January 8th 2023
By Rev Dr Ed Hird
All Saints Crescent Beach
How many of you have taken up my challenge reading one chapter per day of the book of Proverbs this past week? What has God been teaching you so far?
There were three pastors who went on a retreat to a desert island. Getting close, one confessed his addiction to gambling. The second pastor confessed that he cheated on his taxes. The third pastor was very quiet for a long time. Then he said: “My great sin is gossip, and I can hardly wait to get off this desert island.”
Why do so many people, even as Christians, gossip about other people’s dirty laundry? Why is it that gossip is one of our most socially acceptable sins as Christians? Some people think that it barely qualifies as a sin. You want to be in the know. Gossip is power. Gossip empowers us to feel strong and independent. It’s just the price of doing business. The trendiest word for gossip is to call it ‘spilling the tea.’ In the same way that some people can’t put a sentence together without swearing, other can’t do relationships without chatty gossip. Have you noticed how at virtually every food store checkout, there are numerous gossip magazines? North Americans spend 1.4 billion dollars a year on those food store checkout magazines. Proverbs 17:4 in the Message comments that “Evil people relish malicious conversation; the ears of liars itch for dirty gossip.”
The book of Proverbs says again and again that gossip is foolish. It is not wise to keep gossiping. Gossip is unholy and ungodly.
Moses prayed in his only Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days that we may have a heart of wisdom.” What if we developed a heart of wisdom regarding the temptation of gossip?
King Solomon, author of the book of Proverbs, was greater in wisdom than any other King. You will remember how King Solomon asked God in 1 Kings 3:9 not for wealth but for a wise & discerning heart. How many of you would like a discerning heart of wisdom regarding gossip in 2023?
What might it look like to cleanse our hearts in 2023 of any gossip?What if we made a definite decision to live a gossip-free life? How many are willing to fast from gossip until Feb 1st? Perhaps more realistically one day at a time?
Dr. David C. Watson, an assistant professor of psychology at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, did a study on male/female differences and similarities regarding gossip, published online in the journal Sex Roles. Researchers asked 167 female and 69 male college students to complete both a “friendship” and “tendency to gossip” questionnaire. Students ranged in age from 17 to 29.
Overall, women tended to gossip more than men. And when it came to the topics the ladies preferred to talk about, the study showed they scored highest on gossiping about another person’s physical appearance, their questionable taste in haircuts or clothing.
Women also had higher scores than guys on “social information gossip,” meaning they knew what was going on. They could gab about who’s dating whom, who broke up or hooked up, or who hates their boss.
Men scored lower in these two gossip categories. But they did score slightly higher when it came to “achievement related gossip,” which refers to shooting the breeze about grades or salaries, and other status-oriented stuff. Gossip for men is about more knowledge and control of information; it’s a way to get more status.
How many of you see yourselves as foodies? How many love to go out sometimes for a nice dinner? Have you ever thought of gossip as a delicious five-course meal? Proverbs 26: 22 & Proverbs 18:8 both say that the words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
The book of Proverbs doesn’t want us to miss the hedonistic pull of gossip. Gossip is juicy, and plays on our curiosity and fear of being left in the dark. It can feel like a fine feast to start with, but then leaves us with a spiritual bellyache. Eugene Peterson vividly puts it this way: “Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy; do you want junk like that in your belly?”
I will never forget getting food poisoning on my way home from Hawaii. Instead of getting on the plane, I threw up and ended going by ambulance to the hospital. Gossip leaves us sick emotionally, spiritually and even physically. Gossip is like a cancer that starts small, but quickly metastases if not repented of. Gossip is like a science fiction AI drone that quickly get out of control, taking on a life of its own, even attacking its original creator.
We all know from childhood the phrase ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ It’s a lie. Gossip is verbal violence. Outwardly mature adults often carry the effects of high school gossip for the rest of their lives, believing the lie that they are ugly, stupid, weak, and unlovable. What lies have mean girls or boys spoken into your hearts that you still believe?
Proverbs 18:21 says that our tongues have the power of life and death. Have you ever played the telephone game? That is why rumours and gossip are so deadly, killing so many marriages, families, churches, and even nations.
You may have heard of the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, lust, sloth, gluttony, greed). Gossip has been called the eighth deadly sin. For some people, it can be as addictive as alcohol, drugs or gambling, and very hard to break. Like with the twelve steps of AA, we may be powerless over it in our own strength. In the 12 by 12 AA book, it says: “Gossip barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us, too.”
It is remarkable that all major religions condemn gossip as a major problem. In the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ Sikh holy book, for example, it says “Your mouth has not stopped slandering and gossiping about others. Your service is useless and fruitless.’
Many of us were raised in the 1960’s culture where if gossip or whatever deadly sin feels good, do it. As the pop song put it, how can it be wrong when it feels so right? Our North American celebrity culture encourages us to just trust your heart and your latest feelings. Our momentary emotions would never deceive us, right? It is a lie however from the pit that gossip will make us happy.
The term gossip comes from the late Old English godsibb, ‘godfather, godmother, baptismal sponsor’, literally ‘a person related to one in God’, from god ‘God’ + sibb ‘a relative’. In the days before newspapers, much news, both good and bad, was spread by godparents during the many infant baptisms. The late Canon Michael Green encouraged us to gossip the good news, not the bad news. The term gospel literally means good news. What if we at All Saints gossiped the good news about the Oikos Project and how lives are being changed?
Why is gossip so destructive? One reason is that it destroys friendships. Proverbs 16:28 tells us that “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Loose lips sink our relational ships & friend ships.
Did you know that Satan is a master gossip? His very name in both Hebrew (Satan) and in Greek (diablos) means ‘accuser’. That is why in Revelation 12:10 he is called the accuser of the brothers and sisters. Day and night he gossips about you, trying to slander your character and discourage you into giving up.
The irony of atheists is that they can’t stop gossiping about and complaining about the God they don’t believe in. Many atheists nowadays talk more about God than Christians.
Has anyone ever badmouthed you or spread rumours about you? It can leave you feeling stabbed in the back by what Proverbs 25:23 calls the backbiting tongue. Gossip can start relational fires that are very hard to put out. Our credibility may shattered by other people using innuendo to assassinate our character. Think about how some people are threatening to remove Dr Jordan Peterson’s license as a psychologist. Any public figure in this internet age will be endlessly gossiped about. People will cowardly say things about you in the anonymity of the internet that they would never say in person.
That is why Charles Dickens said in 1841 that good people are reluctant to enter American politics because the media gossip is so vicious. Has anything changed? In the USA and increasingly in Canada, both religion and politics have become blood sports. We shoot our wounded with high-sounding gossip.
James 3:8 says that the the tongue cannot be tamed; it is a restless evil, a deadly poison. Gossip is literally a razor blade in our mouths that can rip others to pieces.
For many years, I used to repeat the common slogan that Christianity is not about religion but relationship. That is not actually completely true. There are two kinds of religion biblically. James 1:27 & 3:3 say that there is genuine religion where we bridle our tongue and counterfeit religion where we curse others . James 3:10 says that out of the same mouth can come both praise and cursing. It goes on to say in vs 11, ‘Brothers & sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” As Romans 12:14 puts it, bless and do not curse. Dr Derek Prince taught that gossip is actually low-level witchcraft, using our words to curse and control others, using fear, guilt and shame.
Gossip is both injustice and unrighteousness. Often the self righteous and the hyper-spiritual are the worst gossips, as they proudly point the finger at others who are not up to their standards. Have you ever seen some one angrily use the Bible or charismatic gifts as weapons to put down other so-called lesser Christians, often behind their backs? Church splits are often based in such gossip.
I will never forget what happened to my good and honest friend Pastor Owen Scott, former Senior Pastor of Valley Church, North Vancouver, at his final service in Regina. Out of the blue, a man publicly prophesied that Owen was a hypocrite. You can imagine how painful that such untrue gossip was to Owen.
Galatians 6:7 and 2 Corinthians 9:6 teach that how we sow, with our time, talent, treasure, and tongues is how we will reap with our lives. As Hosea 8:7 puts it, if we sow the wind, we will reap the whirlwind. Gossip can cause us to be literally gone with the wind. Karma by the way is a corrupted version of this biblical principle of sowing and reaping.
When sharing deeply with spiritual friends, it is vital to know who is a blabbermouth, versus those who will protect your privacy. Do you know how to keep your mouth shut? As Proverbs 11:13 puts it, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Secrets must be kept confidential unless it involves child abuse, or threat of violence, murder or suicide.
If people gossip to you about other people , they will gossip about you to other people. What goes around comes around. Gossipers often tempt you to listen to gossip by first flattering you. Christian gossips will even pray-gossip in other people’s presence: “O Lord, you know about that person that’s doing such and such. Ain’t it awful, Lord?’
A lot of gossip according to Proverbs 20:19 comes from the inability to control over verbosity. That is why it encourages us to avoid anyone who talks too much.”
1 Timothy 5:13 & 2 Thessalonians 3:11 warn against being disruptive busybodies gossiping from house to house.
Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20 include gossip with a cluster of destructive behaviours: Paul said to the Corinthians: “For I am afraid that when I come, I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.” Gossip seems to be fed and amplified by other unrepented sins.
The root cause of gossip is almost always, without fail, jealousy. Gossip revels in other people’s bad deeds. Gossip is a cheap way for insecure people to feel superior to others. Some gossip in order to feel part of the group. Everyone else is doing it.
James 3:6 says that “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Gossips are spiritual arsonists. Proverbs 26:20-21 says that “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.” The Bible teaches here that conflict is ultimately based on gossip. The Ukrainian/Russian conflict therefore is based on gossip. Gossip such as ‘they’re all just neonazis.’ You may remember the one unidentified nazi flag at the Freedom Convoy amid thousands of Canadian flags. Gossip resulted in a Jewish Canadian MP Melissa Lantsman being falsely accused of ‘standing with people who wave swastikas’ because of her sympathy to some of the Freedom convoy’s concerns. What if we refused to listen to unverified political gossip?
Gossip isn’t just hard to resist; it’s hard to define. We don’t always know when we’re being gossips. Our hearts according to Jeremiah 17:9 are deceitful and desperately wicked. It is too easy to fool ourselves into thinking that gossip is what other people do, not ourselves. Self awareness is a huge problem in battling gossip. It’s like bad breath and body odour. It is easy to see this in others, but not in ourselves. That is why people are far more likely to fess up to murder, adultery and theft than the sin of gossip. To paraphrase Bishop Peter, 95% of people are tempted to gossip, and 5% are liars.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that even Jesus himself was tempted to gossip, as he was tempted in all ways like us, and resisted. Resisting the temptation to gossip builds Christlike character.
Romans 1:29-30 connect gossip and slander together as sister sins. Slander and gossip in the KJV is called backbiting and whispering. James 4:1 says “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. Slander and gossip are cousins. Slander, legally speaking, is the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation. Gossip is often seen as lower-key, less visible slander.
People defend gossiping because it’s true. At the end of the day, however, gossip is a matter of intentions. If the story is true and our intentions are good, it is not gossip. Are we building the person up or tearing them down? As Ephesians 4:29 puts it, “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.” Matt Mitchell said that gossip is sharing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.
Gossip usually involves triangulation between three or more people. It can feel easier to complain about a person to a third person, rather than go directly to the person who has offended us. Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15 that “If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private…” Going one on one privately wipes out gossip. Only after this first step are we to involve others, if the person does not listen. Gossip is when we reverse the order of Matthew 18, by going first to the wider community. I will never forget when some people in a previous church repented at the elders level for violating Matthew 18, and thereby giving into gossip.
What might it take for us, especially in church, to prayerfully turn from the poison of gossip in our lives?
What if we guarded our ears and refused to listen to gossip, perhaps changing the topic or walking away? What if we ask gossipers to first go directly and privately to the person who has offended them? What if we made a definite decision to not pass gossip on? What if we converted negative gossip into prayerful blessing of the person being spoken of? Isn’t it wonderful as Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus? The Holy Spirit convicts rather than condemns. Prayer as blessing and thanksgiving is a key in stamping out gossip in our lives.
As Psalms 141:3 puts it, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Choose life today through guarding your heart, your lips, your eyes, and your ears. How many of you would like to do that today? Let us pray.
13. “A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”
15. As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.
17. A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
19. A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly.
21. Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
23. Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death
25. is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”
26. Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
27. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
28. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
30. Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.
32. Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
34. Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts.
36. Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
38. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.
39. A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
Proverbs 26:13-28 NIV