How to Stop Gossip in its Tracks

Inspired by Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Hee Haw was a variety television show featuring rural comedy and country music against the backdrop of the fictional “Kornfield Kounty.” Airing on CBS from 1969 to 1971 and then in syndication for twenty-one years, Hee Haw was one of the shows I remember watching with my grandmother every Saturday night.

Hosted by Buck Owens and Roy Clark, the show was known for a number of recurring sketches such as KORN News, Colonel Daddy’s Daughter, the Joke Fence, Archie’s Barber Shop, and the Gossip Girls, a sketch featuring four female cast members surrounding a washtub and clothes wringer.

I still remember the chorus:

“Now, we’re not ones to go ’round spreadin’ rumors.
Why really we’re just not the gossipy kind.
No, you’ll never hear one of us repeating gossip.
So, you’d better be sure and listen close the first time!”

 

Cue the laugh track.

 

GOSSIP IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

However, in real life, and especially in view of the gospel, gossip is no laughing matter. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21, the apostle Paul lumps gossip in with distinctively heinous sins such as “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder… and sexual immorality.”

Jack Miller used to define gossip as “confessing someone else’s sins.” It doesn’t have to be untrue or an embellishment to be gossip. Gossip is simply “spreading a bad report.” In his book, Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges defines gossip as “the spreading of unfavorable information about someone else, even if that information is true.”

Why is gossip such a despicable sin?

Gossip is despicable because of what it says about the gossip. When I speak of others sins or faults as if I am not capable of the same, I play the hypocrite and deny my need for the same grace for which their sins beg. To gossip is to proclaim one’s unabashed self-righteousness. If there is any root sin of which Jesus had the harshest words, it was self-righteousness, which is the arrogance of the heart that refuses to be 100% sinner in need of 100% grace.

Second, gossip is despicable because of what it is, which is a form of murder. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Yep, it is. To gossip about someone is not merely a failure to love; it is hate. Jesus said that when I hate someone, even if in my heart, it is murder. When I gossip, the hate in my heart, whether aroused by jealousy, spite, or anger, rises to the surface and spews out like vomit.

Third, gossip, which often is not true, can be downright slanderous, doing damage to someone’s reputation, potentially harming them in ways far beyond the words whispered “in confidence.” Furthermore, I don’t know all the variables to the story–motives, secondary implications, etc. And it wouldn’t matter if I did know the whole story. It is not my story to tell.

Fourth, gossip is the very opposite to doing unto others what I would have them do to me. I would want grace and mercy extended to me, not the condemnation of gossip. But instead, I gossip. Sickeningly, my gossip if often cloaked in the sanctimonious piety of a prayer request. However, if I were praying for the one about whom I gossip, I wouldn’t be sharing such “unfavorable information.”

In a word, a gossip is a killer. It kills friendships. It kills unity in a church. It kills trust in the workplace. All in the name of self-righteous hypocrisy.

 

THE CALL TO BUILD OTHERS UP

For these reasons and more, Paul states in Ephesians 4:29, “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.”

This is the standard for those who have been saved by grace. We have no self-righteousness in which to boast… at all. All of our boasting is reserved for the cross of Christ. For in Jesus, when God could have torn us down, he built us up. He could have condemned; he forgave. When he could have rejected us; he accepted us. Now, in view of that great grace, we are to do the same as people who build others up in how we speak to and about other people.

As we aspire to this standard in the motivation of the gospel and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we often will find ourselves in contexts where others begin to share “unfavorable information” and “spread a bad report” by “confessing someone else’s sins.”

What can we do?

 

 

THE PROCESS OF STOPPING GOSSIP IN ITS TRACKS

Let me suggest a simple, yet practical and powerful action step that can stop gossip in its tracks.

While it would be right according to the law to blast the gossip with a rebuke, the gospel gives us better ammunition.

For example, you overhear someone talking about a parent losing their temper in public when their 3-year-old wouldn’t stop whining for a piece of candy. With righteous indignation, you may be tempted to just shut it down. “You know that gossip is a sin. Stop it!” Odds are you will be seen as a Bible-thumping, legalistic, hypocrite.

Better believe that you’ll be the next one they talk about!

Or, the religious flesh may step in and contribute to the conversation with some “advice” that you’d like to share about how to prevent the behavior or the child and the parent, with a side-bar of commentary about how unseemly it is for a believer to be acting in public that way. “It’s just a bad witness.”

I could join in, or I could stop gossip in its tracks with the gospel. “You know, I have done the exact same thing. Ugh. My kids are just like me, too. Stubborn. Whinny. They need God’s grace almost as much as I do. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you know. Wow, I can so relate to her struggle with her kids.”

Here is the principle. Identify with the struggles of fellow sinners. Out loud. Get specific. Be the sinner who has a big Savior in Jesus. This way, if they are going to gossip about someone else, they are going to have to gossip about you, too–and in front of you!

 

AN UNEXPECTED WAY TO SHARE THE GOSPEL

This is not only how to stop gossip in its tracks, but is a way to share the gospel out of your own need for grace. You model repentance and faith by entering into the failures others. How cool is that? Two birds. One stone.

It reminds me of the unexpected words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

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