simply not listening, changing the subject, or even calling them out doesn’t help them realize how they should be handling the information. What I’ve found the most helpful is to turn the conversation toward what the would-be-gossip is doing about the situation to improve it.

      If someone starts telling me about a friend they have who’s living with a girlfriend, I might ask if they have offered to let them room with them instead. If they’re talking about how a person can’t keep a job, I could ask if they’ve offered to drive them to make sure they get to work on time. etc…

      It’s not wrong to stop the gossip, but it’s really great if you can turn it into an opportunity to exhort a brother or sister into carry that person’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2).

      • Jane Hildebrand

        Excellent point!

  • Holly Mathis Tartaglia

    I have watched gossip and slander wreak havoc in our church…Prov. 16:28 “A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.” Thankfully, what people meant for evil, God meant for good. I have been both guilty and a victim of such gossip and slander, and I appreciate this article very much. There are times when matters must be discussed and I try very hard to discuss the issue in principle rather than the person involved. Sometimes it IS hard, however, as a counselor to another because you really need to listen to them before you give counsel. (Prov. 18:13 “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.) Sometimes questions have to be asked and you learn more than you wanted to know. So, I guess the issue in that case is in not repeating it and not allowing one person’s testimony to color another person’s character in your own mind. It’s a battle. Thank you for writing on this and I appreciated Alex’s question regarding when it is acceptable to discuss issues and when it turns into gossip. It would be great if you could elaborate on that!

    • elainebitt

      “… not allowing one person’s testimony to color another person’s character in your own mind.”

      Very good point.

      You’re a counselour?

      • Holly Mathis Tartaglia

        Have had Nouthetic Counseling training…but only counsel when a need arises with women in our church, since my husband will not counsel women alone. I have done a lot of informal counseling and a little bit of formal counseling…but it’s strictly biblical counseling, just a form of discipleship, really.

  • Mark Armstrong

    Because I spend my lunch time writing blog posts that attempt to link current events (often occurrences within politics) to the news of the Bible, I sometimes find myself deleting an hour’s work because post is only gossip. Nonetheless, we only need to police our words as we provide a reason for the hope that is in us.

  • Evangelical Christian

    There is a way that Christian women can circumvent the ‘gossip’…it’s called the prayer circle. “Ok ladies, gather round…Lord, we know you know all things. You already know that Rachel’s pregnant. Mmmm hmmm. Oh yeah, that’s right Lord!” (ladies in the group murmer) “We also know that only you know who the father of Rachael’s baby is! MMMM HMMMM! ” (gasps and groaning from the women) “We ask you father to reveal exactly which man it is because you know Lord, Rachel needs to repent of her wicked ways. Yes Lord! We also ask that you help out Heather, Father, you know that she is drinkin’ after Communion! Woo hoo! Uh Huh! Please help those ladies out Father God. Mercy me!”

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