The sins of the tongue – they have an incredible ability to hurt you and others (James 3:1-12). We could share so many stories of how gossip has fueled rumors, hurt friendships, tarnished reputations, damaged churches and ministries, and created division instead of unity.
Is there anyone who has not experienced the hurt of someone using his or her tongue carelessly or maliciously? Worse yet, is there anyone of us whose words have not hurt someone else? James teaches that if a person can control his or her tongue, that one is mature and can control all the body (James 3:2).
Many times Christ-followers are put into a precarious situation when another person begins to share gossip. Sometimes gossip may sound like a “news” report, “Did you hear about…?” At other times it may sound like a prayer request, “Would you please pray for…?” Possibly it comes through a personal account by a friend, “You would never believe what happened to me…” So how do you respond when you are in this situation?
What is gossip?
Jerry Bridges defines gossip as “the spreading of unfavorable information about someone else, even if that information is true.” A definition I have found very helpful over the years is, “Sharing information about another person when you are not part of the problem or part of the solution.” Often when we gossip, we actually share information we did not experience first-hand either by hearing or seeing the events we share.
What makes gossip wrong?
There are several reasons gossip is wrong; I will limit my answer for space sake. Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification” (Eph 4:29). Gossip fails to meet this standard on several fronts. Gossip is corrupt communication. It does not seek to edify or impart grace to the hearer or the person as the object of the gossip. Plus, the motive of our gossip is often self-righteous pride and therefore does not honor Christ. Ultimately our words tear down instead of building up.
So how should we respond when someone comes to us with “juicy” gossip?
- Seek the reason for sharing the forthcoming information. If this brother or sister is seeking advice, then it is appropriate to listen. However, you need to be careful to only get the basic information needed to give advice and not just to satisfy your curiosity.
- Politely ask the person to not share any further information with you than what has already been said. In your own heart, you can ask God to help you believe, hope, and rejoice in righteousness (1 Cor 13:4-7). Assume what is best, hope what is best, and choose not to dwell on what you have partially heard.
- Remind the other person of your commitment to glorifying God by honoring Christ and serving others in love by not sharing gossip. Let the one sharing gossip know that your commitment to Christ is greater than your desire to hear anything about this other person. Again, there is no reason to hear this news if, in fact, you are not part of the problem or part of the solution.
- Encourage him or her to go immediately to this other person to seek to reconcile the situation. Although Matthew 18 primarily address those inside the same church, the principles apply to gossip generally. If one is offended by another brother, then go to that brother with an open heart, a desire for understanding, a hope for restoration, and a goal for God’s glory.
- Offer to hold the other person accountable for dealing with the situation in a timely way. If the person has already said too much before you could stop the conversation, now you are part of the situation. Therefore, it is appropriate to suggest a workable timetable in which this other person can pursue reconciliation. At that time, offer to contact the person back to see if, in fact, it has been dealt with appropriately.
- Pray for the one desiring to gossip, the other person as object of the gossip, and yourself. Throughout the process, pray for this other person. Pray that he or she will grow toward understanding gossip, grow in sensitivity toward gossip, and grow in pursuit of godliness through this situation. Pray for wisdom to know how best to handle the issue. Pray for humility and awareness of God’s empowering grace. Pray that God’s will would be done and that He would receive the glory in everyone involved as they seek to honor Him and love each other through God’s grace by the power of the Spirit.
So let us pray that the next time you or I hear gossip, although it may be very tough, may each of us be a committee of one to help glorify God and love a brother by dealing with it in a Christ-honoring way.
THIS IS AN ADAPTATION FROM A POST THAT INITIALLY APPEARED IN THE JUNE 2016 TRIBUNE, “THE RIGHT ANGLE: BIBLICAL WISDOM FOR A CONTEMPORARY WORLD.“
 Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007), 160.