My children have always enjoyed riddles. Whenever they learn a new one, they inevitably try it out on me. I guess and guess but rarely have the right answer. When they finally tell me the answer, I’m always surprised.
Here’s a riddle I came up with myself: What unites and divides at the same time?
The answer: gossip.
A Sweet Poison
We all know what it’s like to hear a juicy bit of news. Especially news about someone else. We are drawn to it like moths to the light. When someone has a story to share about someone, we lean in close to catch every word. “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov. 18:8). While we devour gossip like candy, it’s actually a poison. It’s a poison that unites us to one another because we like to hear gossip. And when we go on to share that story with others, we are united with others in the telling.
But it’s also a deadly poison that divides.
Gossip is sharing information about someone else that hurts their character in the eyes of another. Sometimes it’s true and sometimes it isn’t. Sharing such information seems powerless and impotent. How can sharing words about someone else be so deadly? Because it spreads like a plague, hurting everyone in its path. We hear things about other people and shake our heads in judgment. We share our negative opinions with others and before we know it, we’ve influenced their thoughts of a person who isn’t there to defend themselves. The person who is talked about is left defenseless and hurt. Often, gossip causes people to take sides. Some will stand with the person being gossiped about, and others will stand in opposition to them. Such gossip divides people and, if left unchecked, can even bring down an entire church.
Gossip also breaks trust between friends when a friend confides in us and we go on to share the information with others. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13). If you’ve ever confided with someone and then learned they shared with others what you told them, you know the barrier it creates in friendship. It’s hard to trust others in the future. In fact, a person who is known as “a gossip” often has few real friends. “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Prov. 20:19).
The Bible says that gossip is sin. And lest we think that gossip is a less serious sin compared to other sins—since it’s a sin that everyone does and sometimes even seems “acceptable” in Christian circles—we need to remember that it is included in the list of sins in Romans 1: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 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” (v. 28–31, emphasis mine). Paul wrote in Titus that believers were “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:2).
Stopping the Spread
Gossip must be avoided at all costs. Like all sin, we must take drastic measures to resist it. When someone starts to tell us something they’ve heard about someone else, even wrapped in the form of a prayer request, we need to stop them. We need to tell them to stop talking and tell them we will not participate in spreading gossip. If necessary, we need to stay away from people who are prone to gossip.
When a friend confides in us, we need to keep that information to ourselves. It is not our story to give away. We must have their permission before sharing it with someone else. Instead of sharing other’s stories, we need to speak only what is good and right. “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” (Eph. 4:29). Before we speak, we should ask ourselves: Is it good? Does it build up? Is it appropriate? Does it give grace?
If someone has hurt us or let us down in some way, rather than turn to others and tell them about it, we should pray for the person who hurt us. Instead of inviting others to take sides with us against the other person, we should ask God for help and grace to forgive them. We should pray for their faith and God’s work in their hearts. We should pray for unity and restoration. And we should go to them directly.
Gossip is tempting to listen to and to share with others. It’s often true and it tastes sweet. But just because something tastes good doesn’t mean it is good for us. Gossip is deadly. It divides and breaks Christian unity. May we resist it, avoid it, and turn from it—for the sake of Christ and the unity of His church.