Most of us have lives that have been touched or even devastated in some way by cancer. It is a word that fills us with dread when the doctor gives such a diagnosis. We understand the serious nature of the disease and we go to drastic steps to have the cancer cells removed or killed.
Do you know that churches can have cancer, too? The kind of cancer to which I am referring is gossip. When gossip is permitted in the life of a church, it leads to devastating results. It seems so benign when we share a bit of information (often unsubstantiated) with someone else. What could it hurt, right? But the little spark that just flew from your mouth can turn into a raging inferno that can do far more than just hurt someone’s feelings.
Consider these wise and inspired words written by the brother of Jesus:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:1-12)
We also find godly wisdom from the book of Proverbs:
Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. (Proverbs 11:12-13)
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)
There are many reasons that people find it hard to keep quiet about some piece of “information” they possess. A person may gossip to put himself or herself in a better light (an attempt at showing he or she is superior in some way), because the person is envious of the one about whom he or she is gossiping, because the person wants to fit in with a certain group, to get attention, to get attention, or sometimes simply to do damage to another person’s reputation. We understand this, but it’s hard to stop. I like what the late Bernard C. Meltzer said: “Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”
When we are about to speak, it is not only helpful to ask if the words are true, kind, necessary, or helpful; it is also critical to ask yourself if you’d say those words if Jesus were right there physically present with you.
We all grew up reciting the little rhyme “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” We said it in order to get someone to quit saying bad things about us (and we often ended the phrase by sticking out our tongues at them). The problem with the rhyme is that it just isn’t true! Yes, sticks and stones are harmful, but words can be far more devastating because those wounds affect the heart and mind.
How do we eradicate the presence of gossip in our lives and in our churches? First, acknowledge that the Lord has given you everything you need for life and godliness and thank Him for that.
Second, practice the presence of Jesus in your daily life remembering that He is always with you 24/7.
Third, refuse to raise your antennas to get the next juicy bit of gossip and just walk away.
Fourth, recognize that when someone tells you something that it may be completely true, partially true or completely untrue, and that the person telling you may have a personal bias.
Fifth, remember your worth is not dependent upon the cache of information you have. Your worth is found in the fact that you have been created in the image of God.
Sixth, confront gossip head on. This will not be taken well by some. People don’t like to be confronted with the fact that they are sinning, so be prepared for a counter-attack. You don’t have to be rude to do this. You can simply say, “I’m sorry, but I really shoudn’t be hearing this.” Or in a church setting you might respond, “This sounds like gossip and we don’t share gossip at our church.”
Seventh, if the rumors involve someone you know and you are concerned about what you’ve overheard, approach the person directly. Talking to someone about an issue is always better than talking to others about an issue involving someone else.
Eighth, PRAY. Gossip is not something that is limited to beauty shops and barber shops. It happens all over the place at all hours of the day and night. The more time we spend in prayer for someone, the less time we will spend sharing gossip about that person.