Gossip: An Unruly Evil Full Of Deadly Poison

A Sermon by Dr SH Tow

Church Weekly for June, 9, 2002

My dear readers,

See how the father of lies gathers ready allies who go around spreading "information" with their tongues. James calls the tongue "an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8). Further "For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work" (Jas 3:16).

This week we are blessed with a timely article on "Gossip" by Pastor Prabhudas Koshy to shed the light of God's Word on the current spate of backbiting and evil speaking, sowing discord in Calvary. God spare His people. My request: if you love God, stop. Keep praying and have no part in gossip - whether listening or spreading.

2. Gossip, A Terrible Spiritual Malady
Prabhudas Koshy
A Grim Picture: Gossipers Among the Reprobates “Whisperers,” people who engage in malicious gossips, are grouped in the Bible together with the reprobates. In Romans 1:28-32, the Apostle Paul paints a grim picture of reprobates – those who have rejected the Lord and have embraced a lifestyle of sin. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

In this list of abominable evils of reprobate men, we not only find what we normally regard as gross sins: greed, deceit, adultery, murder and so forth but also what many sometimes view as a “small problem,” namely, gossip and slander. Does this come as a surprise? Paul said that gossips and bad-mouthers were in the same league as God-haters, sexual perverts and murderers.

The commonly used term “gossip” is derived from a word with the idea of “whispering.” It means “to indulge in idle talk or rumours about others, or spreading of sensational stories.” It can also mean “idle or malicious talk about others.” In the Bible, “backbiter” and “slanderer” are from the same word from which the word “Devil” originates. A slanderer is one who defames, or talks maliciously, or spreads damaging information, or speaks ill of others. Slander is the work of the Devil. In fact, the Bible says that Satan is the “accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). If you are a whisperer or accuser of the brethren, even though unintentionally, you are an agent of the Devil! Those who slander are on his team!

As we can see, gossip is a close cousin of slander. God’s Word places both in the same cupboard as murder and other wickedness – sins worthy of death. According to the Scripture, anyone whose mouth is out of control does not have a right relationship with God. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain” (James 1:26).

As a Christian, do you occasionally slip up and commit a murder here and there? Or do you occasionally burglarise a home or steal things from the store? You may think this is silly to ask. Of course, a Christian does not behave that way. Then, just as we are not to commit murder or theft, we are also not to gossip or slander. According to Romans 1:28-32, gossip is as worthy of divine judgment as murder.

Like Paul, the Apostle Peter brings to our attention a sin that often goes hand in hand with the sin of “gossip.” “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.” A busybody is a meddler, a person who seeks confidential information about others, a snoop and a nosy person.

A busybody is another close relative of the gossiper - a person who meddles with the affairs of others. He is like a peeping-tom who snoops and spies. A busybody is the investigator for gossipers and rumour-mongers, 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 than to talk about matters of others. “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). The modern explosion of communication technology, such as telephones, e-mails, etc., has made this evil even more frequent and intense!

Not A Little Bad Habit, But A Smoking Firewood!
By now you are aware that anything which is placed in the same category as murder and other gross sins must be a serious sin – something that should not be taken lightly. But unfortunately, Christians do not usually consider gossip and its related activities as sin. In a decade of pastoral ministry, I have encountered Christians who live like they are obsessed busybodies, whisperers and bad-mouthers. Such people cause irreparable damage to the body of Christ. “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Proverbs 26:22). Mean, vicious accusations and rumours have ripped out the heart and soul of many fellow Christians and leaders, draining them of their love, enthusiasm and desire to live for God. They have split churches, created strife, and promoted division and turmoil.

A church can be free from wild and destructive strife only when its members carefully avoid any conversation which is gossip or slander, and also cease from being busybodies. “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Proverbs 26:20).

A Serious and Subtle Sin
This serious malady is a very subtle and ambiguous one. We must learn to differentiate a constructive and good conversation from gossip; otherwise it would be most unfortunate. For instance, a discussion between two church leaders about a problem concerning a church member should not be considered gossip, especially, when they discuss the issue for corrective purpose. But they must take special care not to spread the “news” to others under the pretext of “concern.”

If a person continues to indulge in destructive sins or to teach harmful doctrines, even after he has been lovingly warned, it may become necessary for him to be exposed for the good of everyone else. The Bible does not categorise the act of exposing unrepentant characters as gossip. Paul, who warned against gossip, exposed publicly several ungodly characters in the church — “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works” (2 Timothy 4:14). Another time he wrote, “And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Timothy 2:17).

A gossip occurs when negative “information” is given about someone who is not present in that conversation. Whenever one speaks of another person in less than a favourable way or in a manner that is fault-finding, slandering, or finger-pointing, he engages in gossip. It is generally a negative conversation, which focuses on nothing good or constructive, only bad feelings about the person discussed.

Many a time gossips begin like this — “I hate to say anything about this to you, but I’m ‘concerned’ about so and so.” At other times, the gossipers will seek you out as their “confidantes” to unload their “heavy hearts” about their concerns. “I’m very troubled about so and so and I don’t know who else I can share this with.”

In reality, the gossiper is not sincerely concerned about solving the problem, only in talking about it, or stirring up a conversation about someone’s weakness. “A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends” (Proverbs 16:28). A sound conversation should always be directed towards solving a problem rather than aggravating a problem, though in certain circumstances a good solution may not be achieved quickly.

Any person who is genuinely concerned about solving a problem should go and confront the person privately and express his concern. Or else he should go privately to the pastor in order to seek his help to deal with and settle the problem. In all these, we must keep a loving spirit which is willing to forgive one another, esteem one another, restore and renew the brotherly relationship.

Gossip thrives on the negative, the controversial and the sensational. Going around and telling others about someone else’s fault or problem, before or during the efforts to solve the problem, is harmful and does not help to resolve the problem. It will only cause us to gossip further and to sin.

Things to Remember About Gossip
* Unrepentant and persistent habit of gossip is a clear sign of the unregenerate spirit of a man. He faces the same consequence as a murderer unless there is repentance (Romans 1:32). God holds you accountable to your words (Matthew 12:36-37).
* The person who gossips to you about others, also gossips to others about you.
* Gossip and slander disqualify a person from spiritual leadership (1 Timothy 3:11; James 3:2).
* Gossip often masks itself as pretentious concerns for others.
* Gossip often thrives upon secrecy. Where secrecy is removed, gossip is hampered.
* Gossip always contributes to a problem and never to a solution.
* Gossip always distorts and exaggerates, and is never a reliable source of truth.
* Those who gossip and slander are not in right fellowship with God (Romans 1:28-32). Those who gossip will rarely get answers to prayer, and often face persistent, unexplainable problems (Psalms 66:18; Proverbs 21:23; Proverbs 6:12-15).

What to do about Gossip
Though the sin of gossip is subtle, it must be recognised, acknowledged and confessed as sin. Then we must seek the Lord’s forgiveness. Repent by surrendering our tongue to Christ. And never gossip or bad-mouth again (1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 7:10).

If you can’t say something good or encouraging about others, then keep your mouth shut (Ephesians 4:29). If you find any error in a person, tell him to his face with an intent to help. If he listens to your advice, let that matter be forgiven and forgotten. Criticism can never be “constructive” if it is expressed to anyone else other than the one who is being criticised. If your “friends” start bad-mouthing others to you, stop them in their tracks. Refuse to be a partaker of their sin. Avoid association with people who gossip. “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips” (Proverbs 20:19). It is better that you suggest to the person who brings juicy or even provocative news that he should discuss the matter with the “accused” person before he takes it seriously.

If all of us do this, we can avoid breaking long-term friendships or creating unnecessary strife. Many long-term friends and co-workers have been separated by talebearers. Don’t trust a gossiper at all, he will betray you later - “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11:13).

Expose gossip, a work of darkness, by reporting it to the pastor or elder that they may confront and offer correction. Gossip should be treated as any other vile sin. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

May we all resolve within our hearts like the Psalmist, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalm 39:1).

3. The LORD bless all readers.

Lovingly in the Lord
Dr SH Tow, Senior Pastor


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