"A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much."
~Proverbs 20:19 (NIV)
Let me ask, as a Christian do you occasionally slip up and commit a murder or theft here or there? Do you occasionally burglarize a home or steal things from the store? You may think this is silly to ask. I know you are thinking a Christian lifestyle doesn’t behave that way. How about gossip or slander? Do you ever engage in idle talk or rumors about others? Do you participate in bad-mouthing or spreading rumors about others? According to the Bible, which sin is less severe murder or gossip? I’m sure you get the message. Paul said BOTH are sins equally worthy of death.
The Apostle Peter also used murder as a comparison with another, sometimes under-rated sin. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). Notice that a “busybody” is placed in the same company as “murderers, thieves, and evildoers.” The dictionary defines a busybody as “a meddler; a person who seeks confidential information about others; a snoop; a nosy person.” A busybody is another close relative to gossip -- a person who meddles in the affairs of others. They are like a peeping-tom who snoops and spies. A busybody is the investigator for the gossip seeking to uncover sensational details and to whisper the latest news. Sometimes busybodies are persons who have too much time on their hands, with nothing better to do. “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Tim. 5:13).
The book of Proverbs mentions several damaging effects of gossip. The first is that it separates friends. “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Proverbs 16:28). “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends” (Proverbs 17:9). Sometimes gossip is done purposely and maliciously by a jealous person who resents the friends someone else has. If he can dig up any trace of disreputable information, he will use it to drive a wedge between friends so he can try to move into the gap. He finds that to be easier than winning friends by showing genuine, unselfish kindness to others. “I don’t mean to be talking about her, but …” “I don’t want you to think I’m gossiping, but …” And in goes the knife!
On the other hand, there may be no malicious intent. It is just idle talk, or an effort to appear on the “inside.” But the result is just the same. You may have heard about the conversation where Mary says, “Suzie told me you told her the secret that I told you not to tell her.” Jane answers, “Why that blabber mouth! I told her not to tell you I told her.” So Ellen replies, “Well, I told her I wouldn’t tell you she told me, so don’t tell her I did.” That friendship is doomed. Friends have to be able to trust each other. “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter” (Proverbs 11:13).
We can also alienate our own closest friends by gossip. They begin to suspect that if we talk about others to them, we will also talk about them to others, so they hesitate to share their personal things with us. I experienced this with someone I was once very close to. I confided in this person with a lot of my personal business and discovered this person told everyone else’s personal business so I am sure they told mine too.
Another consequence of gossip is that it wounds people. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body” (Proverbs 18:8). How do you feel when you find out that people have been talking about you unfavorably? They may have enjoyed it as one would enjoy a dainty morsel, but it hurts you, doesn’t it? And the hurt reaches down to your innermost being. While we know the Lord wants us to forgive them, we usually stew on it, worry over it, fret about it, and even get angry with them. I have seen it takes years for some to heal from subtle sin of gossip. Think about that the next time you are tempted to share some information about someone. Would you want that told about you, even if it were true? Probably not!
Gossip also instigates anger. “The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, an angry countenance” (Proverbs 25:23). Some of the angriest people I have ever talked to have been the victims of vicious gossip. They were furious. The resentment they have built up as a result of the anger is sin, and they need to resolve it. But the person with the runaway tongue will still answer for his disobedience to God’s Word.
Did you ever turn a garden hose on with the nozzle partially open? It flops around, bangs into things and soaks everyone nearby. Those people are not very happy with you, are they? A flopping tongue, spraying poison of gossip, has even worse consequences. Husbands and wives have made their family and friends furious with their spouses by talking about faults. Some who have heard the dirt have never been able to forget it and accept the one about whom the gossip has been told. The anger lives on.
That leads to the final consequence of gossip we want to mention. It causes contention and strife. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down” (Proverbs 26:20). We all have known of churches which were wracked with strife. But there never has been one where the strife would not disappear if people would stop gossiping. “Do you know what he said? Do you know what she did? I’ll tell you what I think he’s after. If he would just do his job, everything would be all right. Do you know what that board is up to now?” Blah, blah, blah! But it is like wood on the fire. It gets other people stirred up, and they get other people stirred up, and what started out as a spark turns into a raging fire.
James tells us where the original spark comes from. He said it “is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). And Satan must be laughing himself silly over it. Gossip is his game. The name devil means “slanderer.” And he is called “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). But God hates it. He says the person who spreads strife among brothers is an abomination to Him (Proverbs 6:16-19). Gossip can be so subtle I too have gotten caught in this subtle sin and then the Lord began to convict me for it. If you have fallen into this subtle sin I encourage you to repent and put yourself in the shoes of the person you are gossiping about.
Toca Montgomery is a contributing writer to Make Mondays Matter Weekly Blog. She is currently working in the banking industry, in addition to being a business owner and full time student pursuing her degree in Finance.