I looked up Merriam-Webster’s 2020 online definition of gossip. It first gave the definition of the noun as “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others.” I didn’t have to go further to know what the verb definition is. It was right in the middle of the definition of the noun, “habitually revealing personal or sensational facts about others.”
Wait a minute. I’ve always heard gossip is untrue things, that if it’s true it isn’t gossip. Oh, but then again it was a gossip who said such things. Of course a person who “habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others” would try to justify themselves by saying gossip is spreading falsehoods, and they are sharing truths. Yet, gossip is gossip, whether what is spread is true or not.
Understand, the definition of gossip does, also, include things which may not be true, but it doesn’t have to be false in order to be gossip. That is simply a false assumption.
The definition says “personal or sensational facts about others” not “personal or sensational lies about others.” People who gossip do tend to justify their behaviors by claiming what they are saying is true. Still, if it’s not their business to share others’ personal information — true or not, it’s gossip.
There’s a reason scripture speaks out so harshly against gossip and the one called a gossip. It divides. It destroys friendships, splits families and ruins workplace environments. It curses churches and ministries of Christ (I know of many churches which have closed their doors, permanently, due to the destructive impacts of gossip.). It lingers and makes it difficult for people to live their lives without being judged by those who have listened to the gossip.
One of the easiest tell-tale signs of a gossip is he or she cannot tolerate secrets. To a gossip, a secret is information they should have but is not given. A gossip is a busybody who feels he or she has the right to private information. Once they’ve bitten into the lie that gossip has to be a lie to be gossip, they want the juiciest information on others, because “it’s OK if it’s true.”
Plus, the more they can divulge dirt on others, the more they feel it makes them look better.
If you listen to personal and private information about others, you are enabling and engaging in gossip. It’s definitely awkward to say something like, “What did he or she say when you talked to him or her about it?” But you should say it. If the response is something like, “I didn’t,” then you should respond with something like, “Then please don’t talk to me about it. That’s gossip.” If the response is that they did talk to them about it, you should ask why they are sharing gossip with you. Unless it is to help restore a person in their spiritual journey (Galatians 6:1), it’s gossip.
If you’re ever in a group of people who are comfortable talking about others’ personal and private information, you ought to say something to change the trend. If you can’t, get out of that group! If it’s a group within a church, that church is in trouble. Such a group is not healthy. If the church leadership is strong, solid in Biblical truths, and unified, they need to know about this group behavior, and they will put an end to it. If not, they are party to it, and the church likely has its days numbered. It certainly will not be as effective as it could be, and the gossip group will only breed division, criticism, negativism and other unspeakable evils. Individuals in groups in churches which gossip lead others away from God — the antithesis to the goal of evangelism. These individuals are way off focus, but are typically oblivious to their counterproductive behaviors. In their minds they think the people they talk about are the reason people leave their group and the church. In reality, nobody wants to be a part of a church with gossips. Gossips cannot be trusted. Gossips in churches are hypocrites.
The Bible says, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret (Proverbs 11:13, NIV).” So, anyone who claims keeping a secret is bad is not trustworthy. If someone shares private and personal information about others to you, you can rest assured they will share whatever private and personal information you tell them with others, as well.
Gossips are not gracious, either. They love tearing others down by “sharing” information which will cause others to be critical and judge others. Yet, if you dare to tell them they shouldn’t be sharing such things, get ready for their defense. You see, they thrive on keeping negative attention on others in attempts to make themselves look and feel better. Rather than dealing with their own sin of gossiping, they persist on focusing on the perceived sins of others.
One of the more disturbing things about gossip is it often focuses on forgiven sins of others. The proverbial, “I heard he/she did this or that,” is about a past thing which often isn’t happening anymore. Sometimes the sin wasn’t done to intentionally harm others, but the sin of gossip is always done with the intention to harm others. So, which is worse – a sin done on purpose to harm others or a forgiven sin which was never done purposely to harm others? Which kind of sin requires a more sinister and evil mind?
Look at Jesus monologue in Matthew 7:1-10 (ESV), ““Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
We will be judged like we judge others. If we hang on to others’ sins, God will hang on to ours. A gossip has no business focusing on others’ sins when he/she refuses to look at their own obvious sins. That is extreme hypocrisy. Once a gossip stops gossiping, he/she might be more equipped to help others stop their sinning. However, a gossip is never about helping another person, only hurting others’ reputations.
Did you notice the part about not giving dogs what is holy and not throwing pearls before pigs? Most people think this is a common sense thing about taking care of valuables. However, it falls right after strong talk about not judging others and right before the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” So, contextually, it’s not about taking care of valuables. It’s about how we judge and treat others.
“Don’t give dogs what is holy, and don’t throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn attack you.” Don’t reveal personal and private matters to people who will not keep a confidence. They won’t handle such things with care. Your confidential matters will become their newest thing to “share” – especially if you have people who admire or respect you. Rather than earning respect or admiration by living a respectable and admirable life, a gossip prefers to try to remove such respect and admiration which has been earned by others.
Jesus spoke very harshly about those who cause others to stumble. It is imperative we do not arm gossips with more personal and private information. So, if a gossip comes to you, asking if what they heard was true, do not validate it – even if you know it is. That would be casting others’ pearls before swine, and it would be enabling more sin. Jesus said things will be very bad for those who cause others to sin (Matthew 18:6-7). Don’t do it!
I know pastors of megachurches who had law enforcement looking for them for crimes they repented of and no longer commit when they were younger. They were forgiven, righted their wrongs as best they could, and grew spiritually to become great leaders for the glory of God. The information I have is personal and private, and could destroy lives if I “shared.” That would be gossip, and could ruin very successful ministries of Christ and devastate many lives. I see the good fruit these pastors are producing (see Matthew 7:15-20), and know they’re forgiven and have hearts for Jesus.
Personally, I have had some very vile gossip spread about me. The most disturbing thing about that is often I have much more severe personal and private information on said offenders, and I keep their secrets. I know of two anti-abortion Christians who secretly orchestrated an abortion. Based on their own publicly shared opinions, they would say that abortion is murder. So, by their own standards, they are murderers. Yet, the gossip they spread about me isn’t nearly as heinous as murder. Hypocrisy much?
People do make mistakes, and I readily forgive. The thing about gossip is it is not an incidental thing people accidentally do, which in turn hurts others. No, it is a purposefully mean thing, done to harm others. A gossip has to be a cruel person at heart in order to engage in their gossip. They desire to hurt others. They knowingly and repeatedly do this (see the definition with which I started).
A few years ago I received a call from a spouse of a church leader, who had caught the other in sin. The induvial was reaching out for help, not trying to share personal information just to share. I responded by lovingly confronting the sinner. The sinner repented and tried to right all wrongs. I have not repeated their personal and private matters, and I never will. Although I would be sharing true things, it would be gossip, a sin of cruelty.
When a gossip hears personal and private information, their reaction is to spread it, and sometimes even to see that a person is punished. They never desire to see grace, mercy, or forgiveness (goals Jesus wants us to have). They, also, presume that all the players in the previous sin(s) must have handled it wrong. That way the gossip can keep perpetuating their gossip. If the story really is that the sinner repented and now continues to serve the Lord, well, that’s just not juicy enough. So, the gossip stirs it up more.
Some of the worst gossips struggle with other sins, such as lying, and this exacerbates the problem. When a gossip makes up things, that can make matters even worse. Put the gossip in a position of trust, then it escalates.
Imagine if there is a church secretary who struggles with gossip. People automatically think the church secretary should know the truth, so whatever he/she is saying must be valid. It might be, but it might be gossip, and it might be made up lies. If it’s both, how hard it would be for God to bless such a church!
Imagine if a church has leadership which doesn’t have the knowledge or spine to confront and stop gossip. What if said leadership actually validates said gossip? Wouldn’t that make gossips feel validated, and only enable more sin?
There is a reason Scripture is strong and specific on the subject of even listening to things said about leadership. 1 Timothy 5:19-21 clearly says no one is to entertain accusations against an elder except brought by two or three witnesses, and that those who persist in sinning are to be publicly exposed. What sin? Well, if an elder has two to three witnesses who corroborate their sin, and they continue to sin, they are to be publicly exposed; and if anyone is entertaining an accusation against an elder not brought by two or three witnesses, and continues to do that, must be publicly exposed. The emphasis is heavy in not showing any partiality to anyone.
So, understand it clearly, a gossip (habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others) who gossips about a church leader is persisting in sin (see Scripture above), and must be publicly exposed. A church which does not uphold the Word of God enough to follow it should not expect God’s blessings.
One problem is people think hearing about a sin is the same as witnessing it. It’s not. Just because someone told you about a sin or even admitted to a sin doesn’t mean you are a witness to it. You’ve only heard about it in such cases. A witness is a witness. A gossip is a gossip. Scripture does not say, “except on the basis of two or three people who were told about it.”
Gossips think they’re validated when more people share the gossip. “I heard it from so and so, and then I heard it from others,” becomes their proof.
Notice in 1 Timothy 5, there is room for grace. If the accusers are sinning but repent, they would not be considered “those who persist in sinning” who need to be publicly exposed. The same goes for the person accused. Even if the accused leader has two to three witnesses, and his/her sin turns out to be valid, the passage says if they “persist in sinning.” That necessarily means if they do not persist in sinning, they do not need to be publicly exposed. They would only need to be publicly exposed if they persist in sinning.
That’s not good enough for a gossip. No, they would want a leader who has been confirmed to have sinned to be publicly exposed – even if said leader repented and does not persist in sinning. After all, how dare a church leader sin (sarcasm). It’s as if the gossip behaves like he/she is above sin – even as they persist in their sin of gossip.
If you are one who is dealing with a gossip who is determined that a church leader who sinned but stopped must be exposed for their past and forgiven sins, the gossip needs to bear the brunt of the fate they wish upon others. The gossip persists in their unforgiving and cruel behaviors, and must be publicly exposed in such cases. It is the only right, fair, and Biblical move.
A gossip is one of the worst examples of a Christian. People outside the church constantly remind us they oppose us largely because of our flagrant hypocrisy. There is no greater example of this than the gossip in the church. They undermine much of the Lord’s work, and limit the blessings of God. Some of the best church members will move on to another church family when a gossip “shares” with them. Gossips repel people from churches, as opposed to genuine Christians who are magnets to Jesus.
One of the most terrifying things about a gossip is their fate. An unrepentant gossip is committing continual sin (see the above definition of a gossip, again). Continual sin in the New Testament always leads to an eternal doom. Hebrews 10:25-27 clearly speaks of the fate of people who participate in continual (unrepentant) sin, “There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies (NLT).” It’s ironic that gossips usually focus on others’ sins which may actually be over and forgiven, yet they persist in their continual and cruel sin of graceless gossip.
Maybe you are still struggling, trying to figure out when it’s gossip and when it’s necessary to talk about. Understand this: every time a Christian is to get involved with others’ sins is to help that person get better (Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-3). If you ever bring up others’ sins for any other reason, it’s gossip. Bringing up others’ to help someone would be obvious. There would be a goal of restoration, not destruction. There would be a spirit of love, not one of judgment.
I was guilty of gossip at a particular time in my life. Fortunately, a loving church leader confronted me on it. In fact he confronted two of us on it. The other person admitted the gossip, but continued to do it. I felt so small, and like such a disappointment to God. I knew my attitude disappointed Him, hurt Him, and hurt His church. It felt good to confess my sin to the confronter and God. It felt even better, knowing I could be forgiven.
What about confessing sins? A gossip, who loves getting the juiciest nasty information on others thinks public confession of sins is good. Of course they do. However, Scripture says to confess your sins to one another, it does not command Christians to publicly confess their sins to all. If we believe the passage I mentioned above about not causing others to stumble, then we must believe it is wrong to confess sins in front of gossips. So, unless we can guarantee no gossips are in the gathering of others, we should not be confessing our sins, publicly.
In case you haven’t yet figured it out, a gossip’s heart is completely antithetical to the Christian life of love, grace, and forgiveness. One who incidentally and inappropriately shares personal or sensational facts about others might be guilty of gossip, but if they do not persist in it, would not necessarily be a gossip. Just don’t. Don’t even start. It’s not a good thing to practice.
Know that one who incidentally and inappropriately does so has sinned, but they are not persisting in it, hopefully. If this is you, repent of it, and don’t do it anymore.
What if you are one who realizes you have been a gossip? God can still forgive you. You must repent (change your mind about how you think of such things), stop the behavior, right the wrongs as best you can, and then God will forgive you. When you stop, you have no longer “persisted” in your sin, and that, God readily forgives (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).
This is the longest column I’ve ever written. The Coronavirus pandemic has the newspaper not printing the Faith section, but only publishing it online for now. It might have been a mistake to tell the author of seven books (no, I have not published any – yet) “there’s no word limit online.” At least I hope I’ve been thorough enough on the subject of gossip from a Biblical perspective.
If you need a little more, below is a link to a short video which I find quite insightful.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” - Jesus, Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)
Pastor Jeff Adams is a professional Christian counselor who travels the world teaching but serves our community. His column appears weekly. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.