For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
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Friday, January 6, 2017

Gossip. The Sweet Poison

Following Jesus is a matter of continual transformation. The Holy Spirit is working to make us more and more like Jesus. One of the areas that he will deal with is the words that come out of our mouths. As he begins to work on this area, we will find ourselves watching the things we say more closely. It is important to guard our speech (James 1:19; Psalm 141:3), but we will quickly realise something: our speech exposes us. While we may be able to fake it for awhile, what we say reveal will reveal what is going on in our hearts. It is like a blood test that cannot be faked (Matthew 12:34). So dealing with our speech will inevitably lead to our dealing with what is going on in our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19).

Ephesians 4:29 sets the standard for our speech. It contains a positive and a negative statement. Let's look at the positive first. Our speech is to be used for building others up. The things that come out of our mouths should be designed to edify and strengthen others rather than tearing them down. Our speech should be based on their needs, not ours. Our words should benefit all who hear them.
On the negative side, our speech should not be "unwholesome". The Greek word here was used to describe rotting fish. There are few worse smells! So what is "unwholesome"? The Bible gives us some clues: obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking (Ephesians 5:4), quarrelling, fits of rage, slander and gossip (2 Corinthians 12:20), lying, stirring up dissension (Proverbs 6:17) are all things we are to avoid.

For many of us, simply focusing on Ephesians 4:29 for a month would drive us deeper into our relationship with God. I want to take moment to focus on one particular type of "rotten fish": gossip. As I do, I want to state that I am not dealing with this because I think there is a major problem right now in our church (although it undoubtedly exists), but because I believe that gossip is a continual threat to our spiritual lives both as individuals and as a church. So let's dig in!

Gossip Defined

Let's look at several definitions:
  • The Webster's Dictionary defines it like this: “To reveal facts about others of a personal or intimate nature” 
  • The Hebrew word translated gossip means “talebearer”. It refers to someone running around telling others “the latest news...things no one else know!”.
  • The Greek word commonly translated gossip means to provide harmful information about a person, often spoken in whispers with the implication that the information is not widely known.
Our English word "gossip" does not have the same connotation as the Biblical words. The Biblical words have to do with sharing information with others inappropriately that damages the other person in some way. It is not a matter of the information being true or false.  When doing a word study on this issue, it important to include the world “slander” which in most instances simply means to “speak against” someone. Sharing something about someone when telling them is not part of the solution to the person’s problem.

Gossip is not a small thing in God’s eyes.

The Lord commands us not to be a “talebearer” (Lev 19:16). He tells us that gossip destroys relationships (Proverbs 16:28). The Lord promises that he will silence those who slander  (Psalm 101:5). Gossip is a sign that one has a depraved mind. Read this passage carefully:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  - (Romans 1:28-32)
God puts gossip in the same list as murder, strife and deceit. He indicates that those who behave like this are deserving of death. As I read this verse, I wonder how many times we not only gossip, but approve of those who bring us the gossip!

So why do we gossip?

I think that are three main reasons why we gossip. Each of these reasons exposes something in our hearts that we need to deal with before God.
We gossip because we harbour hatred, envy or jealousy in our hearts. When we hear something that damages someone that we do not like, we repeat it in order to tear them down. How many of us have repeated things we have heard about others simply with the hidden intent of damaging their reputation or lessening them in the eyes of others?
We gossip because we want to feel important. If we know something someone doesn't know, we feel powerful and important. If we do not have our value in Chirst, then we may seek to find our value by being the source of information that people turn to. 
We gossip because it makes us feel righteous. When we speak about or listen to other people's issues, we feel better about ourselves. When we talk about the sins of others, it makes us feel holy and superior. 

Common Places Gossip Grows

The "Prayer Concern"
Some people love to spread news this way. Tom says, "We really need to pray for John and Mary, I hear that they are having marriage problems. John is just focused on his job. All he cares about is money." And so the conversation starts. They "talk through" the John and Mary's "situation" with endless speculation about them. Prayer? It usually doesn't happen or is only a brief sentence or two.

I heard something about someone and need to know what to do. 
This is closely related to the prayer concern type of gossip, but in this situation we cloak it in people "what I should do" about a situation. "John and Mary are coming to dinner tomorrow and I don't know what I should say. I heard that they are having marriage problems? You didn't know that? Well, let me tell you (blah, blah, blah)... What do you think I should do?" Sixteen people hear about John and Mary's problems before dinner even happens...all in the name of "seeking advice". 
Sometimes, we do need advice about how we should respond to a situation.  Get advice, but get it from a godly counsellor. A godly counsellor is interested in your godliness and in reconciliation of relationships. They will point out your sin. They will not repeat the matter or be stumbled by it. They will only want to know enough to give you sound counsel. They will be seeking God's will first and foremost. They won't repeat the matter to anyone. (If someone always seems to talk about everyone else's problems, they are NOT the person you want to talk to!).

Someone did something that hurt me.
We live in a fallen world. It is inevitable that people will say things that hurt us or do things that upset us. And when they do, we often start talking about how we were wronged with all of our friends. Of course, God knew that there would be times that people would hurt us. That's why he gave us specific instructions about how to deal with it. Almost all offenses against us can be handled according to clear Scriptural guidelines. Let's remember what they are:

  1. Let it go. Most small matters can be released and never brought up. (Proverbs 19:11 NIV) A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.  (1 Corinthians 6:7 NIV) The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?  To overlook an offense means just that. It doesn’t mean that you go and tell your friends what so-and-so just did to you. It means that you choose to forget about it, not to hold it against them, and to not talk about the mean thing they did with others. Of course, some situations are too big to simply overlook. If you find that it is affecting your relationship or attitude toward the other person with you need to deal with it the situation. Jesus gave some specific instructions about how to do that (Matthew 18:15-20), but first:
  2. Get the log out of your own eye. Most situations are two-sided. (Proverbs 18:17 NIV) The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.  Jesus warns us against dealing with someone else’s sin in a situation without allowing the Spirit to deal with our sin. We need to be careful to take responsibility for, and repent of, our sins. So if someone has wronged you, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you contributed to the situation and what you can do to resolve your part of it.
  3. Go and address the matter with the one who offended you. Jesus specifically said that we are to go and talk to the person. Do this in a spirit of humility and with a desire to restore relationship. (Matthew 18:15 NIV) "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.
Almost every situations where we have been offended can be handled this way, usually with the result of restoration and reconciliation. Notice that these three steps do not involve our brining another person into the problem. Only after we have done these are we to bring someone else into the situation (Matthew 18:16).
Why do we insist on “telling it to the whole church” (or workplace or school) through gossip first? One of the most common behaviors in conflicts is gathering people to our side rather than seeking reconciliation with the one who offended us. We aren’t really seeking direction from others. We are seeking the approval of others for how we feel. Or worse, we are seeking an army to go into battle with us. The Lord tells us to live at peace with others.

Dealing with gossip

If you have a problem with gossip: Meditate on Ephesians 4:29. Learn to speak with wholesome words that edify others. 

If a gossip comes to you with the latest thing they heard: Listening to gossip is wrong. When a gossip starts talking about others, simply say, “I don’t think that I need to know this. You need to take this to the Lord and to the people involved.” If they keep talking anyway, walk away. You are dealing with a gossiper who only wants more "juicy details" to share in their next conversation. A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks to much (Proverbs 20:19).

When you are the victim of gossip: It can feel like character assassination. Remember: No one can assassinate your character. Only you can ruin your character. It is your reputation, not your character that is being sullied. Focus on maintaining your character and your reputation will eventually take care of itself. Remember, the apostles were considered the “scum of the earth” yet they had sterling character. (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). 

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