Everybody knows one. Probably more than one. Unfortunately, just about every church has one, too. Sometimes more than one. I’m referring to that nosy chatterbox we commonly call a gossip.
This busybody may be young or old, male or female. He pries into matters that are none of his business, often under the premise of just wanting to be helpful. He talks about things that are nobody’s business, often bringing them up without the slightest prompting. In some cases it seems to be the only way he can make conversation. Share private information with this person, and you might as well put it on the nightly news. To make matters worse, he’s also prone to bungling the facts (he doesn’t listen carefully) and jumping to wrong conclusions (he doesn’t think carefully, either). So he ends up spreading a lot of misinformation. Confide in him about something personal, and soon a dozen others will know about it—and will probably have the wrong idea about it.
God says that this kind of conduct is not only troublesome, it’s sinful. He warned ancient Israel of its danger (Leviticus 19:16; Psalm 15:1-3; 101:5). And in the New Testament, He condemns it in the same breath as murder and thievery, wrath and conceit, brutality and treachery (1 Peter 4:15; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 2 Timothy 3:2-4). So what can we do to fight it?
Don’t become that person. “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (Proverbs 16:27-28).
Most of us would admit to a feeling of satisfaction (pride?) at being the source of some useful piece of information. It makes us feel important, needed. And that is often the appeal of spreading gossip. But if you choose to be a busybody and a tale-bearer, you need to know that certain results will follow. Your meddling will be a constant source of agitation, confusion, and discord for others. You will often be seen as a disruptive influence in their lives, a nuisance at best, a danger at worst. And you will have rendered yourself unworthy of their trust (Proverbs 11:13). People will hesitate to talk to you about anything more important than the weather. Some will prefer to avoid you as much as possible. They will calculate that sharing their problems or feelings with you will result in those things becoming public knowledge; that the slightest disagreement between you will be broadcast far and wide; and that you will talk about them as recklessly as you talk about others. And they will decide that it’s not worth the risk.
And when you need to seek counsel for your own troubles, you’ll find that it’s hard for others to be open to you. You’ll find that your behavior has damaged your credibility, closed off avenues of trust and communication, perhaps bred resentment toward you.
Worst of all, in creating such chaos, you will have become something that God has said He abhors (Proverbs 6:19).
When you feel the urge to share a juicy tidbit of information, stop and ask yourself some questions. How do I know it’s true? Does my listener need to hear it? Am I the one he should hear it from? Will I be violating a confidence by sharing it? What good purpose will it serve? Will it build up or tear down, protect or harm? What are my true motives for wanting to tell it? Honest answers to those questions can keep you from going down a destructive and damning path. “And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
Don’t enable that person. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down” (Proverbs 26:20). “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).
Ultimately, a gossip has only as much power as others give him. There are ways to minimize the damage this blabbermouth can cause.
Scripture sometimes likens gossip to a fire. And a fire needs two things to keep burning: fuel and oxygen. Without fuel (wood, for instance), the fire is starved. Without oxygen, it is smothered. Deprived of either, the fire goes out. And gossip can be extinguished the same way.
The fuel for gossip is information. Spreading it—even a mangled, incomplete version of it—is what a busybody lives for. If you know someone who loves to pry into and talk about other people’s business, you can bet that he’ll do it to you if given the chance. So don’t confide in him. Sharing personal information (about yourself or anyone else) with a gossip is like handing drugs to an addict. Don’t enable his habit by giving him more material to work with. Don’t fuel the fire.
The oxygen for gossip is receptiveness. A busybody feels the need, perhaps above all else, to be taken seriously. He craves an eager audience, a nod of agreement, a word of validation. And if he thinks you’re giving him that, then he will crank up the gossip machine. Donna Eder, a sociologist at Indiana University, observed this in her research. She noted that the real starting point for gossip was not, for example, the initial negative statement (e.g., “Lucy’s a real snob, isn’t she?”). Instead, it was when someone else agreed that the gossip-fest began. On the other hand, she noted, “an immediate quibble from a listener could send talk into a less critical direction.” Smother gossip by refusing to give it a platform and countering it with something positive.
“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health” (Proverbs 12:18). “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” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).