“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13
R. G. LeTourneau, the owner of a large earth-moving equipment company, often told this story: “We used to have a scraper known as the Model G. Somebody asked one of our salesmen what the ‘G’ stood for. The salesman promptly replied, ‘Well, I guess the G stands for gossip, because like gossip, this machine moves a lot of dirt, and moves it fast!’”
Have you ever had “the dirt” on someone? Through some turn of events, maybe you know of another person’s misfortune or mistake, and the news is burning a hole in your tongue. Is it okay to tell others? Is it okay to tell someone so that both of you can pray more intelligently about it? Or is telling it to anyone just plain old gossip?
Gossip is defined as idle chatter that can injure another’s integrity and reputation. This category of verbal sin does not always have malicious intent, but it’s always damaging. Closely linked with gossip is the idea of whispering. One of the Hebrew words for gossip means “whispering that is damaging.” In the New Testament, the Greek word for gossip is pronounced beginning with the sound “p-s-s-s,” which is often how gossip is communicated. Gossip can be true information but is always information that is not in the best interests of those who it is about or those who are hearing it.
So, why is it so tempting to look both ways, and then whisper juicy tidbits into the ear of the person next to us? Perhaps it’s because gossip is a way of promoting ourselves. Having the latest news means that we are on the inside track—that we have “the scoop.” It has been said that if a person known as a gossip doesn’t know about it, it’s not worth knowing—which isn’t a compliment! Gossip makes us the center of attention; all ears are tuned in to our frequency. Having and spreading information about others gives us a sort of power—or at least the illusion of it. In the spirit of self-promotion, gossip neutralizes our failures by making sure that others know the failures of someone else. To put it bluntly, we like to gossip because it makes us feel good. But then, a lot of sins make us feel good. Like poisoned sugar, gossip seems sweet but is deadly.
The problem with gossip is that it often backfires. Proverbs 11:13 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” If you like to gossip, you probably have friends or acquaintances who wonder if they can trust you with confidential information. Or, you can understand why they might think: If they are telling me about that, who are they talking to about me? It’s no wonder that Proverbs tells us that a gossiper separates the best of friends (Proverbs 16:28).
We should also note with concern that gossips are listed among the defiled people who are “God-haters” (Romans 1:28-30). That’s a serious charge!
It may be true, it may be hot, and it may be interesting, but if it’s not constructive and helpful, it’s gossip. And it’s a problem! If you have to tell someone, take it to the Lord in prayer. Everyone else is out of bounds.
- Cut gossip off at the first syllable! Make a list of warning phrases and listen closely for them in your conversations with others. Here are a few to get you started: Did you hear . . . Well, I really shouldn’t say this, but . . . Just between you and me . . . Let me share this with you so we can pray more specifically . . .
- Memorize Proverbs 20:19 and 2 Timothy 2:16. If you struggle with gossip, consider staying away from those who engage in it. Hearing often results in telling.
- The next time you’re tempted to “spread the dirt,” do the opposite. Think of something kind to say about that person instead. Add that person to your prayer list. Try this for a month and see where it gets you!