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Taking Charge of Gossip

April 2006
By: David O'Leary
There were three pastors who were sharing together. The first one said, "I have a serious problem with lust." The second one said, "I hear you, brother. I have a terrible problem with greed and stealing." The third one said, "I have a problem with gossip and I can't wait to get out of here and tell someone about you two!"

We often gossip and don't know it. It's like coming home from a party and looking in the mirror and finding some green, leafy vegetable stuck in your teeth! Whether from good intentions, or learned habits, we gossip and don't know it. I am not referring to slander, which is charging someone with wrongdoing without evidence, or making false or inaccurate representations about a person to others. Nor am I talking about malicious gossip where someone is trying to do harm. We are probably able to see that in ourselves or others (though we may sinfully allow it to continue). I'm referring to talking about person A to person B just because it is convenient or interesting to us.

Here is a definition of gossip: Loose words; spreading words about another; "chatting or chattering" with no purpose. Gossip can be true and still be gossip. One dictionary says, "A person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others; rumor or report of an intimate nature; a chatty talk; the subject matter of gossip."

You see, it doesn't take deliberately evil intent for our words to be gossip. Let's see why this is so important. Words have awesome power. Proverbs 12:18 says, "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword." Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."

See what harm words can do. Gossip short-circuits the process which God has appointed to deal with interpersonal problems and sins. When someone has sinned, we are to go to that person and seek to reclaim him (Matthew 18:15; and Galatians 6:1). No good is done by telling another unless and until you are required to follow the more formal process that we find in Matthew 18:16-18. This is rarely the case. Without the proper approach, gossip to another relieves your inner pressure valve without doing anything to deal with the sin or your relationship to the person. If the matter involves offense or harm to you, gossip on your part deprives the person of the privilege of correcting the misunderstanding or of making it right through repentance.


IT DOESN'T
TAKE DELIBERATELY
EVIL INTENT
FOR OUR WORDS
TO BE GOSSIP.



Further, we are told "A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithfull spirit conceals a matter" (Proverbs 11:13; 20:19). Or, as another version puts it, "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." To hear something from person A and tell it to person B without person A knowing it is to betray confidence, especially if the information is about person A.

You may ask, "When is it okay to speak to a third person about a second person?" There is an old expression "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." You may speak to someone who will be part of the solution by counseling you about the right steps you need to take in dealing with the problem. This may be a pastor, an elder, a supervisor, counselor, teacher, or parent. But in any case, this person cannot be a person who merely commiserates, agrees, or affirms you as you gossip to him or her! They need to be part of the solution.

Some may complain at this point that this is just a way to shut people up. Why, of course it is! The Lord says, "I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). We are responsible for our words, and God does not allow us to speak to a third party about a second party at our pleasure.

I have a problem with gossip. You have a problem with gossip. Let's pray for each other and help each other take charge of gossip.

David O'Leary pastors a church in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and can be contacted at doleary@opc-ipswich.org.

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