Yesterday I had a phone call with a dear friend of mine. She shared a situation that was weighing heavily on her heart. I won’t skirt around the details, so bluntly put – she’d been part of a group conversation that had turned into gossip.
In the aftermath of the things she’d heard, she was feeling grieved, and uncertain about what she could have/should have said or done in the middle of the moment, and how she could address it now that the moment had passed. I’m not even going to give a hint of a rundown on the subject matter that concerned her, although I will say my friend took extreme care to leave out any names and particulars, even though I don’t know any of the parties involved. The details don’t need to be shared, and I reckon that it requires little creativity to imagine a scenario of gossip anyhow.
We’ve all been there, and we’ve probably all been there recently…
Someone struggling with an addiction…maybe it’s alcohol, maybe it’s pornography. Maybe there’s no addiction at all, but someone saw something out of the corner of their eye and made a story out of it, and decided to spread it around like wildfire.
Someone in financial trouble. They’re going to lose their house, we’ve heard. It’s probably because they waste all their money on vacations. Did you notice how many times a year they go away? How reckless of them!
A family is in crisis. A marriage is on the brink of defeat. It’s all the husband’s fault. Didn’t you know he did this that or the other? Oh, but no. It’s all the wife’s fault. She’s always one to (fill in the blanks with whatever junk you’ve heard through the grapevine).
So and so’s got to be pregnant. Everyone seemed to notice the flowy shirt she’s wearing. But then and again, someone pipes up, I heard she has a binge eating problem, so maybe she’s back to eating her emotions again. How sad.
This kind of talk is wrong. It has no place coming from the mouths of people who profess to follow Christ.
So yesterday when I hung up the phone, I looked out the window, this was the immediate picture before me:
Vultures: crowded around a decaying animal carcass – picking it to bits and consuming the rot. Looking out my window, the analogy hit me instantly. This is what we’re doing when we engage in gossip: we make a delicacy out of something rotten.
These turkey vultures are nasty creatures. I researched them online and learned that they’re scavengers that feed almost exclusively off death. They can detect the gas that’s produced once a dead animal begins to decay, and from there, they swoop in to feast. As I stood at my window and watched them in the act, I was taken aback by the morbidity of it all; it really is revolting.
I also found it interesting to learn that vultures have very few predators. For the ones they do have, their primary form of defense is – get this: to regurgitate semi-digested meat, because the foul odor is repulsive.
They make a habit of taking in filth, and filth comes out of them too.
When we feed off gossip, we become like vultures: we ingest and spew filth. It’s not a pretty picture, and it stinks. (No matter how nicely we pretend to sugar coat our words).
Like vultures, people inclined to gossip swoop in to eat of something foul. There’s nothing spiritually nourishing – to ourselves, or to anyone else – that comes from gossip. We shouldn’t eat of it, and we shouldn’t go about serving it to others.
Just like how vultures have very few predators, I have noticed how tricky it can be to stop gossip in its tracks. For those who make a habit out of gossiping, they’re not unlike the vulture who pukes its stench up as a protective mechanism. Engaging with someone whose tongue is loose and hurtful can leave us feeling sick. It can also leave us wondering whether bits and pieces of our own personal story will become their next meal. That’s an effective deterrent for confrontation.
Even if we don’t realize how destructive gossip is – for the one it targets, for the one who shares it, and for the ones who hear it – the Bible is anything but silent. Let me share a handful of scriptures that speak to this…
God hates gossip. Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (NIV)”. Gossip often involves the lying tongue, wicked schemes, false witness and stirring up conflict in the community.
Proverbs 18:8 says, “A gossip’s words are like choice morsels; they go down into the inmost parts” (NIV). The New Living Translation says, “rumours are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart”. This proverb must be important, because it’s repeated verbatim in Proverbs chapter 26 too. The words we hear aren’t just harmless information. The Bible tells us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21) and in several places the Bible compares the words we speak to the fruit of which we eat. When we speak gossip, and hear it, we are feeding others and ourselves consuming, bad food. The rotten food takes hold in our heart and breeds a cycle where it flows from within us. Like the vultures, we regurgitate the stench from within.
Have you ever heard something about someone through a third party? Did that thing you heard remain with you? Did it come to mind next time you saw the person in question? Did it colour the way you thought of them, or influence the softness of your heart towards them? Did you share that thing you heard with someone else? This is exactly the devastating cycle of harm that comes from eating the putrid meal of vultures.
To guard ourselves, the Bible warns us not to associate with people who make a habit of gossiping. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Proverbs 20:19, ESV). Following this instruction doesn’t just preserve the life and dignity of all parties involved, but it stops the cycle in its tracks: “without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20, NIV).
The Bible also tells us that we will one day have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). Instead, in Titus, we are warned “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (v. 2). So many verses speak to the importance of guarding ourselves against gossip that it’s almost as though it’s an age-old problem. It’s almost as though God knew it would be a problem for us now.
“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 all who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
“Do not spread false reports” (Exodus 2:31).
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Ouch.
What I’m trying to get at here, is that gossip, slander, and idle conversation about others is a big deal.
A really big deal.
God used the conversation yesterday, and the vultures out my window to illustrate this to me vividly. It felt natural to share it with you too.
I feel God reminding me to be extremely careful about what I listen to, and what I repeat. Sharing private information about someone (even if it’s true) – without their knowledge and permission – is gossip.
Sharing anything untrue, is slander. A lie.
Listening idly to others who share in gossip and slander is just as harmful. It’s all hurtful. It’s all wrong. And – God hates it.
Instead of participating in gossip, here are some ideas of what we should do instead
STEP ONE: Gently and matter-of-factly confront gossip in the moment. It could sound something like this: “Guys, I feel like this conversation is taking a turn to somewhere we shouldn’t be going. We don’t know all the facts, and even if we did, sharing them could be hurtful. Talking about it can’t help anyone anyway, but praying can. Why don’t we all commit to praying for them instead?”
STEP TWO: If Step 1 doesn’t work, then we should remove ourselves from the conversation. Just like Proverbs 26:20 describes, the fire goes out without wood. If we pull back, we’ve done our part to stop the gossip from continuing. It may continue without us, but in walking away, we prevent the negative seeds of offence to take hold in our own hearts.
STEP THREE: Don’t associate with someone who habitually gossips. This sounds harsh, but it’s Biblical when it comes to people who thrive off gossip. I’m not suggesting there’s many people like this out there, but I have encountered some. They’re the ones who always have a juicy story to tell, and no one’s private life is out of bounds. I think it’s appropriate to do steps 1 and 2 on a case-by-case basis, but if this is a recurring issue with someone in your life, it’s probably time to put some boundaries around the relationship. Proverbs 20:19 literally says “a gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” We are also told, “above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it”(Proverbs 4:23). We really do need to guard what we hear.
STEP FOUR: Regarding the gossip we’ve heard and spread, we should pray and repent. We should ask God to forgive us, and that He would uproot anything negative we’ve allowed to grow inside us. We may need to ask forgiveness from the brothers or sisters we’ve spoken about, and spoken to. We should also ask God to help us guard our tongue in the future, so we don’t cause any further harm. We should pray for the people we’ve heard things about; only God knows the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I’m not suggesting this is an exhaustive strategy to deal with gossip, but it’s a start.
Speaking only for myself – seeing those vultures chowing down on rancid racoon meat, and hearing God’s voice telling me that this is what it’s like when we gossip – well, it was a lesson I won’t soon forget!
Note: I’m not suggesting there’s never a time and place to speak to one person about another. Seeking Godly counsel, reporting serious concerns to parents, church leadership, law enforcement, child protection are often times necessary. There are times when we do need to open our mouths about the actions of another, even if only a rumor. We need to be discerning and prayerful when doing so, and do so with the right intent: to be loving, to guard ourselves and others, to be truthful, and with the utmost of discretion. I’m not saying that’s always easy to pull off – but we’ve all got to do much better than we currently are.
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