Doesn’t gossip seem so hard to avoid? It starts off as an innocuous, “Hey, pray for [this]” and spirals into a full-blown “You’ll never guess what she said to me the other day. The audacity…”
What sometimes gets us Christians caught in the gossip trap is that it’s often passed off as something else: showing “concern,”; looking out for someone’s “well-being”; providing information “for the ministry”; “sharing this as a sister in Christ.” Can you relate? It’s the Gospel of Gossip: gossip under the aegis of the gospel.
Often, however, these “prayer requests” aren’t actually prayed over once shared, but instead cling to us with a run-over-skunk-like persistence.
This is what Ellen White had to say about the malodorous influence of bad words: “Evilspeaking is a twofold curse, falling more heavily upon the speaker than upon the hearer. He who scatters the seeds of dissension and strife reaps in his own soul the deadly fruits. How miserable is the talebearer, the surmiser of evil! He is a stranger to true happiness” (5T 176). Gossipy words are dead skunks for hearer and speaker alike.
If we’d look back on our experience, we’d be hard-pressed to think of an experience in which gossip actually helped us to grow. In fact, we are assured that it has the opposite effect: “[Satan] knows that all this gossip and talebearing and revealing of secrets and dissecting of character separates the soul from God. It is death to spirituality and a calm religious influence” (2MCP 779).
After getting caught up in the chit-chat, we realize only as we look back on our day that we’ve been far too ungenerous, unjust, and unkind in our words, making colossal leaps of logic and hasty assessments that we’d never want applied to our own affairs.
And sometimes we’ve been the subject of gossip that eventually works its way back to us—one cycle of life that I personally find very unpleasant. Haven’t you ever wished that you could rewind and tape over not only your ill-chosen words but those of others?
Recently, I’ve been wondering about what to do when the conversation starts to take that all too familiar turn toward verbal muckraking. We find plenty of direction in the Spirit of Prophecy on what to do in these sticky situations:
“When anyone comes to you with a tale about your neighbor, you should refuse to hear it. You should say to him, ‘Have you spoken of this matter to the individual concerned?’…Tell him he should obey the Bible rule, and go first to his brother, and tell him his fault privately, and in love. If the directions of God were carried out, the floodgates of gossip would be closed” (OHC 293).
“Let all close their ears to gossip and censure. Direct the tale-bearer to the teachings of God’s word. Bid him carry his complaints directly to those whom he thinks in error. This united action would bring a flood of light into the church, and close to door to a flood of evil” (RH, November 30, 1886).
“Silence is the greatest rebuke that you can possibly give to a faultfinder or one whose temper is irritated” (OHC 293).
But here’s another thing I’ve been thinking: it’s about me. The buck (or skunk!) stops with me. Through our own words and character, perhaps we can make an effort in our close friendships and relationships to not be people who invite the type of talk that disparages and stains others’ reputations.
In this, we find divine precedent. God commands us to be holy, just as He is holy (Lev. 11:44). We respond to who He is. And in turn, people respond to who we are. Those who’ve canvassed know exactly what this is like: smiling at the people you meet often elicits smiles from even the Scroogiest.
Have trouble with your own words? “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned” (Isa. 50:4). In our time with the Lord, He can teach us how to speak a “word in season to him that is weary.” That’s pretty good news when you think about what Ellen White had to say about our speech: “It is natural for human beings to speak sharp words” (AH 441).
The psalmist penned this introduction to one song: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. … O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:1-3). It’s a great formula for skunk-scent removal: We praise the Lord always—that leaves no room for gossip!—and invite others to “exalt his name” with us.
Perhaps—no, DEFINITELY—easier said than done.
But the day is coming when we’ll be held accountable for our words (Ecc. 12:14). When that day comes, I want to be able to say that I’ve spoken the gospel of thanksgiving and praise, not gossip. How about you?