The book of Proverbs has much to say on the weight of our words. As set apart women it is imperative that we use our words to bring the life and truth of Jesus Christ to all we encounter, yet how easy it is to succumb to the temptation of gossip. Using biblical support paired with stories from her life and ministry journey, Leslie speaks about the life-giving wisdom of guarding our tongue in contrast with the devastating affects of gossip and slander. Beginning today you, too, can be a channel of speaking truth into the lives of those around you.
Leslie Ludy: Hey everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. Today we’re going to be talking about having a guarded tongue and the power of choosing our words wisely. James 3:2, has such poignant words for us to consider. “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (NASB). And then in Proverbs 18:2, it says that, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue…” (HCSB). So obviously this is not an area of our lives that we are to take lightly. If life and death are in the power of the tongue, then every word spoken needs to be weighed in light of our relationship with Christ.
I have a story that I’d like to share with you that happened to me in third grade. I had just moved to a new school, and I didn’t really know a lot of kids. Through that year I slowly gained popularity. I was very outgoing, and my goal was to make as many friends as possible. About halfway through the year, I had finally become accepted by most kids in my third grade class. And there was a girl in my class who was never really accepted by anyone. Her name was Marcy, and she was an outcast. She was socially awkward, shy, and insecure, and people constantly gossiped about her and made fun of her to me. People were always coming up to me and whispering things about her – rumors about her, or mean things about her – and I never really knew how to respond in those situations. I didn’t want to lose my friends by standing up for her, and yet I knew that gossip was wrong. I came home from school one day and told my mom what was going on, and she was very strongly exhorting me not to engage in gossip in any way, including to not to even listen to gossip. She gave me a few Scriptures that really sobered me to the seriousness of this issue.
Wisdom from the Word
Leslie Ludy: The first one was Proverbs 6:16-19, where it says, “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 that pours out lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers” (NIV/NASB). She was pointing out to me that God actually hates gossip in the same way that He hates murder, and she told me that I needed to take this very, very seriously.
She also gave me Psalm 15:2-3, “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” (NIV). And so I began to see that God’s pattern for living an upright life meant never to engage in any kind of slander or gossip towards another person.
Proverbs 16:28, says, “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and gossip separates close friends” (NIV). So the key truth here is this: the Bible does not mince words about our responsibility as Christians to stand against gossip. We are not told to avoid speaking words of gossip, but we’re told to avoid people who do gossip.
Proverbs 20:19, goes as far as to tell us, “…do not associate with a gossip,” 1 Corinthians 5:11, says that we are not even to eat with Christians who engage in slander. Also in 2 Corinthians, Paul is expressing a deep concern over the state of the Corinthian Christians, and he says, “ 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 ambitions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder” (2 Cor. 12:20 NIV).
The Danger of Details
Leslie Ludy: Now this is a very sad, but accurate, description of many women’s groups – social groups, sororities, even church groups of women – they can so easily get into this pattern of discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, gossip, arrogance, and disorder, where people are constantly whispering behind each other’s backs or stabbing each other in the back. How can we possibly obey Christ’s call to be the light of the world when we’re engulfed in a dysfunctional mess of discord, gossip, jealousy, and slander?
Men and women are somewhat different when it comes to this issue. When we have conflict with other women we’re far more likely to be subtle and to use slander, gossip, and lies to hurt others. Men might be more likely to engage in a street brawl, or go punch someone in the face. We as women are a lot more prone to subtly trying to undermine someone.
I remember that there was a woman in my life a few years ago who was attempting to confide in me, and I didn’t even realize that she was gossiping to me. She would say things like, “There’s no one else I can tell that this is happening. There’s no one else I can talk to besides you. I just look up to you so much, and I trust your perspective as a Christian leader – that’s the only reason that I’m sharing these things with you.”
But I began to realize she was sharing so much detail, and so many destructive things about people that I knew, that it was actually starting to cloud my ability to look at those people without wondering and being suspicious of things that they might be doing wrong. It was actually driving a wedge in some of my key relationships in my life. As I began to pray about this situation, I realized that in listening to this woman confide in me in a counseling-type situation, I was actually participating in the sin of gossiping simply by listening to what she was telling me.
It reformed the way that I listen to people now. I ask them not to share a lot of specific details unless they’re really necessary. I ask them not to go on, and on, and on with all of their grievances, but to share in a more general way, and then we can pray and go to the Word of God together. But I don’t allow women to share with me in a way that’s going to cast a slur of suspicion on somebody else or bring discord into key relationships.
Oftentimes gossip can be very, very subtle. Even if we’re not speaking it, we can be listening to it and entertaining it without even realizing that we’re even doing it. Back to my third grade story with the little girl named Marcy, I remember when I finally started to stand up to the gossip that was going on, I told my friends, “I’m not going to listen to this anymore. I need you to stop telling me these things about her.” I actually started to reach out to her and include her in our lunchtimes, invited her to my birthday party, and really decided to take a stronger stand against allowing this gossip to continue. By the end of that year, she was liked and accepted by most of the people in the class. It was simply through a little girl attempting to say, “I’m to going to listen to this type of gossip anymore. I want to treat her with dignity and honor.”
What was amazing about that story was that it was probably ten years later I got a letter from her. We had completely lost touch with each other, having moved to different states. But she still remembered me from third grade, and she said that was such a life-changing year of her life because I was willing to say no to gossip. I was willing to stand up for her. You never know the power that you can have in someone’s life by simply agreeing with God’s pattern instead of going along with that flow of gossip, discord, and slander that is all around you.
Number One: Say No to Sharing Gossip!
Leslie Ludy: I want to share with you some practical ways that we can guard against gossip and slander, and learn how to guard our tongue and choose our words wisely. The first principle is that we need to learn how to resist that bait – or that temptation – to gossip or criticize other people. The very moment that we’re aware of the temptation to speak ill of another person, we need to call upon the grace of God, and say no to that bait – to keep our mouth shut even when the temptation to speak words against someone else is extremely strong.
Remember that just because we have strong feelings (like hurt or frustration) toward someone does not mean that we need to act on those feelings. I love what Elisabeth Elliot said about this. She said that, “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.”
I think that is so crucial to understand because when it comes to gossip or criticism – when we have been hurt by someone, we have been slighted by them, or they have done something that really bothered us — we feel these strong emotions, and we feel we have no choice but to go talk to other people about our feelings. We need to realize that if God is asking us to keep our mouth shut and to take those hurts and those frustrations to Him instead, and not to showcase them to other people, He will give us the grace to obey that as opposed to thinking, Well, I’ve got these strong emotions, they just have to be expressed. So I have to go find someone to vent them to. That is not God’s pattern!
God is ready and wiling to enable us with every bit of self-control we need if we call upon Him in that moment of temptation. Just because our emotions are strong, just because that urge to criticize someone is so strong – God will give us the grace to simply say no and walk away. Even choose to pray for that person instead. That moment that you’re tempted to criticize them or gossip about them, try praying for them instead, and see what a major difference it can make in your life and in your heart when you say no to the bait of gossip.
Number Two: Refuse to Listen to Slander
Leslie Ludy: Secondly, we are called not to listen to gossip. So the moment that we are aware that someone is attempting to place that morsel of gossip in front of us, we need to call upon God for the grace to say an immediate and decisive no – even if that causes social awkwardness. We have to remember that disobeying God is far worse than offending the person who’s attempting to pull us into sin. We sometimes will listen and go along with that type of slander and criticism because we don’t mean to offend the person who is talking to us. But even if it seems rude we need to be ready to cut off gossip before it starts and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to hear this. Please stop what you’re saying right now,” before the person even has a chance to get started. And if they refuse to stop gossiping, we need to be willing to walk away. We even need to be willing to back away from friendships that are pulling us into gossip. Yes, these are hard things to do, there’s no question about it. But we cannot forget that God hates gossip, slander, and discord. So we need to ask Him for the grace to love what He loves and hate what He hates.
Number Three: Give Gossip-Free Advice
Leslie Ludy: Thirdly, we need to learn how to listen and counsel others the right way. We need to be guarded against hearing too much information under that banner of open and honest communication. In some scenarios it is important to share a few details about a certain situation – if it’s in a church discipline situation or decisions need to be made – but for the most part, we oftentimes listen to far too much information than we need to under that banner of, “Well, that person is just being honest and open with their thoughts and feelings, and I need to be able to hear and understand what they’re thinking and feeling. So I need to know all of these details.”
A woman’s love for details can be good or bad. I’ve said in previous episodes that we oftentimes love to know all of the details of somebody’s wedding, or how a guy proposed to his fiancé, or the birth of a child. We want to know every detail about the height, the weight, the eye color, the hair color, and everything! Whereas a man might just be happy to know that so-and-so got married, or so-and-so had a baby. I can’t even count the number of times when Eric has told me something like, “Oh, so-and-so had a baby,” and I’ll say, “Was it a boy or a girl?” And he’ll say, “I don’t know!” Because he doesn’t really think about the details, but women are a lot more prone to want to know details.
So when it’s details about weddings, babies, and proposals – that’s one thing. But when it’s details about every single issue that you have with somebody else, every single thing you don’t like about them, and every single way in which they hurt you or did something wrong – those are the details that you don’t need to know. You don’t need to hear every single one of those things.
When you’re sharing your heart with other people, remember the words of Psalm 62:8, that say, “Trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him, for God is our refuge” (NLT). And that is such a key truth because we so often think that we need to pour out our heart to other people, as opposed to pouring our heart out to God. If you’ve been offended or if you dislike how somebody is acting the first thing to do is to pour out your heart to God, not to just run to your nearest girlfriend and start venting your emotions to her. Remember that while human counsel and encouragement has its place, God, first and foremost, is the One that we should be pouring our heart out to. So let Him be your primary sounding board and your primary listening ear because He is a far better listener than any human ever could be. If you share your struggles with a friend or mentor, be sure that you do so with honor, guardedness, and discretion.
Remember that in most cases, less is more. The same goes when you’re listening to people share their heart with you. Remember that less is more. Sometimes a few details are needed, but you don’t need to know every single nitty-gritty detail about a situation because pretty soon it can become a gossip session rather than a counseling session.
Number Four: Guarding Your Prayer Requests
Leslie Ludy: Number four is to be guarded in group prayer. There was a girl I knew one time who was very fond of praying passionate prayers in small groups of Christians, but she began to abuse the exercise of prayer because she would use prayer as a way to criticize other people. She would say, “Oh God, we need to bring before you this person right now because they’re doing this, and they’re acting this way, and they don’t do this right, and they don’t do that right.” Then she would go on to cloak the whole thing in prayer.
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. When in doubt, just don’t pray it! If you’re not sure whether particular prayers are appropriate or not, then don’t say them publicly. Just save them for your prayer closet. You have to remember, God is the One you’re praying to – not your fellow Christians. So use prayer in an honoring way. If you’re in a group prayer situation and want to pray for someone, be guarded and discreet in how many details you weave into your public prayers. Don’t use prayer as a way to spiritualize gossip.
Number Five: An Eternally-Focused Perspective
Leslie Ludy: Number five is to weigh your words and your posts online in light of eternity and in light of God’s pattern. In a previous episode we talked about Romans 14:19, which says, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” As a reminder the word “edify” means to build someone up in their faith, to promote another person’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, and holiness. So we need to weigh the words that we speak and write in light of that command that we are to edify with our words. And as mentioned in a previous podcast, Jesus says in Matthew 12:36, that, “Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.” So don’t take gossip, or slander, or criticism lightly because every word that we speak we must give account of it before God one day.
So remember this: if your words serve an eternal purpose they can be amazing 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. Make godly edification your goal with every word that you write, type, text, or speak.
Leslie Ludy: Here are a few final thoughts. This is a quote from Amy Carmichael, from her book Gold Cord. She says, “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.” In her ministry she said, “We made one careful rule. The absent must be safe with us.”
Think about that for a minute. Are those that you know, when they’re absent from you are they safe with you? She said, “Criticism 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.” So imagine living with that as your creed – that the absent will always be safe with you, and criticism is taboo.
If you think about what Jesus did, and how much He gave, and how much He sacrificed for us, I heartily agree with her words that the very thought of Him shames unkindness towards other people. He commands us to love each other, to love one another as He has loved us (Jn. 13:34). Guarding our words and honoring others with our words is one of the key ways that we can do that. When we remember how much He sacrificed, how much He’s given, how much He has suffered for us then we start to realize that criticizing and attacking each other is shameful and foolish. He wants us to love each other with “a pure heart fervently,” is what it says in 1 Peter 1:22. That is how we demonstrate that we truly love Him – by loving one another – as it says in 1 John 4:21. Gossip, slander, and criticism have no place in view of the Cross.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Set Apart Girl Podcast. To take this subject deeper, I encourage you to read the article, Guarding Against Gossip. I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week!