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...[The tongue] is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless our god...Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any other...If I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then [in that moment] I know nothing of calvary love.
Marci was an awkward, insecure third-grader with pale skin, countless freckles, and unkempt red hair. She played alone at recess and ate lunch by herself. She wore a sullen expression and gave one syllable answers to anyone who spoke to her.
Marci was the brunt of nearly every rude playground joke or lunchroom taunt that floated around our class. I was a “new kid” at the school that year, but after a few weeks I had managed to make several friendships and was generally accepted by my peers. Marci was not so fortunate.
I was bothered as I observed how my friends treated her. They were constantly spreading rumors about her, whispering snide comments about her looks or clothes, and avoiding her as if she had a contagious disease. It was no wonder that she was always so unsocial and withdrawn.
When my friends tried to gossip to me about Marci, I didn’t quite know how to respond. Even at my young age, I knew that it was wrong to say unkind things about another person. But I didn’t want to lose my new friends by standing up for someone that everyone else disliked. So for the most part I simply kept my mouth shut.
But one day, over an afternoon snack of milk and cookies, I told my mom how the girls talked about Marci behind her back. I admitted that I wasn’t really sure what to do when they tried to pull me into their gossiping antics. She immediately reached for her Bible and gave me a passionate lecture about the dangers of gossip and slander:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community (Prov. 6:16-19, NIV).
The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous…whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others (Ps. 15: 2-3, NIV).
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends (Prov. 16:28, NIV).
My mom informed me that, according to the Bible, gossip is something God hates. He even compares it to pitfalls such as “evil scheming” and “murdering the innocent”. For the first time in my life, I began to grasp the ugliness and the seriousness of this sin.
“It doesn’t matter what other people think of you,” my mom exhorted, “you need to do everything in your power to stand up for Marci and take a stand against gossip.”
I went back to school the next day with those convicting words ringing in my ears. I knew I had to act upon what my mom had said, even if I was trembling the entire time. So when friends began whispering to me about Marci in the lunch line, I replied, “Don’t talk about her that way. God loves Marci just the same as He loves you and me.” At first, my friends rolled their eyes, but over the next few days as they saw my determination to stand up for her, the gossip began to die down. Encouraged by this change, I took it a step further and invited Marci to sit with me at lunch and play with our group at recess. At first, my friends balked, but soon they began to follow my example in treating Marci as a peer and not a plague. When my birthday party rolled around, I invited Marci right along with all my other friends. By the end of my third grade year, I was amazed to realize that Marci was being treated as nicely as any of the other girls in my class. I witnessed firsthand the power of taking a stand against gossip. When I finally became willing to put Marci’s needs above my own fears, there was an amazing shift in everyone’s attitude toward her.
Over the years, I lost touch with Marci, especially after my family moved several states away. But one day when I was about seventeen, I received an unexpected letter in the mail. Marci had somehow tracked me down and was writing to say thank you for what I had done for her back in third grade.
“Your willingness to stop the gossip and stand up for me truly changed my life,” she wrote. “I felt completely hopeless; I didn’t think I’d ever be liked again. You showed me God’s love in a way I have never forgotten. My life has never been the same.”
I was blown away as I realized that my simple decision to listen to my mom’s advice and stand up against gossip when I was nine years old had made such a life-changing and lasting impact upon this young woman’s life.
There are two significant lessons about gossip that I learned through that experience; lessons that have stayed with me all throughout my life.
First, I learned that gossip is destructive and deadly. Though we often think of gossip as a relatively harmless activity, when we engage in gossip we become a dangerous tool in the enemy’s hands that can destroy a person’s human dignity. Gossip should not be taken lightly, any more than “murdering the innocent” should, as Proverbs clearly states.
Second, I learned that standing against gossip is far more than not being the initiator of it. It also means refusing to listen to gossip, rebuking the bearer of gossip, and treating the victim of gossip in the opposite spirit.
The Bible does not mince words about our responsibility as Christians to stand against gossip. We are told not merely to avoid speaking words of gossip, but to avoid believers who do. Proverbs 20:19 (NASB) goes so far as to tell us, “do not associate with a gossip” and 1 Corinthians 5:11 says that we are not even to eat with Christians who engage in slander.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul expresses deep concern over the state of the Corinthian Christians: “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be…I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Cor. 12:20 NIV).
This verse paints a detailed image of what happens when gossip is entertained among Christians. Gossip left untended leads to complete relational chaos and produces believers who behave in a nature very opposite of Jesus Christ. How can we possibly obey Christ’s call to be the “light of the world” when we are engulfed in a dysfunctional mess of discord, jealousy, gossip, and slander?
As women, we must be extra guarded against the pitfall of gossip. While men tend to express their issues with each other in a more out-in-the-open way (like engaging in a heated debate or getting into a street brawl), women are more prone toward subtlety. Gossip is often our weapon of choice when we want to hurt another person—especially other women. In fact, Paul’s description of the Corinthian church (discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder) all too perfectly describes most high school cliques and college sororities.
The good news is, even though we may be prone to drama and gossip, God has a refreshingly different pattern upon which we can build our femininity—the incorruptible beauty of a quiet spirit: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
Have you observed a woman who protects the “hidden person of the heart” and exudes a gentle and quiet spirit? Such a woman is the very opposite of the high-drama gossip queen that marks so many females today. Whether she is naturally quiet or has a vibrant personality, she does not allow her emotions to lead her actions. She is busy about her Father’s work; she finds her delight in Him. Such a woman is truly a delight, both to those around her and to the heart of her God. By God’s grace, this can become the testimony of our lives as Christian women—as we build upon His pattern instead of this world’s.
Because of my mom’s faithful lectures about gossip growing up, not to mention that memorable experience with Marci, I have been very guarded against gossip for most of my life. But a few years ago, I encountered another dimension of gossip that took me completely off guard…the subtle side of gossip.
Allison was a Christian friend whom I deeply respected and admired. As I got to know Allison, I was always impressed by her humility and vulnerability, and her amazing ability to express Scriptural insights. We began meeting regularly for prayer and fellowship. Often, she would say things like, “I don’t have anyone else that I can talk to about this,” and then begin sharing ways in which people had hurt her, or specific concerns she had about people in her life.
Because Allison was a single woman without close family ties, I felt that I should make myself available as a listening ear and be a Christ-centered sounding board to help her process some of her difficult relational struggles. My goal was to point her back to Scripture and Jesus Christ. Yet, as time went on, I began to realize that making myself a “listening ear” and “sounding board” for Allison’s hurts and concerns had started to affect me in a negative way. Through Allison’s “open and honest” stories, I was hearing details about specific people’s weaknesses and shortcomings that I would rather not know—and it changed the way I looked at them. I found myself becoming guarded and suspicious toward some of my brothers and sisters in Christ because of things that Allison had confided in me. I also struggled with carrying second-party offenses toward certain people because of the hurts she opened up to me about.
I knew that something wasn’t quite right in my relationship with Allison, but for months I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It didn’t occur to me that I was participating in the sin of gossip simply by listening to Allison’s hurts and concerns. Quite simply, it didn’t seem like gossip because of the subtle way in which she shared her damaging information about others. She wasn’t haughty or smug the way the girls in my third grade class had been toward Marci. Rather, she appeared to have a genuine desire to be “real and vulnerable” in sharing her hurts with me and to truly want to love and forgive those who had wronged her. She always prefaced her stories with statements like, “I wouldn’t share this with anyone else, but you are one of the only people I can trust” or “I’m only sharing this with you to get your perspective, because I look up to you so much as a Christian leader” or “I know that you know my heart, and that I have no desire to gossip about anyone by sharing these things”.
But despite her seemingly humble, genuine, and vulnerable attitude, I eventually woke up to the fact that Allison had an agenda in talking with me that went beyond just “gaining godly perspective”. She was attempting to sow discord among Christian brothers and sisters with such subtlety that I didn’t even realize what was happening at first; she was marring others’ reputations and making me look at them with eyes of suspicion rather than love and grace.
I was shocked when I realized how craftily the enemy had used Allison to pull me into gossip. I repented of my sin, and put a stop to Allison’s attempts to confide in me. The result was noticeable and immediate. As I stopped listening to Allison’s subtle whispers against the Christians around me, my relationships with my fellow believers began to flourish once more. I was able to see my fellow believers the way God wanted me to see them—as partners in the Gospel instead of “problems” to be solved.
I was taught a critical truth through my interactions with Allison: even if we are not entertaining outright malicious gossip about another person, we must be on guard against the many sneaky, subtle ways that Satan uses gossip to bring division and havoc into our relationships. If we are ignorant of his schemes, we become vulnerable to ushering discord and disunity into the Body of Christ. As set apart women, God is calling us to take a strong stand against gossip—even the subtle, hard-to-notice forms of gossip that the enemy puts in front of us like bait. Let’s take a look at some practical ways that we can resist this insidious and destructive sin, by God’s grace.
As a child growing up in the 80’s, I heard the famous “just say no” slogan ad nauseam from teachers and other well-meaning adults. The idea, I think, was to drill this statement so deeply into our minds that if we were ever offered drugs we would have a clear and decisive “no” ready in response. Not “maybe”, not “I’m not sure”, not “well, just this once”; when it came to something as harmful as dabbling with addictive substances, our answer was supposed to be “no” without any qualifiers or excuses.
Likewise, when it comes to something as harmful and destructive as gossip, our answer must also be “no” without any qualifiers or excuses. In other words, the very moment we become aware of the temptation to speak ill of another person, we must call upon the grace of God to say “no” to that bait; to keep our mouth shut even when the temptation to speak words against someone else is extremely strong. Just because we have strong feelings (i.e. hurt or frustration toward someone) does not mean we need to act upon those feelings. Elisabeth Elliot once said, “Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.” These words express a profound truth that we must never forget: God is ready and willing to enable us with every bit of self-control we need, if we call upon Him in the moment of temptation.
GOD IS READY AND WILLING TO ENABLE US
WITH EVERY BIT OF SELF-CONTROL WE NEED.
The same is true for listening to gossip in any form. The moment we are aware that someone is attempting to place even the tiniest morsel of gossip in front of us, we must call upon the grace of God to say an immediate and decisive “no” even if it causes social awkwardness. After all, disobeying God is far worse than offending the person who is attempting to pull us into sin. So even if it seems rude, we should be ready to cut gossip off before it even starts. This doesn’t mean waiting politely until you’ve heard all the “dirt” they have to share, and then attempting to sheepishly tell them you don’t want to continue the conversation. Rather, it means cutting them off and boldly saying, “I’m sorry but I don’t want to hear this, please stop right now” before the person even has a chance to get started. It means literally walking away if they refuse to stop gossiping. And it means withdrawing from friendships that are pulling you into gossip. Yes, this may seem hard to do. But don’t forget, God detests gossip, slander, and discord. Ask Him for the grace to love what He loves, and hate what He hates.
Most women are acutely interested in the small details of other people’s lives. We can spend hours hearing all the particulars of So-and-So’s wedding or the birth of someone’s baby. We can cry tears of joy when we hear about how a guy proposed to his future wife, even if we’ve never met the couple. We want to know all the details—the setting and their clothing, the how, when, and where—and we want to relive every emotion felt and expressed throughout the entire experience. Most men, however, are fine to just hear the basics. “So-and-so got married yesterday” is about all they care to be told.
A woman’s interest in details can be a beautiful thing when submitted to the Spirit of God. It enables us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15) in a special and meaningful way. It helps us be a sensitive and empathetic listener when someone is struggling with something.
But, as I found out in my friendship with Allison, there is a right way and a wrong way to listen. We must be guarded against hearing too much information under the banner of “open and honest communication”. I have discovered that it is entirely possible to offer godly counsel and emotional support to someone without knowing specific details about their hurts or concerns toward others. For example, when a woman wants to share a personal struggle with me that involves another person, I now ask her to speak in generalities (not specifics) and not use the person’s name. I find that I am able to encourage her, exhort her with Scripture, and pray for her even more effectively when I don’t know all the details or who the offending person is. Why? Because I’m not distracted by critical thoughts, doubts, or suspicions toward the person in question, and I’m not tempted to take up second-party offenses.
The same is true in reverse. When we find ourselves taking relational struggles or “people concerns” to a friend or mentor, it can be tempting to share far more information than they really need to hear. Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in Him at all times…pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge” (NIV). While human counsel and encouragement has its place, God is first and foremost the One we should be pouring out our heart to—not our girlfriends. Let God become your primary sounding board and listening ear—He is a far better listener than any human ever could be. And if you share your struggles with a friend or mentor, be sure that you do so with honor, guardedness, and discretion—remembering that in most cases, less is more!
LET GOD BECOME YOUR PRIMARY SOUNDING BOARD AND LISTENING EAR
Along the same lines, be watchful how you pray with your Christian friends about your relational struggles or concerns about people. Prayer can quickly become a form of “spiritualized gossip” if you use it to share unnecessary details about a person’s faults and shortcomings. Be watchful not to use prayer as an opportunity to gossip or create discord in the Body of Christ. And when in doubt—don’t. Meaning, if you are uncertain whether a particular prayer is appropriate or not, then don’t say it publicly. Save it for your prayer closet instead. After all, God is the One you are praying to, not your fellow Christians! Silent, personal prayers that are “for His ears only” are just as effective as prayers prayed in front of dozens of other believers.
Romans 14:19 says, “…let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another”. The word edify means “to build someone up in their faith, to promote another person’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, and so on”. In other words, if you don’t have something important, edifying, and God-honoring to say, then don’t say it! Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, “…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (KJV).
In other words, we must weigh each word we say (and write) in light of eternity. And in today’s digitally-obsessed culture, we must also remember that digital gossip is still gossip. So if you choose to speak, blog, text, Tweet, Pin, Instagram or post on Facebook, your goal should be to edify your readers, to build up others’ faith in Jesus Christ and encourage them spiritually through what you are sharing, or to bless your friends and family members and remind them of your love for them. If your words serve an eternal purpose, they can be wonderful tools to build the Kingdom of God. If they serve a destructive purpose, they can be dangerous tools in the hands of the enemy to wreak havoc on relationships. So make godly edification your goal with every word you write, type, text, or speak.
Amy Carmichael—one of my favorite missionary heroes—writes in her book Gold Cord about a kind of “vital unity” that she and her fellow workers cultivated among each other: “It often appears to us that there is nothing except our private walk with God which is more detested and assaulted by the devil than this beautiful happy thing, the loyalty that is the basic quality of vital unity. We made one careful rule—the absent must be safe with us. Criticism, therefore, was taboo…what other way of life can satisfy the heart that is set on living in the ungrieved presence of its Lord? The very thought of Him shames unkindness”.
These words express perhaps the most important antidote against gossip: taking our eyes off ourselves—off our own offenses and hurts and personal gripes and emotions and pride and preferences—and fixing our gaze upon Him instead. When we remember how much He has sacrificed, how much He has given, how much He has suffered for us, we realize that criticizing and attacking each other is utterly shameful and foolish. He longs for us to love each other “fervently, with a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). And this is how we demonstrate that we truly love Him—by loving one another (1 Jn. 4:20). Gossip has no place in view of the Cross. If only we do not stray from its shadow, our words will always honor others and in so doing, honor our worthy King.
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