Gossip and hypocrisy often go hand in hand. How many times has it been the ones nicest to us who are the ones gossiping about us? Wearing a mask of friendship, they are quick to spread rumors, lies, and half-truths that eventually lead to our hurt. Most of us have been the victim of it, so why do we love gossip so much? Or, why do people gossip in the first place?
Gossip in God’s Word
The Bible speaks about gossip and its consequences:
“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28 NIV
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32 ESV
And speaking about young widows, “ Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” 1 Timothy 5:13 ESV
“There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst.” Ezekiel 22:9 ESV
We’re also told what God thinks about those who gossip (Proverbs 6:16-19).
There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
“But to the wicked, God says …
“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.”
– Psalm 50:16, 19-20
What is gossip?
For our dictionary definition, gossip is a “rumor or report of an intimate nature” or “chatty talk”. And taking our cues from the verses above, this includes information that is misleading, lies, slander, etc. In short, “saying what [one] should not” (1 Timothy 5:13).
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives us some interesting information on where this word came from:
Old English sibb, meaning “relative” or “kinsman,” came from the adjective sibb,“related by blood” (the ancestor of modern English sibling). Old English godsibb was a person spiritually related to another, specifically by being a sponsor at baptism. Today we call such a person a godparent. Over the centuries, godsibb changed both in form and in meaning. Middle English gossib came to be used for a close friend or crony as well as for a godparent. From there it was only a short step to the gossip of today, a person no longer necessarily friend, relative, or sponsor, but someone filled with irresistible tidbits of rumor.
Even the word itself indicates that gossip often originates from those closest to us.
Why do people gossip?
If we know that the Bible speaks against it, and we know how much it can hurt when done against us, why do we love it so much? Whether we encourage it in the workplace, read about it online, or call our friends to get the latest “scoop”, we regularly engage in gossip to some degree or another.
But it’s just harmless talk.
I can’t help it. I’m so curious.
People just seem drawn to tell me things.
These are the excuses we make to continue participating in gossip. However, if we look a little deeper, we may be surprised to find why we’re actually drawn to gossip. And by God’s grace, we may be convicted to put an end to it.
1. Gossip reveals the Ten Commandments of our workplace
With most of us spending 40+ hours at work, it’s a convenient place to gossip. And with workplace politics, it’s also the perfect environment for gossip to thrive. As we hear and spread “information” about our coworkers, a sub-culture within the company begins to develop. Based on the kinds of rumors that “go viral”, we quickly learn the “rights” and “wrongs” of our workplace society. A sort of “Ten Commandments” is formed.
Rumors about what someone wore the other day form a new dress code.
Whisperings about what someone does after work keep you looking over your shoulder after you clock out.
Coworkers’ alleged wrongs and consequent mistreatment serve as a warning should your past ever be leaked.
Of course, these policies of shame and mistrust are easily broken and constantly changing – which makes it vital that you keep up to date on the latest standard lest you fall behind and become the laughingstock of the entire company. Perhaps you even find it “necessary” to be the informant so fingers are kept from pointing in your direction.
2. Gossip keeps us from looking at our own shame
Which brings us to the next reason we love gossiping. When we do our part to keep the rumor mill running, we get to avoid looking at our own shame. So long as the gossip is focused on others, we don’t have to worry about our own ACTUAL sins and shortcomings. Instead, we can whisper and wonder about others, drawing conjectures about their motives and intentions. All the while, never stopping to look in the mirror.
3. Gossip makes us feel better about ourselves
When we avoid the mirror – that process of taking the log out of our own eye before we deal with the speck in another’s – we get an elevated feeling about ourselves. After all, we’re not being the ones talked about!
Gossip exaggerates others’ failings so that ours don’t look nearly as bad in comparison. Removing the fact that our fellowmen are image bearers of God, gossip focuses our attention on what they seem to have done, measuring them by an impossible standard of other men’s opinions and preferences.
4. Gossip gives us something to do … so we can avoid the real work of relationships
Another reason we love gossip is because it really requires so little effort. Perhaps if the rumors involve someone we care about, we can feel a sort of burden or responsibility. However, the nature of gossip doesn’t require us to do anything about it. Even if that person finds out, gossip leaves no evidence that can be traced back to us.
“Someone told me that…”
“They were saying…”
“I overheard some people…”
Plus, gossip isolates a particular incident so that we can criticize it callously. No longer is it about the person, our neighbor or friend, but about what they’ve done or said. And because we are only discussing that incident with another third-party, we have none of the responsibility to deal with that person directly.
5. Gossip feeds us … and then feeds on us
In the beginning, we love gossip because of what it does for us (see 1-4). But eventually, we may only love it out of a sense of indebtedness. Or possibly habit. And should we ever try to break off our relationship with gossip, we find we’ve become slaves with no way to escape.
When gossip defines our standard for living and becomes our means of communication and understanding, we fall prey to a dangerous religion. One where people’s opinions and claims are god.
But because we worship the True and Living God, whose Word is Truth, we do have hope. The gossip trap can’t hold us if we’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ. So what are the means He’s given us to escape?
The antithesis of gossip is Truth, so if we are going to break the hold of gossip on our lives, we must fill our minds with Truth. Here are some truths to consider:
Where does gossip come from?
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
Where does gossip lead?
“But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” Galatians 5:15
“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28 NIV
The verses at the beginning of this post would also be good to meditate on and study.
When we believe God’s Word and take it to heart, His Truth will drive us to action:
1. Don’t associate
The first applicable remedy to gossip is to remove yourself from other gossips. But how do I know who’s gossiping? What if we’re just friends talking? These different translations may help (underlined portions are mine). If you’re still unsure, ask God for wisdom and discernment. And be prepared to obey what He reveals.
He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets;
Therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. Proverbs 20:10 NKJV
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. Proverbs 20:19 ESV
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid anyone who talks too much. Proverbs 20:19 NIV
2. Don’t do it
Even if you’ve removed yourself from gossips, the temptation will be there to gossip about others. Perhaps it is leaving half a truth unsaid. Maybe you casually let something slip for someone else to take up and spread around. In whatever manner you participate in gossip, you are still guilty of it.
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” Exodus 23:1 ESV
“You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:16 ESV
3. Pray that God will end it
Once you stop associating with gossipers and stop participating in it yourself, you will likely become a target of gossip.
Your reputation may be damaged. Friendships may end. People will dislike you for the wrong reasons.
God is not blind to this injustice. Call on Him to deliver you from the hands of the wicked who despitefully use you. He has the power to stop the mouths of lions.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Finally, as God’s truth takes hold of your life, it will grieve you to watch gossip swallow up and destroy people around you. Whether it is the gossipers who are living in slavery to it or the injured who have been gossiped about, the victims of gossip are everywhere. Pray that God will deliver them from the evil of gossip and slander. He loves to set the prisoner free. Believe and have faith that He can deliver your workplace, your family, your friendships from the slavery of gossip.
O LORD, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.
Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
Gossip is dangerous and destructive. If we fail to believe this and don’t remove ourselves from gossiping relationships and habits, we’ll find ourselves living a lie.
Of course, once we understand why people gossip and take steps to end gossip in our lives, we’ll still find it around us. For instance, there will be plenty of people who bring unwanted gossip to us. How do we identify it and how do we respond? Here are 5 tactics to help you get started.
Helen is a happy wife and mother of twins. As she passes along her love of learning to her students and children, she hopes God’s Word will radiate through them. She prays for a generation that will stand up for the oppressed, protect the vulnerable, and care for the widow and fatherless.