Kill gossip, because gossip kills
One of the largest living organisms on the planet is a grove of quaking aspen in Utah. The massive tree — known as "Pando" — covers over 100 acres of ground and is connected by a massive underground root system weighing over 13 million pounds!
Truly fascinating, really. And in my opinion, very few trees can rival the beauty of quaking aspen. At the same time, nothing can rival their obnoxiousness — especially when they inhabit your backyard.
If you have aspens in your yard, you are familiar not just with the beautiful trees whose leaves shimmer and quake in a summer breeze. You're equally familiar with the random shoots sprouting up all over your property and the yard destroyed by their gnarled root systems.
I love aspens when they come up in the right place. But they drive me crazy when they appear in places they never should be.
Interestingly, this describes my relationship with words as well.
Words can be beautiful. Inspiring. Motivational. Encouraging. Corrective. They can be used as pointers to goodness, truth and beauty.
However, words can also kill. Like a stray aspen shoot in the far recesses of my yard, words that pop up where they don't belong can devastate relationships and destroy reputations in a matter of seconds. They can spread like wildfire, leaving decimated communities in their wake.
The kind of words I am speaking about, of course, is gossip. Gossip is the casual sharing of unconfirmed rumors or secrets about other people, often accompanied by an intent to slander. The biblical book of Proverbs offers a pretty good common sense definition of gossip: "[w]hoever goes about slandering reveals secrets…" (Proverbs 11:13 and 20:19).
Whether or not gossip is true is rarely the point — it's generally the fact that the people who are either speaking or hearing the gossip have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand.
The Greek word for "gossiper" literally means "whisperer," a caricature backed up in the book of Proverbs, which speaks of "the words of a whisperer" as "delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body" (Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22). Gossip is so dangerous because it's so satisfying. Who doesn't love a juicy tidbit of information?
Sadly, gossip often results in broken relationships and ruined reputations: "A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends" (Proverbs 16:28). This kind of "whispering" results in fights and strife and quarreling. Gossip kills because it often rings the death knell of relationships.
One of the most pervasive topics in Proverbs is that our use of words is crucial to our relationships. And gossip is one of the most toxic uses of language imaginable. Gossip is the opposite of gospel: instead of giving life, it produces death.
Gossip is dangerous because it tempts us to feel, think and act toward others in a different way than we otherwise would. Gossip builds walls that shouldn't be there and causes damage and mayhem where only peace should exist. In the end, gossip is evil because it damages relationships and ruins friendships. And none of us should have anything to do with it: "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them" (Titus 3:10).
Gossip should always be nipped in the bud.
When Jesus taught his disciples basic principles for reconciliation (see Matthew 18:15-20), he desired to keep the relational circle as small as possible. Someone sins against you, you go to them one on one. Don't involve others unless you simply can't get anywhere in a one-on-one conversation. Then draw one other person — maybe two — into the conversation. Only when you have hit a dead end at this juncture do you carefully cast the net wider.
In this understanding of dealing with conflict and sin in relationships, gossip might be thought of us drawing the circle too wide: inappropriately involving others who don't need to be involved, who are neither part of the problem nor the solution.
Gossip is difficult to recognize because it often comes in the guise of sincerity or care — either for the person being gossiped about or the receiver of the information themselves! Sometimes it will come in the form of gossip about gossip: "Hey, I heard that so-and-so said such-and-such about you."
If someone is sharing with you something to be kept "secret," you might ask them ahead of time, "Before you share anything with me about Person X, have you spoken with them about this information?" or "Is this information that I really need to know? Why do you think I need to know it?" You would also do well to ask, "Is what you are sharing true? And how do you know it's true?" If the potential gossiper cannot answer these questions or is reticent to share their source, then you should be reticent to listen to their story. To nip gossip in the bud, we must send the "whisperer" to the person they are speaking about and strongly encourage them to stop.
If you have a tendency to gossip, my encouragement to you is to think twice before you share that next juicy tidbit. Imagine if you were the subject of gossip — perhaps you have been — what would you consider the loving and kind thing to do? For people to talk about you behind your back, or to come to you face to face?
Because gossip has potential to kill relationships and reputations — because it can infect a community — we should all do our part to kill it.
Mike Phay is the pastor at First Baptist Church. He can be reached 541-447-7717.
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