When I was 11 years old, I met a girl named Lisa. She was my age, and she lived in my neighborhood. At first we got along famously. After a few weeks though, I started getting annoyed at some of her mannerisms. She talked too loudly, and I became increasingly critical of my new friend. I never brought Lisa’s irritations up to her. I was too polite for that, and I really didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
A funny thing happened. Because I was Lisa’s friend, my friends became her friends. They showed interest in her. To my chagrin, they invited her to spend time with us. Surely my friends didn’t see Lisa for who she really was. Somehow they weren’t aware of her annoying habits. If they were, they wouldn’t want to hang around her quite so much. It was my duty to shed some light on the situation, so I told them some of Lisa’s secrets. Not all of them, of course. Just enough to paint an accurate picture.
Incredibly, rather than heeding my warning, my friends told Lisa what I had said. Two days later, Lisa’s mother pounded on my front door. When I saw her standing there, I’m not sure which was louder, the pounding of my heart or the fists of Lisa’s mother on the door. She loomed large in the doorway like a mama bear ready to defend her cub. I gasped for air and mustered a smile, as I opened the door.
“How dare you!” Lisa’s mother exploded. “How dare you gossip about my daughter! You’re supposed to be Lisa’s friend. She trusted you, but you broke her heart. You are not allowed to spend time with Lisa ever again, you two-faced little gossip!”
My entire body shook with fear as I shut the door. I wished that my mom was home. She was either at work or attending a class as was typical in those days. I longed for the comfort of having her near, but I would have also been ashamed for her to find out about my incorrigible behavior. Perhaps it was for the best that she was away. I could keep the incident to myself.
Lisa’s mother made a lasting impression. Eventually I apologized to Lisa and her mother. Lisa’s mother expressed appreciation for my gesture. Lisa and I were never friends again, but I became more aware of the powerful effect of my words.
I wish I could say I completely learned my lesson from that event. Unfortunately the tendency to gossip runs strong in human nature. We have a hunger to know about others which is hard to satisfy. Nevertheless, in order to thrive in our relationships we must guard our words when we talk about others.
For over 30 years, I have served in ministry that requires confidentiality. Throughout this time, I have developed a guideline for gossip. Here it is.
DO NOT GOSSIP!
All joking aside, we know that gossip is harmful. Many Scripture verses instruct us to avoid gossip.
A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret (Proverbs 11:13).
A perverse person stirs up conflict,
and a gossip separates close friends (Proverbs 16:28).
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy (Romans 1:29-32).
Gossip is serious and dangerous business.
For some reason we don’t really know what gossip is. Gossip is sharing about other people’s behavior or personal lives, often excluding information that is either known or unknown. It is tattling or idle talk about their private affairs.
Or if we do know what gossip is, it’s easy to start an innocent discussion about someone that quickly degenerates into gossip. Here are three questions I ask myself to identify gossip and then to stop gossip immediately.
- Would I say this directly to the person? This is a time to be brutally honest. Have I already spoken to the person? Would I say the same words with the same tone of voice and body language to the person’s face? If not, then I am gossiping.
- Does this build others up? (Ephesians 4:29) How does this benefit others hearing the information? What positive effect does this have on the person that is the subject of conversation? It is not a prayer request if I talk about a situation and give specific details, even if I end up praying for the person. Sorry, it is gossip.
- What is motivating me to talk about this person? Do I care 100% about him or her? If something else is at play, like elevating myself or subtly discrediting another, my motives are impure. I have fallen into gossip.
When I realize that I have been involved in gossip, I ask the Lord for forgiveness and apologize to others when appropriate. I determine to be more careful and loving with my words.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to the Lord. As leaders, we must safeguard the health of our families, friendships, and ministries by doing everything in our power to avoid gossip.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21).
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).
Heavenly Father, You created the heavens and the earth by speaking words of life. Help me to remember that the words I speak have the power to build up or tear down. Empower me to avoid gossip and follow Your example by speaking life into situations. May my words be a source of encouragement and healing. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.