Gossip is a weapon of mass destruction. It bites, claws, and maims its unsuspecting victims. The gossip is a murderer of reputations and a divider of relationships. Yet if gossip is so destructive and divisive, why do we do it? Why are our news feeds and our communities and our conversations so saturated with gossip? The well of the human heart is dug deep, so this post and the next will represent a few forays into the subterranean waters of gossip. Always best to evaluate and purify the spring so that the stream comes out pure.
1. Gossip is often our misguided attempt at justice. Gossip is accusation, and accusation is a form of justice. When we gossip, we’re directing blame and guilt toward someone. We’re able to punish them by publicly posting their crimes. But vengeance is not ours (Rom 12:19). To combat the vengeful spirit that fuels gossip, we must remember the last scenes of the gospel: the judgment of God against all wickedness (and his vindication of all righteousness). God will judge all people in the end (and without partiality). On that day, the curse that will fall upon their heads will be far greater than any curse our words can enact, and the temporary shame that even believers will feel for our forgiven sins will far outweigh any shame that could be directed our way through earthly gossip. Judgment belongs to the Lord. There is some judging that we are meant to do now (e.g., 1 Cor 5:1-13; 1 Tim 3:10), but gossip does not fall into this category.
2. Gossip is often an expression of our cowardice. We’re usually willing to say difficult things about people because it’s easy, but we’re often unwilling to say difficult things to people because it’s hard. But “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6). Sometimes, it’s not the content of the gossip that’s the problem, but the direction of the gossip. Gossipy information (when it’s factual) should be directed to the person. When we talk about people’s sin, most often those people ought to be the recipient of our speech instead of the object of our speech.
Speaking hard things to someone has a way of purifying the content. You know you can’t get away with caricature, satire, sarcasm, ridicule, or purposeful misrepresentation like you can when you’re gossiping. You know you must present what you’re saying in a truthful, proportional, and persuasive way if you want to gain a hearing.
Another expression of cowardice is when we recount our conversations with an intensity and pointedness which we never expressed with the person in question. We then offer qualifiers: “I mean, I didn’t actually say it like that, but I told him what I thought.” This may be acceptable if you’re just offering a summary. But when you’re talking about a level of candidness, honesty, pointedness, and harshness, you’re not treating the person fairly. You’re talking about them in a way that you weren’t willing to talk to them.
Sadly, gossip is effective for masking our cowardice because gossip seems and sounds courageous. Gossip masks itself as a noble advance for truth — you’re waving the banner for integrity, righteousness, and justice. So you can sound like the righteous prophet expressing indignation over sin and wickedness without ever standing face to face with the source of that evil and addressing it biblically.