Let's pretend that you are preparing to draw water from a well. You lower the bucket and bring it up full of fresh water. You empty the bucket and draw another bucket full. What kind of water do you expect to be in the bucket this time?
Fresh water, right? Absolutely. One would be logically correct to expect this. One could make similar statements about water fountains. Occasionally, I'll drink from a water fountain and find the taste to be not very refreshing. I probably won't give that water fountain a try again because I expect the same nasty tasting water to come forth.
This general principle for water is also true regarding our speech. We would be surprised to find a water source provide good water one minute and poor water the next (and vice versa). Likewise, we should be surprised to hear words of kindness roll off one's tongue and then be followed soon after by bitter, blistering speech.
James 3:8-12 addresses this theme - "But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh."
From James' words and personal experiences, does anyone doubt that the tongue can be deadly and difficult to control? I suspect that the human tongue has killed more people's reputations than guns have killed people! How can a tongue kill a person's reputation? Very easily. It is called gossip, and it is a favorite pastime of many men and women.
What is gossip? It's when a person spreads rumors. It's when people reveal juicy bits of information about others--information that doesn't need to be broadcast, yet they take it upon themselves to tell such-and-such about so-and-so to everyone they know. We all know what gossip is, and I believe we're all tempted by it from time to time (some more than others, of course). We all know how damaging gossip and rumors can be. Those who have experienced it firsthand know how much it can hurt.
Today, I want us to study this terrible sin of gossiping. We will consider what the Bible teaches on the subject, as well as how we can prevent ourselves from falling into this sin. We will ask five primary questions to help us accomplish these aims.
1. WHY DO PEOPLE GOSSIP?
There are four reasons that come to mind as to why people gossip. First, it is a form of entertainment for many. The checkout lanes at grocery and other major shopping stores are typically packed full of candy and magazines. What is the focus of many of these magazines? Gossip! Our world is entertainment crazy and a lot of people are making money off gossip as a form of entertainment. Sadly, when people fill their minds with this sort of garbage, it carries over into other aspects of their lives. Published gossip no doubt encourages plenty of gossip on a personal level. These things ought not to be so! Let us always remember Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." Is there anything praiseworthy about the National Enquirer or other forms of "entertainment gossip"? No! Let us set out minds on other things!
A second reason why people gossip is because of idleness. Evidently, they have nothing better to do than to say bad things about others. This was a problem in the first century, and it is still a problem today! Paul wrote to Timothy about those who "learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not" (I Tim. 5:13).
A third reason why people gossip is to build themselves up. Some will always try to elevate themselves by destroying others. We need to take Proverbs 27:2 to heart - "Let another man praise you, and not your own lips." Don't attempt to build yourself up by tearing others down.
A fourth reason why people gossip is simply to cause trouble. I honestly believe that some just like to stir up problems. Eventually, their meddling ways will come back to bite them (cf. Prov. 26:17).
2. WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF GOSSIP?
There are at least six results that come to mind. First, gossip raises suspicion. Too many people today believe everything they hear regardless of whether or not they have any proof!
Second, as a result of this, gossip often destroys character. Haven't we all seen this from time to time? Someone is falsely accused of something, and before very long everyone has heard about it and believes it--even though it might not even be true! The tragedy is that now everyone will think less of that person, and often for no real reason. Their character has been destroyed by gossips.
Third, gossip often spreads lies. When we speak about things that we don't know for certain, yet we make it sound as if it is undoubtedly true, we lie.
Fourth, gossip destroys the one gossiping! Most folks do not really respect one who gossips. Proverbs 13:3 sums this thought up well - "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction."
Fifth, gossip makes enemies. It turns friend against friend. Proverbs 16:28 - "...a whisperer separates the best of friends." Consider also Proverbs 17:9 - "He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends."
And sixth, gossip also denies the accused the opportunity to defend himself. Gossip takes place behind the backs of people. That is just not very fair, is it? Gossip is one-sided.
Of these results we've briefly contemplated, is it not clear that nothing good results from gossiping?
3. HOW CAN WE STOP GOSSIP?
Several methods come to mind. First, expose the gossips! A gospel preacher by the name of Stoy Pate labored with a congregation decades ago where the members were notorious for backbiting. They were constantly cutting others down behind their back and perpetually gossiping about this and that. He decided to put a stop to it. He went from house to house with a pad of paper and a pencil and wrote down what each member had to say about the others. Then he went to the pulpit and read everything! After this exposure, the backbiting and gossiping stopped!
Although this method may be too extreme for some, it can easily be toned down and still be very effective. When someone starts gossiping in your presence, get out a paper and pen and ask them if you can quote them on the matter.
In conjunction with this method, one should also demand proof. This will silence many gossips. I Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us to "Test all things; hold fast what is good." We should be able to back up with proof the things we speak. We should know whether a thing is true or not before we speak it, and we also need to remember that just because we know something to be true, doesn't mean that we have to broadcast it to everyone! According to I Corinthians 13:5,6, love does not behave rudely. Love does not think evil of others. Love does not rejoice in the sins of others. It is rude and just plain sick to find delight in the sins of someone else.
If you hear awful things being spoken about someone, it is inappropriate to repeat such. You should pray for the individual and for yourself because you, if you are spiritually minded, have a duty to go and speak with that person (cf. Gal. 6:1). Here is an example of the beginning of a possible dialogue: "Hello Joe, I have recently heard something about you that has really got me concerned. I hope that what I have heard is not true, but even if it is, I want you to know that I'm here as your friend. I love you and am here to help you. Is it really true that you have done such-and such?..." By taking this approach, some good might actually be accomplished, but to just spread the gossip around always makes things worse.
A third way to silence gossip is to quit listening to it! That's right, if we all would just quit listening to gossip, then there could be no more gossip, could there? If Susie comes up to me and starts telling me all the terrible things she has heard about Bill, then I see nothing wrong in asking her to be quiet or leaving after explaining that I want no part in such conversations. Explain to people that you don't want to hear gossip and they'll catch on. Solomon emphasized this point in Proverbs 17:4 - "An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue."
4. WHO WILL NOT GOSSIP?
A Christian who truly loves his brother or sister in Christ will not gossip (cf. I Cor. 13:1-7). A Christian who believes that a thing must be proven before he will accept it as a fact will not gossip (I Thess. 5:21). A Christian who believes that a fellow Christian should be given the opportunity to answer charges others make against him will not gossip (cf. Matt. 18:15-18). A Christian who wants to see a fellow disciple repent and be forgiven will not gossip (cf. Gal. 6:1). A Christian who is a peacemaker will not gossip (cf. Matt. 5:9).
5. WHAT SHOULD WE USE OUR TONGUES FOR?
Jesus declared in Mark 16:15 - "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." We should use our tongues to teach and preach the gospel! Hebrews 3:13 affirms - "Exhort one another daily, while it is still called 'today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." We should use our tongues to encourage each other to live righteously and faithfully to God! Colossians 3:17 teaches - "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." We should use our tongues to give thanks to God in all things! May we dedicate ourselves to using our tongues for good--not for gossiping or spreading rumors--and may God help us to use our tongues wisely!
If you don't learn anything else from this lesson, make sure you internalize these closing thoughts. Make a commitment to yourself to always stop and answer these three questions before you repeat anything about someone else: (1) Is it true? If it isn't or if you have any doubt, then you obviously should not say it. (2) Is this something that should be told? Even if it is true, that doesn't necessarily mean that it should be told. Some things are better left unsaid. Finally, if you're ever unsure as to whether or not you should share something about someone else, then ask yourself this question: (3) If it were me, would I want it told? In other words, don't forget to apply the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Let us put forth our best effort to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us. No one likes to be gossiped about, and thus, no one should be a gossip according to the Golden Rule.
Friends, do you gossip? If so, you must stop. "Let your speech always be with grace..." (Col. 4:6). "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Phil. 2:3). Strive for graciousness in your speech and humility in your heart, and the temptation to gossip will not be strong. Seek to make your communications a spring of fresh water at all times (cf. James 3:11)!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.