HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
October 2, 2006, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Gossip to die for

Pastor Tom Starkjohn, Harvest Community Church, Winsted

“Did you hear about so-and-so?”

“We should pray for neighbor. . .”

“You know, I’m having a really hard time with Mr. . . . ”

And so a conversation starts – a conversation that occurs when the subject of the conversation is not present.

We do it so often that some of us don’t even recognize when we are doing it. We think we are just talking, just sharing some news. But whatever you call it, gossip is still gossip.

As a follower of Christ, I find gossiping one of the harder sins to avoid. Humans love to talk – especially about other humans. And for the most part, we love to talk about the negative aspects of other people. In other words, we love to gossip.

What exactly is gossip? One dictionary defines it as “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.”

I have also heard gossip defined as “confessing the sin of another person.” I like that definition. I like it because it points out the fact that gossip is really focusing on the negative parts of another person (his or her sins). It also points out why it is inappropriate – a person can actually only confess his or her own sin, not the sins of others.

What does the Bible have to say about gossip? Several times, the book of Proverbs talks about how gossip destroys relationships. But it’s in the book of Romans that we see how serious gossiping really is.

In the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul describes how humans are wicked, and deserving of God’s just punishment. He includes every human in this category of “being separated from God” and wicked to the core. Listen as he describes all of us humans, and what we deserve:

“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 are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32, NIV)

Did you see how he put gossip in same company as murder, deceit, and God-hating? Did you see also how he says that anyone who does such things, including gossip, deserves death?

These are very sobering words to me, for I can easily gossip about someone else, and it doesn’t even occur to me that I’m doing something so hateful to God. Of course, Paul wrote the book of Romans to show us that we are all sinners, and that only by trusting in Christ, alone, for our salvation might we be saved from eternal punishment.

Still, knowing this, we must pay attention to these sins that deserve death so that we might turn from them and live a life devoted to Christ.

So what is a follower of Christ supposed to do? The Bible makes it very clear – it is very simple to explain, although it is very hard to practice consistently. In the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, verse 15 and 16, Jesus says, ““If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

While the Bible says we are to overlook offenses if we can (i.e., Prov. 19:11), if it is a serious issue (that is, we aren’t going to get over it quickly or it’s a sin condemned by Scripture, e.g, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:19-6:10), we need to go directly to that person to seek understanding and resolution. Only if that person doesn’t listen to you are you to involve other people.

What’s sad is that we often never go to the person we have an issue with and instead, gossip about that person’s faults to other people. We not only commit a sin that the Apostle Paul says is worthy of death, but we also ignore a clear command of Jesus Christ to go directly to the other person first.

How can we avoid gossip and instead go to the other person first? Here are some things I’m working on that I think you will see are consistent with Scripture.

First, I try never to bring up any negative thing about another person if that person isn’t there.

Second, if I am tempted to bring up a negative thing about another person, I realize that it is probably a big enough issue that I should go to that person and resolve the issue before I tell others.

Third, if it truly is a difficult situation, and I don’t know if I’m in the right or the wrong, I will ask advice of godly leaders, and leave the details of who the person is I’m talking about out of the conversation so that they don’t know who I’m talking about.

Fourth, and this is probably the most important, whenever I feel anger or the inclination to gossip about another person, I quickly pray to God the Father about the situation, praying not only for the other person, but also for myself that He might grant me compassion and insight into how I am acting towards the other person.

As I’ve tried to work hard at not gossiping, I’m discovering how hard it is. It’s easy to make excuses about how a certain situation is the exception, and that it’s not really gossip. That’s the first sign to me that I’m trying to justify my actions, and need to be extra careful.

May the Lord help us all “kill” the sin of gossip in our lives before it “kills” us.

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