When Talking About Someone is Not Gossip

When Talking About Someone is Not Gossip
John Guzzetta

Gossip is common, but it is ungodly. Paul lists gossip among sins that are “worthy of death” (Rom. 1:28-32, cf. 1 Tim. 5:13, 2 Tim. 3:3).

It takes two to gossip—one to talk, and one to listen! “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels” (Proverbs 26:22), and the one who craves morsels of gossip shares the guilt with the one who offers them. The fastest way to keep gossip from being spread is to refuse to listen; just like the fastest way to douse a fire is to remove the fuel (Proverbs 26:20).

Gossip is defined as talking about other people with wicked intent. Gossip is almost always listed with other sins of personal ill-will, such as “jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, ... arrogance, disturbances” (2 Cor. 12:20). People use gossip to feel the excitement of scandal, and to destroy the reputation of others.

It’s a misconception that gossip is only falsehood. No, gossip is still gossip when it is true. Maliciously spreading accurate news of someone’s misbehavior causes further harm. “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends” (Prov. 17:9). Maybe Bro. So-and-So is having trouble with his marriage, and maybe Sis. So-and-So did blurt out a naughty word—but these things don’t need to be broadcast. Joseph sought to put away Mary quietly, not wanting to disgrace her, and God called him “a righteous man” for it (Matt. 1:18-21).

It’s Not Gossip When It’s Open and Meant to Help. There are occasions when talking about another person is not gossip. As we read the Bible, we find times when conversation about others is necessary.

Talking about another is not gossip when it is motivated by the desire to save his soul. Paul began his rebuke of the Corinthians by saying, “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). Chloe and her household were apparently members of the Corinthian church who felt a great concern for the problems persisting in the congregation. They contacted Paul, so that he could help. We have a solemn responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to admonish one another, to restore those caught in a trespass (Gal. 6:1), to go after those straying from the truth (Jam. 5:19-20).

There is a previous step to take first, which we can safely assume Chloe would have taken. Jesus says in Matt. 18:15-17,

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

When we become aware of a sin in a brother’s life, we should go to him first. If the problem is handled there, news never needs to go further. If the problem cannot be solved, it is then acceptable to involve a few others, to try to save the brother’s soul. When someone approaches us with news about bad behavior, our first question should be, “Have you talked to him about this?” If the answer is no, then the next question should be, “Then why are you talking to me about this?”

And when talking about someone else, do we plan to say the exact same thing in his presence? Christians must not be “double-tongued” (1 Tim. 3:8); that is, slandering someone in his absence, but smiling at him in his presence. According to the old Law, the eyewitnesses of a crime were to be the first to throw the stones. Let us say nothing of a brother that we could not say to his face.

It’s Not Gossip When It’s Praise! It’s never wrong to praise! When we share news of another person’s good deeds, it’s certainly not gossip. Paul did it often: “We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (2 Thess. 1:4, cf. 1 Thess. 3:6-7, Rom. 16:19).

People don’t necessarily want news of their humble acts of kindness to be spread all over the place (Matt. 6:1-4). But it is a great encouragement to the church to have attention drawn to stellar examples of Christian behavior (1 Cor. 11:1). So when spouses are quarreling, tell them how good ol’ Bro. and Sis. So-and-So solved the problem. When a cancer diagnosis has planted doubt in a young man’s mind, put him in touch with a good brother whose faith endured a similar test.

The tongue can be used for evil or good—let’s be sure we are using ours for building up rather than tearing down!