Friday, April 01, 2016

Helpful Blog Posts on Gossip - but what is Gossip? [UPDATED]

Today I heard an excellent podcast Thom Rainer did on gossip, its well worth a listen:

His podcast was prompted by an excellent blog post by Chuck Lawless outlining why gossip's so destructive to a church:

Both of these links are well worth reading/listening to.

Heart Issues:
I really appreciate both posts pointing out the heart issues behind gossip. I learned last year that it makes me feel good when someone else is listening to me telling them information about someone else. I get to pontificate on that person's life, whilst people hang on my every word. It comes down to the pride in my heart. 

Thomas Rainer does a good job of pointing out how damaging to church life gossip is. I can personally testify to this. He even says we should teach about it in church membership classes, have it mentioned in our membership agreements, and then do church discipline when it happens. 

A Definition of Gossip:
What I would have loved to see added to both posts was a definition of gossip. I think this is important because people often claim they're not gossiping when actually they are. People tend to have a narrow definition of gossip, whilst the Bible's definition is very broad and includes the following:

1) Betraying a confidence: 
The parallelism of Proverbs 11:13 shows us that betraying a confidence / telling a secret is gossip.  
'A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.' Prov 11:13
If someone said something to you in confidence (which is often assumed when people share sensitive stuff), then it's gossip to reveal that to others.  A question to ask ourselves is, 'if this person was in the room, would they be shocked that I'm saying this? Am I telling someone's secrets?

2) Spreading a False Report about someone: 
Exodus 23:1 NIV "Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.'
This happens because: 

  1. We misread a situation/person, and then tell others, spreading a false report that we think is accurate. They're not present in the room, so they can't correct your false report.
  2. By the process of chinese whispers, the story changes as it goes round, leading to a false report. Unfortunately, the person being talked about is not present to give their version, so others are left with an unchallenged composite image of the person that is in fact a lie. A question to ask ourselves is, 'If this person was in the room, would they agree with what I'm saying?' Another question to ask is, "Are they in the room?" If not, maybe we should keep our mouth closed.

3) Being a Busy-Body:
1 Timothy 5:13 ESV 'Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.'
We can become obsessed with what's going on with other people. Finding out information about other people, and then passing on that information to others. The internet makes this all to easy doesn't it? When I'm getting obsessed with what's going on in someone else' life, that's a sign that I'm becoming judgmental, and not doing enough reflection of my own heart.  
Matthew 7:3 NIV "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?' 
It's also a sign that the next step is going to be talking to others about the person I'm obsessing on.

4) Being two-faced:
1 Timothy 3:8 ESV 'Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued (NET 'two-faced'),' If we talk to someone's face as if we're friendly with  them, but behind their back say bad things about them, we are being two-faced, which is a type of gossip.

[UPDATED with points 5 & 6 on 02/06/16]

5) Falsely accusing someone

(Pro 17:15 NIV)   'Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent-- the LORD detests them both.'
We often do this when we assume what someone's done and rush to have a go at them without asking the questions first.

6) Stirring up conflict
(Pro 6:16-19 NIV)  16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
...  19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Sadly, we too often pass on information to others that stirs up trouble in our churches/friendship group etc.

How should we use our voices then?
Of course, if holiness in the Bible involves taking off the old and putting on the new, our goal should not just be to avoid gossip, but to move in the opposite direction, and use our voices for building others up. 

Ephesians 4:29 NIV '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 those who listen.'
There's an excellent blog post on this by Justin Taylor on the Gospel Coalition site:
'What would it look like if Christians took the ninth commandment seriously.'

But how can we do this?
Once I learned what gossip was, I found that although I knew it was bad, it is very hard to not do. This is because deep down in my heart I want to be important. I can appear important by gossiping, because 
1) others like to listen to it, and therefore appear to view me as important, and 
2) by putting others down, I elevate myself. So I've found the following things helpful:

  1. To daily meditate on Scriptures about not being judgmental.
  2. To pray that God will help me to not be judgmental
  3. To pray regularly that God will help me use my voice the right way, to build others up.
  4. To quickly confess when I'm not using my voice right. Rather than covering up, to admit it, knowing that Jesus' death has paid for this sin, and his righteousness means that I'm right in God's sight regardless of whether I've gossiped [though I still need to repent]. These gospel truths free me up to be honest about my gossiping.
  5. To have a spouse and friends and church who know what gossip is and that is wrong, and that it's a heart condition. This way they can help me stay on the straight and narrow instead of helping me cover up and even grow my sin.
  6. To daily meditate on being God's son. With this Biblical sense of importance, I'm less likely to want to seek importance through gossip.
  7. As these gospel truths soften my heart, I find my gossip decreasing, and my voice being used in better ways. But, the power of indwelling sin is no less, I will still gossip, and still badly need the cross each time.