The Unforseen Harm in Gossip
None of us are strangers to harm from gossip. Most likely by now you’ve had multiple conversations about or have been reminded that gossip “separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9), destroys trust (Proverbs 20:19), and deeply hurts those who have been gossiped about. Our tongues are powerful, and Scripture says our tongues carry the power of “life and death” (Prov. 18:21). We all know the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is a bunch of hogwash. Words hurt.
We’d all agree that the real victim in gossip is the one who has been gossiped about and our compassion should extend toward them. And yet there are deeper layers in this topic, and it’s what can be termed:
The unforeseen, but collateral damage in gossip.
The damage done through gossip extends beyond the subject of the harmful words, to both the sharer and the hearer of the information. But this collateral damage often goes unnoticed, and unaddressed. Four points we can learn about collateral damage in gossip:
1) Gossip creates a false sense of a
bond between the one who shares
the gossip and the one who hears it.
Let’s admit it. Sharing or hearing gossip can be bonding. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to the inmost parts”. Gossip can (metaphorically) taste good, like a “choice morsel”, and make us feel special. When juicy information is shared with us by someone, they are trusting and treating us important enough to break someone else’s trust. It can create a false sense of a close bond.
I remember several years ago a friend and I were together and we must have spent the majority of our conversation talking about problems we saw in other people, criticizing others behind their back, and essentially, gossiping. I remember leaving the time feeling sick to my stomach with conviction. She was mature enough to call me later, repent, and ask for forgiveness, and I did the same. I will never forget what she said, “I don’t want our relationship to be based on tearing others down”. If our relationship continued to thrive on gossip sessions, it would have been a relationship that was unloving and built on a bond of sin. Friendships were meant to be so much more.
2) Gossip can create a barrier
between God and us.
Gossip seems to be so commonplace that we sometimes forget it is wrong. Romans 1:29-30, among other verses, points to the sin of “gossips” and “slanderers”. And like any sin that we leave unacknowledged and unchanged, it can be the cause of relational distance with God. And the more we leave gossip unacknowledged, the more slyly it sneaks into our conversations. Rather than calling it wrong we turn it into a “prayer request about our friend”, or simply a “venting session” we think we deserve. The line between wrong behavior and what we think we should be able to do becomes blurred.
3) Gossip leads us to pass
judgements that are often
I remember when a friend told me a juicy piece of information about a new woman that was moving and coming to our church. Truth be told, the information was not a fact but a harsh opinion that someone had formed of her from her previous church. Instead of lovingly speaking the truth to my friend who shared the information, such as, well we haven’t met her yet so let’s be careful with quick judgements, I too responded wrongly and received the judgement as fact. And sadly, I held this girl through this critical lens for a while until I realized how wrong I had been. This woman became a very close friend. My quick judgement based on gossip had nearly derailed a beautiful gift that God wanted to give me in a new friendship.
4) Gossip reveals unaddressed
issues of the heart.
Matthew 12:34 says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. What this verse tells us is that our words are most often a symptom of the heart. Gossip can suggest something much deeper is going on in the heart of the one who shares it. We might gossip for attention, or out of insecurity or jealousy. We may gossip to seek friendship because we are lonely, or we might gossip because we are unhappy about something in our own life. Indeed, one might argue that sometimes it’s simply out of boredom, but even then we should wonder why we seek entertainment in something that might harm others. This list for gossiping is not exhaustive of course, but hopefully it does make us think about the condition of our heart and the reason we are gossiping.
Hope and Forgiveness
The promise for us when we are heartbroken for being the subject of gossip is beautiful: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Yet He also gives promises to those of us who have caused broken hearts through harmful gossip. He has promised He would cleanse us when we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), and He has given us power through the Spirit to defeat sin (Romans 8:13). His love runs deep, for both the wounded and the one who has caused the wounding.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk
come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building
others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen”.