“Gossip” is a hard word to define, almost like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Some say gossip is passing along information that is not true, while others say it is simply the passing along of any information about another person, regardless of accuracy. But I think Matt Mitchell, pastor of Lance Evangelical Free Church in Lanse, PA, hits the nail on the head in the best definition of gossip that I’ve found. Matt defines gossip this way: Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.
Matt Mitchell is not only a skilled interpreter and teacher of God’s Word, he’s also a loving shepherd who has known the pain of gossip, personally. In the Introduction, he encourages his readers by sharing, “As a pastor, there have been times when I’ve been the subject of gossip in our little community….One time, when the gossip was at its worst, I thought seriously about quitting the pastorate altogether. But I’m glad I didn’t. God has been faithful to me, and He will be faithful to you, as well.”
Think with me for a few moments about the three key elements of Matt’s definition of gossip, and how what we may call “New Life Communication” (developed in Ephesians 4:25-32) stands in stark contrast.
Bearing bad news…
Gossips don’t share good, edifying news about others. Instead they run around saying wicked, denigrating things. This explains why negative people with critical spirits are often gossips, too. Mitchell says this bad news always includes at least one of the following: bad information (information we don’t take time to verify), bad news about someone (true information, but not something that should be shared), or bad news for someone (projecting bad news on someone). Gossips mean to harm, not help.
Behind someone’s back…
Gossips will not tell you what they are thinking to your face, even if you ask them if something is wrong. Instead they find delight in whispering about you to others. This keeps them exalted above you in their own mind. A good gauge as to whether or not you are gossiping is to ask if you would say the same thing if the person you are talking about was in the same room.
Out of a bad heart.
“Gossip is caused by something that is wrong at the core of our beings” (see, for example, Matthew 12:34). Gossip, as defined above, is sin. There are no two ways about it. Therefore, the presence of gossip in our own lives should drive us to repentance and renewed commitment to walk in love— both of which are fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts.
It would be nice if we could speak of gossip as only being a danger “out there” in the world. But that’s not the case. Much gossip takes place in churches among professing Christians. Surely we have all been guilty of speaking gossip and, sadly, we have all been the subject of other people’s wagging tongues. Therefore, it should not surprise us to find extensive teaching about godly communication—the kind of speech that should characterize new-life believers—contained in letters written to churches!
In contrast to bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart; the communication of those who are new creatures in Christ should reflect we are progressively putting off old, sinful ways and putting on the practice of new life in Christ. According to Ephesians 4:25-32, this New-Life Communication is:
- True (v. 25)
- Self-controlled and solution-oriented (vv. 26-27)
- Healthy and health-giving (v. 29)
- Edifying to others (v. 29)
- Time-sensitive (v. 29)
- Grace-dispensing (v. 29)
- Fueled by anger or bitterness (v. 31)
- Not loud and obnoxious (“clamorous”) (v. 31)
- Not abusive (v. 31)
- Kind (v. 32)
- Wise and compassionate (v. 32)
- Forgiving (v. 32)
How do we learn to communicate this way? We must repent of harmful speech and put on love which edifies, builds up, and does not tear down others. In short, we must put off Self, and put on Christ. We must put off pride and put on humility.
Last month, as part of our commitment to personal growth in sanctification and shepherding, our team of elders began reading through Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. How about reading it along with us? In the coming months, I’ll post thoughts from time to time.