Scenario 1. “Do you know what happened the other day? Amy came into the meeting room and said that she didn’t like how things have been planned so far for this year’s camp. How obnoxious! Who is she to just barge in here and think she’s the boss when she didn’t even do a good job last year!”
Most of us, if not all, would have found ourselves in such a situation before. Perhaps we were hurt or angered by someone, and we just had to vent it out to a friend. We know there is power in words, and we know that gossiping is wrong. We try our best not to gossip, but we can’t help it at times. It just comes out.
Scenario 2. “Hey, don’t share this with anyone else, but I am so hurt by Jane. I don’t understand how she can treat me like this after everything I’ve done for her this year — I shared my notes with her, blessed her with meals, and even planned a surprise birthday party for her! What kind of friend is she?”
We’ve all been hurt, and more often than not, our first instinct is to share it with someone else — to ask for a third opinion, to gather some sympathy, to release the negative emotions…
Scenario 3. “This just happened today… I heard that Sarah told Jeremy that she likes him, but Jeremy rejected her! I’m so worried for Sarah now. Do you think we need to tell her leaders about it? And Jeremy too! How can he reply her like that! We should ask someone to talk to him right? It’s only for his good that he learns!”
We all get worried about our friends at times. But could we be bringing them down unintentionally as we try to show our concern by talking about them behind their backs?
THE FINE LINE
If we don’t necessarily find ourselves in the first scenario, perhaps Scenarios 2 and 3 might hit home for many of us. While they don’t seem like gossip per se, it is often easy to cross the lines of “authenticity” and “concern” and end up in idle gossip. These three scenarios are actually not much different from each other. While our sharing may come from various intentions (some more “wrong” than others), the effect is the same.
This line is exceptionally easy to cross within the church setting. Whether we’re doing it intentionally or not, it’s easy to hide behind the guise of care or concern, or vulnerable sharing, while actually spreading false reports about someone or a situation. Exodus 23:1 commands, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” While this verse is aimed at individuals who are in court, it can perhaps be applied to those who are in personal conflict as well.
While we may be wronged by a friend or family member and desire to explain the truth to others, how we phrase our words may easily exaggerate the situation or spread a false and subjective view of what actually happened. Just by doing so, we are not honouring the person the way we should. Does that mean that we cannot share anything with anyone anymore? Of course not! There is still space to vulnerably share your problems with people you trust. However, there are ways to ensure our conscience is clear and that we are honouring God and one another. Here are three things to consider before you become a gossip-monger:
Search Your Heart
Before you say something about someone else, search your heart and ask: What is your motive is behind it? Does it honour the other person or does it tear him or her down? Asking these questions allows us to pause before we cross the fine line into gossip. The Bible is clear: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29). Because words have power, they need to be used to edify and not to tear down. Instead of dropping juicy bits of gossip under the guise of “authentic sharing”, think about how you can honour the person you are speaking about with your words. In some cases, that may be not saying anything at all!
Have Courageous (But Hard) Conversations
When was the last time you found yourself caught in the middle of a he-said-she-said conflict with no resolution? Let’s face it: it’s natural for us to pass on what we hear instead of going up to the person directly to verify if the information is true. Besides, wouldn’t it be super awkward if we have to disclose where we got the information from?
However, think about it this way — if someone were spreading false rumours or half-truths about you, wouldn’t you want your friends to speak to you directly to find out the truth? While it’s normal for us to want the easy way out, the most Christlike thing to do is to speak authentically and directly to the person involved. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus even says that when someone has sinned, we are to speak to the person “just between the two of you” to point out their fault. If you’ve heard something that causes you concern, try going to the person directly instead of passing information down the gossip train while the person in question remains in the dark.
When In Doubt, Don’t
“Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” (Prov 10:19)
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.” (Psa 34:13)
“Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (Prov 26:20)
The Bible writes about the power of our words more times than I can count, and the message is obvious: When in doubt, don’t! We show prudence and wisdom when we keep gossip to ourselves and be a “dead end” where gossip stops. Enough said (pun intended!).
DO YOU BRING LIFE?
We know the verse well: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov 18:21). Do we want to bring life or death whenever we speak? Do we want to tear down or build up? Pieces of gossip are everywhere, but we can choose what to do when we receive it. May Psalm 141:3 be our prayer as we consider the power of our words: “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips”.