I’ve tried all kinds of things to try to keep myself from talking about others when I shouldn’t. Sometimes my methods worked. Other times I just kept yacking. And when gossiping with others, I mistakenly felt secure in thinking that the person I was talking to would not tell the little morsels to the person being gossiped about. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, I can say with almost absolute certainty that if a person is willing to listen to gossip they are also willing to spread it. Or to betray your confidence. Or even to turn traitor and gossip about you!
An old Irish proverb claims, “He who gossips with you will gossip about you.” It’s true.
I decided to try something else. When I was newly married, a little “gossip grid” was going around. Posting this convicting checklist near your phone was supposed to keep your tongue tied when it wanted to wag. It goes like this:
When considering whether to chatter about something, ask yourself first:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
So I scratched that little three-part golden rule of gossip out on a note card and prominently posted it in our tiny one-bedroom apartment where I was sure to see it daily. It worked for a little while. But then my mind engaged in a pretzel-bending round of mental gymnastics. Somehow I could justify that what I was saying was true. And it was necessary that I told it to the person on the other end of the phone. And being truthful is certainly kind, right? The little note card soon came down because it didn’t help me keep my big mouth shut.
It was then that I turned to the same place David turned, God’s Word. From this how-to-live-life manual we can unearth treasures that will help us to break the grip of gossip. Here are practices that have worked for me.
1. Study How the Bible Describes a Gossip
The Bible is full of phrases that describe a gossip and also the effects of their actions. Committing these verses to memory did much more to prevent me from gossiping than mental visualization or a three-part ditty. Here are some of my favorites, along with their less-than-flattering depictions of gossips.
A Gossip Betrays Confidences
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. — Proverbs 11:13
Nobody likes a Benedict Arnold: a person who betrays someone. Betrayal paints a picture of going to an enemy with information that will wound your friend. But a trustworthy person is admired. By refusing to participate in gossip, I can be known as a loyal and trustworthy woman rather than a traitor.
People Avoid a Gossip
A gossip betrays a confidence so avoid anyone who talks too much. — Proverbs 20:19
Wow! People will avoid me if I am known as a gossip. And I’ve actually experienced this. There were certain people who just never seemed to want to be my close friend. In retrospect, I’ll bet it was because I gossiped, and all these people were good at holding their tongues.
I should also take this verse as a warning. I need to watch who I hang around. If I am prone to hang around someone who gossips, I am more likely to engage in gossip myself.
A Gossip Stirs Up Conflict
A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. — Proverbs 16:28
Let’s face it. There are some people who just like to stir the pot. Some who thrive on drama. But these social shenanigans often cost us friendships. Do we want the pot stirring traced back to us? If relationships are damaged and feelings are wounded, do we want our words to be the cause? And just knowing that the Bible uses the word perverse to describe such a person should make us stop and think the next time we are tempted to participate in gossip.
A Gossip Is Wicked
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. — Romans 1:29
When I happened on this portion of Scripture one day, it smacked me upside the head. Paul describes all sorts of awful, sinful behavior. Big stuff like murder, greed, malice, depravity, wickedness. These are sins we tend to rank high up on the evil scale. But tucked neatly away in this staccato string of serious sins is gossip. Wait! Back up the train. You mean my sharing a little juicy bit of gossip is right up there on the evil scale with killing someone?
We tend to rank sins, but that is not God’s way of thinking. Sin in the Bible is portrayed by using an old archer’s term of “missing the mark.” Anything other than dead center in the bull’s-eye is sin. So yes, someone who commits murder misses the mark by a country mile, but someone who gossips also misses the mark even if by just a short city block. Therefore, both are sin. The consequences of those sins vary in degree, but both are still considered sin in God’s eyes.
Whenever we sin, repentance is required. Repentance is simply agreeing with God about our wrong and then doing an about-face and walking in the other direction, committing the sin no more. We won’t be perfect. There will still be times that we give in to our sinful desires and choose the wrong path. However, the more we grow in our faith, the less frequent our sinning streaks should be.
My personal Bible study on gossips has helped me to keep my lips zipped more often. I didn’t want to be viewed as a turncoat or have others avoid me. And, although I loved being a pot stirrer through young adulthood, I soon discovered the more I stirred the pot the more likely the boiling hot liquid was to splatter and burn me too. But what helped me most was realizing that the Bible lumps gossip together with murder (Romans 1:29).
Murder slays the body. Gossip scorches the heart.
You’ve heard the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”? Well, I beg to differ.
My words of gossip have scorched other’s hearts. I know they have. At times, what I’ve said about others has gotten back to them, and they were crushed. I am someone who hates physical violence; I can’t even stand to see it portrayed on screens. I’d never dream of hurling a rock or stick, and I’d certainly never dream of committing murder!
But I have wounded and killed with my words.
I regularly ask God to reveal to me if I owe someone an apology. It is a painful prayer, because He is always faithful to answer. And yes, I’ve had to go to a few people over the years and ask for their forgiveness. It’s humbling — and it’s healing.
I challenge you to pray the same prayer. Be warned — you might need to develop a taste for your own words since God may require you to go back and eat them. But trust me, once you do, there is no bitter aftertaste. Only blessed relief.
2. Keep Quiet
In addition to memorizing verses about gossip, there is another option that can help us avoid getting tangled and tripped by our own words about others. It is the choice to simply keep quiet.
Scripture states that there is a time to speak up and a time to remain silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Cultivating the habit of keeping quiet when others are gossiping is a little awkward and even painful. However, I have seen its fruit in my own life. I am much less likely to regret my words if I don’t start even one sentence down the road that might lead to gossip, not taking the bait when another person throws out an enticing line or two trying to reel me in and get me to gossip. And I have noticed that others tend not to gossip as much around me if they know they may be met with silence in response.
I remember the first time I was in a group of girls when this happened. It was my freshman year of college, and we were all sitting around my tiny, cinder-block dorm room when the topic of someone on campus came up. One by one, everyone chimed in, giving their two cents’ worth about this person. That is, everyone but my roommate. She sat silently on the bed with her legs crossed, staring out the window. Even when directly asked, “Don’t you think so too?” she said nothing. Finally, one of the girls asked her if she was listening. Her reply was classic.
“Oh, yes. I am listening all right. And I don’t think I have anything to say. We shouldn’t be talking like this behind her back.”
The silence that followed was deafening. But I learned a good lesson that day. My roommate was right. None of us would have wanted others to talk about us, so why were we so eager to jump in and do the talking? Yes, perhaps the most effective way to avoid gossip is to simply keep our lips zipped.
Okay. I’m sorry if this section has sent any of you to Google to locate the number of the nearest podiatrist since I’ve now stepped all over your toes. Be assured my own pedicured piggies have been stomped on numerous times too by the Bible’s advice on gossip. But friends, we can’t go wrong when we choose to obey Scripture. Even the toe-crushing, oh-so-hard-to-do parts.
Did any of the verses you read above prick your conscience as you read them? Could God be asking you to make a call, send a text, or craft a private message to someone to ask forgiveness?
Will you commit to not discussing what is happening in someone’s life that others might find newsworthy in a gossipy sort of way? If so, do it soon. You won’t be sorry.
Watch the Video for Keep It Shut
Excerpted with permission from Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All by Karen Ehman, copyright Zondervan.
* * *
Ouch! Gossip and murder in the same category! Karen is right — we do tend to rank sins, especially in a way that self-excuses us from facing having to repent. Have you been a victim of gossip? How did that affect you? After reading this, do you think that you may have some apologizing and repenting to do? I do! Join the conversation on our blog. We’d love to hear from you about the topic of gossip. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full