It is no consequence that the Book of Proverbs – a book of wisdom – includes some form of instruction about the tongue/speech/words in almost every single chapter. The most often quoted of which being, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” (Proverbs 18:21). The tongue is either a tool to build, or a weapon to destroy. It amazes me that followers of Jesus spend so much of their energy in judgment of other’s failures, faults, and sins, while completely ignoring the relational and spiritual devastation that comes from inappropriate uses of the tongue – gossip being the choice abuse among most believers in closed circles. Take a few seconds to skim through these short biblical proverbs about gossip and similar abuses of the tongue (all quoted from the HCSB):
“A contrary man spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
“Whoever conceals an offense promotes love, but whoever gossips about it separates friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
“Whoever spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18)
“A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13)
“The Lord hates . . . one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:19-19)
“Smooth lips with an evil heart are like glaze on an earthen vessel.” (Proverbs 26:23)
If God takes abuse of the tongue so seriously, followers of Jesus should as well. Here are 4 common misconceptions about gossip, and how you can begin to use your tongue as a tool to build, instead of a weapon to destroy:
4 Common Misconceptions About Gossip:
- It’s not gossip if it is true. While gossip is often false, it really has nothing to do with the truthfulness of the claim. In fact, gossip can either be true or false. What makes it gossip is that the information privately shared (whether true or untrue) does harm to someone – anyone – rather than good. The New Testament teaching on this might be summed up in Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV)). As it turns out, when your Mom instructed you, “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all,” it was actually biblical.
- I have to share with someone, or I’ll explode. Biblically, the righteous thing to do is to conceal information that has the potential of doing harm rather than good, not to spread it. You cannot control what other people do. But you can control how you respond to it. Your emotions are your responsibility. Own them. And trust God to deal with issues in His way, in His time.
- Everyone knows it anyway. First of all, that is never true. Secondly, your tongue is your responsibility. If something you say separates instead of unifies, destroys instead of builds up, or harms instead of helps, it is sin against God. And it reveals the foolishness of your own heart. Whether everyone else is saying it or not, your tongue is your responsibility.
- I’m not participating in gossip if I’m just listening. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.” The open ear of the listener is dry wood for the gossip’s fire. If no one listened, the gossip would have no one to whom to gossip. So if you are allowing yourself to be on the receiving end of gossip, you are just as responsible for the harm that is caused as is the one dishing it out. And you will share in the Lord’s correction when it comes (Proverbs 27:12).
How do I stop gossip when I recognize it?
A number of years ago, I was on the phone with an older Christian woman. Within only a few minutes it became obvious to me that the whole reason for her call was to gossip about other people in the church and the community. I stopped her in mid-sentence and said, “I’m sorry, _____, but this sounds a whole lot like gossip to me, and I really don’t want to have anything to do with it. Is there something else you’d like to talk about, or something I can help you with?” She was offended and hung up the phone in embarrassment. I wish I could say it led to immediate repentance and restoration, but she left the church and never spoke to me again. Take note of the following Proverbs:
“The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” (Proverbs 27:6).
“Drive out a mocker and conflict goes too; then quarreling and dishonor will cease.” (Proverbs 22:10)
“A sensible person sees danger and takes cover; the inexperienced keep going and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12)
“One who rebukes a person will later find more favor than one who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23)
Instead of giving you a list of ideas, allow me to sum up with simplicity: If you recognize that you are on the receiving end of gossip, immediately redirect the conversation, cut it off, or get out of there. Recognize the danger as soon as possible and take action. In the end, the benefit to you will be great and prayerfully, the gossiper will learn repentance in the process.
Why lend your tongue as an instrument unto death, when it can be such a powerful tool unto life?
So how about it? Will you use your tongue as a tool to build, or a weapon to destroy?
Yours in Christ,