Often I am asked by outsiders, “Why can’t I see Jesus?” There are many ways you can answer that question. But the model answer ought to be that we can see Jesus in the local church. As I have said many times, the church is the body of Christ. Its calling is to be the visible presence of Jesus of the wider world.
For the church to fufil that calling, however, there needs to be open, trusting and loving relationships. Our love for each other shows that Jesus really is Lord in our lives. And it involves more than simply being nice with each other. It involves being honest with each other, recognising our differences and yet being committed to respecting the other person as someone for whom Christ died.
This is why gossip is so poisonous. Gossip often comes from the most unlikely of sources, from people who would be considered mature Christians and yet betray their maturity by the way they speak about other people. Such people, in my experience, would be horrified if they thought they were called gossips. They would justify their sharing of information as providing fuel for prayers, expressing concerns in confidence, wanting just to let you know “in case”.
But I want to name gossip for what it is – a dark and ugly sin that poisons the whole body of Christ. Any form of gossip goes against the Lord’s command to love your neighbour as yourself. It involves saying something about someone else you would not say to their face, and passing your judgement to a third party. Often that person sharing the information does not themselves question their source. So gossip feeds half-truths, and deception which spreads and spreads and spreads. It produces cliques of those in the know and those who feel excluded, vaguely aware without being able to get to the bottom of it all, that someone somewhere is talking about them. That is why a gossiping church cannot be a gospel church.
The Bible has plenty to say about gossip, particularly in the book of Proverbs.
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. (Prov 11:13). In other words, anything shared in confidence stays in confidence. If you feel to have to share something said, ask the other person’s permission first.
A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. (Prov 16:28). This needs no comment – words thoughtlessly about spoken about another person destroy relationships again and again.
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. (Prov 18:8). Like most sin, gossip is something all of us enjoy from time to time. But just because you enjoy something, it doesn’t mean it’s right. And gossip is as much as what we post on social media as anything we share we face to face.
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. (Prov 20:19). One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Someone who is desperate to share with you the latest titbit of news needs to avoided or challenged. It is rare for that person to have a genuine concern for whoever they are gossiping about.
Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. (Prov 26:20). Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet time after time we see churches rent asunder by warring factions, and so often gossip is at the heart of the issue. We need to learn to listen, to really listen to one another. We need to learn to repent and recognise when our words have offended others. We need to invest our time in building other people up, rather than looking for opportunities to take them down.
Recently I have several times been told information about someone from a third hand source who themselves were not directly involved in the issue in question. I respect people who share genuine concerns with me, and I am always willing to hear these concerns in confidence. But if those concerns come to me only by a very indirect route, I immediately become concerned as to who else knows and who else doesn’t know what is going on. In any situation and in any organisation the shortest line of communication is best, and the longer the chain, the more likely it is that gossip has broken out. I would far rather hear news face-to-face than third or fourth hand.
So for the sake of the mission of the church, for the sake of those who are dying to see Jesus, let’s make every effort to avoid gossip. Some of the fruits of the sinful nature are dissension, factions and envy (Gal 5:20-21), and we must be clear – gossip plants their seeds. Let’s rather keep in step with the Spirit and make sure our words to one another reflect the good news we all long to make known.