I want to take a moment and remind you, parents, of something that, all too often, we need reminders about: if an issue comes up between you and a teacher or another parent, the right thing to do is either to cover it in love or else go to the person directly and deal with it. The option that we too often take is to carry the issue to a third party who can’t do anything about it and air it out, complain about it, and stir the pot. I’m talking about gossip, and I want to urge you to resist the temptation to engage in it. Instead, let’s follow God’s Word and be peacemakers.
Here is an outstanding article called “How to Shut Down Gossip” by Erik Raymond from the Gospel Coalition website. It is excellent counsel for us all.
How to Shut Down Gossip
by Erik Raymond
It seems that sometimes we deal with sin in the church with the same approach that the government deals with terrorism: It is impossible to remove it completely so we just kind of have to accept it and do our best to keep people safe.
Buttressed up against this common practice is the biblical teaching that sin is devastating. Let’s not forget that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), the price paid for redemption from sin is death (Rom. 5:6), the reality for the a believer is that they are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11), and the ongoing priority for Christians is to put sin to death (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5; Heb. 12:1-2). This includes all sin. Every. Single. One.
Gossip in Spiritual No Man’s Land
Gossip is one sin that seems to fall in the spiritual “No-Man’s Land” between passivity and vigilance. But this should not be. Gossip is the RPG that blasts holes in the fabric of the church. The way I see it every time someone gossips they injure at least 3 people: the one speaking, the one hearing, and the one being gossiped about. Add to this that gossip is usually not a one time deal but rather involves multiple conversations, we can quickly see how this is the Devil’s Ponzi scheme for getting rich on disunity and providing quick returns to those seeking to gratify the flesh.
Gossip is Bad, and Deep Down We Know It
Let’s be honest; we know what gossip is. It is speaking about someone in a way that defames, dishonors or otherwise hurts their character. Sometimes it is subtle, like grumbling about someone, and other times it is loud, like ranting about someone. Further, sometimes the content of what is said is true other times it is not. Either way, the person hearing does not need to know the information, they don’t benefit from it. And, most times it is not actionable; they are are not going to go and help the person, instead they are just going to tuck away the information for selfish use.
Gossip, and its cousins: slander, divisive speech, and deceitful speech are roundly rebuked in the Scriptures (Ps. 101:5; Prov. 6:16-19, 11.13, 20:19; Titus 3:2). Instead of cutting people down with verbal assassinations we are to give words of life and grace (Eph. 4:29).
I don’t think we need to convince people what it is, but, we can bring an awareness of how God feels about it and how destructive it is in the life of the church. We need to know what to do about it. We need to know, how to shut it down.
How To Shut Down Gossip
(1) Refuse it.
The obvious first step to shutting down gossip would have to be to convince people of how God views gossip. We can do this by intentionally putting it before people. We can remind people in sermons, conversations, and prayer of the destructiveness of gossip. This is simply calling attention to it. Instead of being passive (not talking about it) we need to be active, without becoming preoccupied by it.
If this is done faithfully then people will become aware of gossip when it comes to them or perhaps when they find themselves scratching the seemingly insatiable itch to dish up a little sumthin on someone. They will also think twice about vocalizing their grumbling about another person to someone else. If convinced of the vileness of the practice in God’s eyes then they will carefully avoid “gossip-baiting” people. This is the practice when someone thinks that someone else may have some intel on another person or situation. Then they subtly begin talking about it, gently massaging the perimeter of the topic, while waiting to see if the person will take the bait and give up the goods.
What if the church could spot gossip a mile away? What if they hated it? What if they believed the Bible and were convinced that to gossip was to display hatred for God and others? What if they believed that it served to fracture the unity that Jesus bought and the Spirit created? Then they would react like an NBA big man and reject the gossip by swatting it into the 3rd row.
For example, as a pastor someone might come to me and say, ”I need to talk to you about something.” I usually reply, “Something or someone?” If they “someone.” then I say, “Did you talk to ‘someone’ yet?” I redirect them back. I don’t want to hear about someone if that someone hasn’t heard about it first.
This may be different for a laymen. Perhaps someone will come up to you and say, “I am really frustrated with ______ ‘s attitude. They walk around like they own the place. She never says ‘hi’ or even looks at me. What is her deal?” You may be tempted to say, “Yeah. You’re right. I’ve never noticed it but she ignores me too!” But, let me encourage you to think God’s thoughts after him. Reject the gossip. Instead, something like, “Have you talked to her about this? Please don’t drag me into your issues with her. You need to work this out–whatever it is–for the sake of Christ.” This rejects the bait of the complaint and sheds light on the issue.
(2) Rebuke it.
Let’s say someone is talking about another person. They may get started slowly but soon enough they carving up their character like a Thanksgiving turkey. As you get your bearings and manage to interrupt the onslaught, you should says something like, “Brother/sister, you are really speaking negatively about ____ is this even true? This is gossip. Have you even spoken to them about this?”
Go on to show them what the Bible says and how destructive this is. Show them that they are defaming their brother/sister, a child of God. Explain how this assaults God’s plan and harms God’s people. Call the sin of gossip what it is and tell them that they should in fact repent and bear fruit in repentance by controlling their tongue and speaking words of grace. Once we understand the damage of gossip we will become vigilant to ensure that it is expunged from our churches. This means that we will be compelled to have the difficult conversations that call it what it is and demand that our brothers and sisters think God’s thoughts after him, even about gossip.
(3) Redirect it.
There are three aspects of this: first to Christ, second back to the person, and third to others they have gossiped to.
First, redirect people back to Christ. The reason for gossip is because they are believing a lie about God and themselves. Remember, Satan was the first gossiper when he talked trash about God. Show them how Jesus died for their sins, even the sins committed post-conversion. This sin should be a magnet to draw them back to the person and work of Christ for repentance, forgiveness, and refreshing. (In this it should be noted that their issue is not just with another person but Christ. Jesus is Lord of the church; and so they are sinning against him.)
Second, redirect people back to the person. If they have an issue with someone they should go and talk to them. If they have done some damage to the person’s character then they should go and tell the person in humility and ask for their forgiveness. I will often tell the person that I will follow up with them in a week or so to see how the conversation went.
Third, they should also go in humility to the other people they have gossiped to. This closes the loop and reinforces the need to reject the sin of gossip. It reminds, or perhaps educates, those who have been exposed to this sin, of the nature and danger of it.
Gossip is nasty. It is never good and should be despised by all who love Christ and his church. Instead of being passive and tolerating something that is widespread we should be vigilant to remove something that is destructive and vile. Let’s step our game up and, starting with ourselves, work to shut down gossip.