Did you know that negative gossip behind someone’s back and conveying false criticisms of them by word of mouth (slander) or in writing (libel) are sins condemned by Scripture alongside sexual immorality, adultery, prostitution, theft and swindling? And did you know it says those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Paul says that slanderers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
He also writes: “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…” (Rom 1:29-30; see also 2 Tim. 3:1-3)
Jesus said: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:21-22)
Why do Jesus and Paul condemn gossiping? Scripture gives some reasons:
Gossip/slander wrecks relationships
The writer of Proverbs puts it pithily: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Prov 16:28) “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Prov 26:20-22)
Gossips/slanderers betray confidences
The danger of mixing with gossips and listening to what they say about others is that it is likely they’re gossiping about you behind your back! Gossip/slander easily becomes obsessional: they won’t be able to resist spreading “choice morsels” about you. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Prov 20:19)
Gossip/slander breaks God’s law
As James puts it: “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” (James 4:11) What he means is that gossip/slander breaks the royal law of love. So even if a gossip spreads information which is partially correct (s)he is still wrong, because without love we are nothing (1 Cor 13:2).
On several occasions Scripture tells us to get rid of gossip/slander. See Eph 4:31; Col 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1. So we need to ensure we exclude it from our lives, our conversations and our church.
HOW DO WE DEAL WITH GOSSIP/SLANDER?
Repent of any gossip/slander you have been involved in
Refuse to listen to gossip/slander (suppose Fred wants to gossip to me about Mary’s faults. I could say: “Well, Fred, which of us is now going to approach Mary and convey these criticisms lovingly to her. Will you do it or shall I, because according to Scripture one of us must. If you don’t tell her about your difficulties, I must.”)
If a person refuses to stop trying to convey gossip/slander to you it will be necessary to distance yourself from them.
If you have a criticism about someone, Jesus says you must approach them directly and privately. “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.” (Matt 18:15)
JOHN WESLEY’S APPROACH
In 1752 John Wesley and a group of Methodist leaders signed a covenant which each of them then hung on his study wall. It said:
- That we will not listen or enquire willingly after ill concerning one another;
- If we do hear any ill of each other, we will not believe it;
- That as soon as possible we will communicate what we hear by speaking or writing to the person concerned;
- That until we have done this, we will not write or speak a syllable of it to any other person;
- That neither will we mention it, after we have done this, to any other person;
- That we will not make any exception to any of these rules unless we think ourselves absolutely obliged, and then only in conference.
It is not wrong if you feel the need to ask a Christian leader for advice about a criticism you have of another person before you approach that person to share the criticism directly. But you must then approach that person.
It is not wrong for Christian leaders sometimes to share accurate criticisms of a person when the welfare of the church is threatened in some way. Jesus allows this in Matthew 18:15-17. But this will happen rarely.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction