We all know gossip is bad. In Romans 1, Paul lists a variety of sins that condemn people. In this list with sexual sins, murder, and others, he also includes gossip. But what exactly is gossip?
Not everything you say negative about someone else is gossip. There are times when it is okay to warn someone of another person’s character, or to go to others for advice on how to help someone. We recognize that Jesus warned his disciples of certain people. For instance, he told them to avoid the influence of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mark 8:15). Paul names Alexander the coppersmith as someone who did him much harm (2 Timothy 4:14). So how do we define gossip? The truth is it is not easy to define.
Therefore, rather than giving a definition of gossip, I want share with you three categories. These categories are the ones I find in Scripture that help us better understand what is meant by gossip. I hope you will use these categories as an intellectual grid.
3 Categories of Gossip
The first category is gossip includes slandering someone. To slander means to attack or harm someone’s character with something that is either untrue, or you do not know if it is true. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 the word translated gossip (or some have whisperings) means to slander someone in secret, or slandering with whisper. If what you are saying about someone is untrue, or you do not know whether it is true or not, then when you share it with others you could be gossiping.
The second category is to betray a confidence. There are things that friends or family tell you with the hopes that it will stay between you and them. They do not want others to know, but they have decided to share it with you. Two different Proverbs come to mind. First, we have Proverbs 11:13 that says a “Gossip betrays a confidence, while a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Also Proverbs 20:19 says a “gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid someone who talks too much.” If someone tells you something, believing it will be kept between you and them, then to betray that confidence is gossip.
The final category is connected with the person who is a busybody. The person who simply wants to know everyone’s business and then desires to share it with anyone they can. In 1 Timothy 5:13 Paul uses the phrase “house-to-house.” The imagery is someone finds out something “juicy” about a person, and then decides to make the rounds letting everyone know about it. The person has idle time on his/her hands and instead of using that time to serve the Lord, uses it to share the latest “important” news.
Effects of Gossip
So why is this bad? Two reasons come to mind. We are told in Proverbs 16:28 that gossip divides close friends. If someone tells you something that you share, or if you slander a friend behind their back, then eventually you will no longer have that friendship. Proverbs 26:20 states that just like wood adds fuel to a fire, gossip intensifies a fight. Gossip is a relationship destroyer.
Gossip is also a reputation destroyer. Gossip can make others feel differently about a person. It can forever hurt someone. Once it is out, it can have a life of its own.
A Word of Warning
Let me end with a warning. Gossip is not easy to overcome. We are warned three times in Proverbs that gossip is like a tasty morsel. When you eat delicious food, your immediate response is to want more. Gossip elicits that same desire within us. Social scientists state we want more because when we gossip we feel powerful. We have information no one else has and therefore people have to listen to us. We want more because we feel included. It makes us feel like we are part of a group if we are sharing and hearing gossip. And it makes us feel better about ourselves. If we can talk about how bad someone else is, we don’t have to examine our own weaknesses.
Since we know the temptation to gossip is so strong we need to be aware of it and battle against it. Before you share information about someone else with another person, check your heart, make sure you are not slandering, make sure you are not sharing something you were supposed to keep private, and avoid always being in others private affairs. If we did this we would go a long way in avoiding gossip.