On Gossip

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. — Titus 3:10–11

We lead in a strange time. 

While the world gossips and slanders and cancels and divides, we, the Church of the Living God, are called to be different, set apart, holy even.

We are to shepherd and teach and lead our local bride in this holy matter. 

But it’s strange because we know far more than we should know.

When Pastor Paul wrote to Pastor Titus (inspired by the Spirit of Unity, Eph. 4:1-6) and instructed him to warn once, then twice, then to cancel them, he never could have had in mind our personal diaries published publicly, grammed for all to see. 

We know more than we should know.

We have the usual gossip in our small groups to deal with — this has been true since Corinth (shoot, since the wilderness, Ex. 16:2-3ff):

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. — 2 Corinthians 12:20

But now we have social media to deal with too. And in a world of division, deconstruction, and discord, a torrent of destruction and discussion comes our way to divide what Christ has united…how are we to respond?

The bible is not unclear about what God thinks of all this:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him: . . .
one who sows discord among brothers.
— Proverbs 6:16, 19

Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
and do not reveal another’s secret.
— Proverbs 25:9

Paul warns another pastor of some widows who go about as “gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Tim. 5:13). He says that in God’s passive wrath he has given some people up to a “debased mind to do what ought not to be done…They are gossips…slanderers” (Rom. 1:28–31). 

In a list that includes murder, strife, deceit, haters of God, inventors of evil, the faithless, heartless, and ruthless, he includes the half-truth put down at City Group, and the lie posted on an Instagram story as a “debased mind” given over to the wrath of God.

This seems serious.

What is gossip?

Ray Ortlund is helpful here:

“It is not necessarily false information. Slander is false. Gossip might include true information, and maybe that’s why gossip doesn’t always feel sinful. What makes it sin is, first and foremost, that God says it’s sin. But gossip spreads what can include accurate information to diminish another person. That is not how people behave when they are living in the power of the grace of God.”

He goes on to say, “Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification. Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments. It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop. It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size…It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty. Adultery too is a serious sin, and one likely to be disciplined in a church. But I have never seen a church split over the sin of adultery. Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.”

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube. It erodes trust and destroys morale. It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere. It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation. It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial. It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against. It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.1

So what should we do? 

It will be tempting to think that each individual case is different, when most likely it is not. So some helpful principles to chew on may be helpful:

  1. Refuse – Don’t listen to it. Ask them, “What’s the difference between what you’re telling me and gossip?”
  2. Rebuke – Ask, “How is your telling me that thought, that complaint, that information going to help you and me love God and our brothers better, and knit us closer together as a church in Christ’s love?”
  3. Redirect – Say, “Now that you’ve told me about that, you’ve morally obligated me to make sure you talk to ____ about it. How long do you think you need, so I can know when this becomes a sin that I will need to confront in you?”

To be revolutionary in our day, to be counter-cultural, punk rock, different, set apart, is to be a Bride of Honor. We ‘honor one another’ we say is a cultural value at my church — the air that is breathed. We must war against the toxic gossip that contaminates that Gospel air — our life and witness depends on it.