Are you a gossip?

From time to time, I get asked something that should be relatively straightforward but isn’t, so I want to discuss it this morning.  It is something almost all of us are guilty of from time to time, while others are guilty of it all the time.  I am referring to gossip and the confusion that seems to surround it.  Two questions seem to dominate the conversation.  When is talking to someone gossiping? And is it a sin?  Merriam Webster defines it as “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others.” defines it as “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others,” while the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “conversation or reports about other people’s private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.”  The first thing you will notice from the above is how broad the definition is.

Let’s look at the second question first – “Is it a sin?” The Bible is clearly against gossiping, as we read in Rom. 1:29-31, where it is among multiple sins listed, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless…”.  Tim. 5:13 also lists it as something negative some of the women were doing as they were going from house to house.  Gossip slanders a person’s character, and when the purpose is to do that, it comes from a bad person and is a sin. Prov. 11:13, “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”

Loosely defining it makes us all guilty of it all the time.  Is venting to a spouse of friend gossip? Are we guilty of doing so when stating facts about an incident or event?  Usually, we would be quick to define anything said about us as gossip, but when we discuss other people, we define it as “confidential conversation.”  If we do not know its proper definition, how can we prevent ourselves from doing it?  Gossip has a negative spirit attached to it.  A conversation where you defend yourself against the actions of others using facts is not gossip.  Venting to a friend isn’t either if it is not explicitly meant to hurt the feelings or reputation of another.  Asking someone for advice by stating the facts of an incident is also not gossip.

Clearly, there has to be some ill intention involved, usually coupled with exaggeration or outright lies.  Being a busybody about the affairs of others is gossiping.  Habitually speaking of others negatively by slandering them is also.  A Greek definition of this was given to me in university.  It defined gossip as “a discussion that is derogatory about someone shared in confidence with others that is not motivated by doing good or in personal defense and is accompanied by an enjoyment in hurting that person.” I like that definition, but one word of caution – there is a fine line between discussion and gossip, so be careful what you say.  Also, when you repeat what is said to you in confidence, gossip is likely what you are engaging in, especially when a sensational element motivates the conversation.

To ensure you do not fall into the trap of gossiping, use Eph. 4:29 as a reliable indicator for not crossing the line, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

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