Gossip is toxic. All throughout the scriptures, God warns us against it. And that’s because it’s so damaging. It tears families, friend groups, and even entire communities apart. It sows dissension in the Church and breeds mistrust among the people you depend on most.
Here’s how Solomon puts it in Proverbs.
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
In short, a “whisperer” is an agent of destruction. If you’re a follower of Jesus, this isn’t news to you. We all know that we should never engage in spreading gossip. Yet it’s so tempting. We gossip far more than we would like to admit.
In fact, we gossip far more than we even realize.
Gossip is so tempting that we can do it without even noticing that it’s exactly what we’re doing. But just because we aren’t intentional about our gossip, that doesn’t make it any less damaging. It’s one of those “small” sins that feels relatively harmless–until it destroys relationships.
So if you’re serious about being someone who’s trustworthy, empathetic, and safe to talk to, you need to constantly watch yourself when it comes to gossip.
Here are 3 situations where you might be engaging in gossip without even realizing it.
1. Divulging too many details during group prayer request times.
This is a classic trope in Christian circles. We’ve all been in a small group meeting where we heard someone share a titillating secret about another person who isn’t present, all under the guise of “prayer requests.”
“Pray for Emma’s son. I hear he’s getting into trouble and running with the wrong crowd.”
“Please lift up our elder board in prayer. I heard they got into a major disagreement at their meeting last night.”
“Let’s keep Mike in our prayers. He’s been really irritable lately. I think there may be some issues he’s dealing with at home.”
These may be legitimate prayers. However, in a group setting, too often we share far more detail than is appropriate. We take an honorable deed (praying for someone) and turn it into a sin (dishing about what may or may not be going on in their life).
Sometimes when people do this, it’s malicious. They intentionally spiritualize their gossip by calling it a prayer request, so they can sin and look spiritual at the same time. We all know people like that. And if you’re smart, you avoid them like the plague.
That’s not always the case though. Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s not even a majority of cases. I think most of us overshare about someone else not because we have malicious intent, but simply because we’re undisciplined in what we talk about.
The solution then is to be more disciplined in what we say. As James puts it, we need to bridle our tongues.
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
The next time you’re thinking about sharing in a group on someone else’s behalf, consider whether it would be better to keep it to yourself.
2. Not discerning when someone said something to you and assumed you’d keep it in confidence.
Along the same lines, many of us are far too free and loose with what has been shared with us in other settings too. You may be talking with one friend and see a connection with something that another friend told you earlier that week. So you bring it up to make conversation.
It may be harmless. However, sometimes when a friend is talking with you, particularly if it’s a close friend, there’s an implied confidentiality in the conversation. Meaning that they weren’t intending to share details about their life situation, their struggles, temptations, or frustrations with anyone other than you.
Failing to discern when something was said to you in confidence can be just as bad as intentionally gossiping about it. When Jesus talks about the words that come out of our mouths, he warns us against being careless.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)
You might not have meant anything by what you shared. But if you’re careless with your words, you can betray trust and hurt people deeply. And Jesus says you’ll be held accountable for that.
When you’re trying to make a connection with someone else, it’s natural to relate with a personal experience or story of your own. The commonalities we find in the things that have happened in our lives helps to normalize whatever we’re experiencing and bring the encouragement of solidarity.
But when you’re thinking of sharing something to connect with a friend, it would be better to share from your own personal experience rather than from the experiences of someone not present.
Or, if you do share a story from someone else’s life, make sure that the person you’re talking about remains anonymous. Always speak and share for the benefit of the person you’re talking to, and not to the detriment of the person who’s story you’re telling.
3. Sharing articles, blogs, and social media posts that contain misinformation or unsubstantiated claims.
In a social media age, everyone has an opinion, a platform, and a seemingly compulsive need to broadcast their opinion on that platform. And in 2020, there has been no shortage of issues to have an opinion about, from a global pandemic to social unrest and a presidential election.
In the midst of that, way too many of us are quick to fire off a half-cocked argument into the digital ether. And what you’re essentially doing when you share poorly researched opinions and articles that haven’t been fact-checked is large-scale gossip. I hadn’t thought about it that way until a friend recently pointed it out to me, but he’s absolutely right.
Because what is gossip but a misleading, often untrue mischaracterization of a person based on minimal evidence that’s sometimes shared for shock value and other times as a legitimate effort to hurt that person’s image?
That’s exactly what so many of us are constantly doing on social media. We’re gossiping about anybody and everybody with whom we even slightly disagree with.
I completely understand how easy it is to get swept up in sharing inflammatory articles and posts on social media. You see something in your newsfeed that immediately registers on an emotional level, and so you respond emotionally with a vitriolic post. It’s completely natural. It’s unfortunately also completely wrongheaded.
Don’t share everything you read–or even believe it for that matter. Seek to find the truth. The full truth, with nuance and balance. We have a responsibility to ensure the things we say and share are true. It’s easy to hide behind the claim that you’re just passing it along, but that doesn’t give you an out.
That’s why the apostle John tells us to test everything.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
In order to test everything, you’re going to need to slow your reaction time. Take time to consider, ponder, research, and mull over the information you come into contact with. Spread only what is true. Test everything and hold only to what is good, right, and true.
Seek always to build others up.
Perhaps the main reason why it’s always so tempting to spread the hot goss is because it makes you the center of attention. All eyes are on you as you share the juicy details. Everyone perks up and begins hanging on your every word.
But it always comes at the expense of someone else.
We need to earnestly fight the urge to engage in any conversation that tears someone down, especially someone who isn’t even present for the conversation. This is what Paul refers to as corrupting talk.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Your words are powerful. Don’t be selfish with them or use them only to make yourself feel important and seen. Use them to serve others. Build them up. Encourage their hearts. In so doing, you will point them to Jesus.