Last week I began unpacking my journey through “Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue,” by Matthew Mitchell. We looked at the first part of his one-sentence summary of the Bible’s teaching on gossip:
“Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.”
Today we pick up where we left off…
What does “behind someone’s back” mean?
We all know gossip happens when you are talking (or listening) about someone who is not there. We find it much easier to talk about someone else when they aren’t around don’t we? Not only is it easier, it’s more intriguing. This is the first red flag we should look for. This is the first sign that we are entering dangerous territory. This is our first check point.
Mitchell urges us to ask ourselves some questions before we talk or continue to talk about someone who is not present.
-Would I say this if he were here?
-Would I receive this bad news about her in the same way if she were present?
-Am I hiding this conversation from someone? (If you use the phrases “I shouldn’t be telling you this”, or “I know you won’t tell anyone else about this”, or “don’t tell anybody else I’m telling you this” to start off your conversation about another person, that is a good indicator that you shouldn’t be telling it, and if you hear those phrases you probably shouldn’t be listening to it).
-Would I want someone else to talk this way about me if I were out of the room?
Pretty convicting questions huh? But they are so practical. Such great weapons to keep close at hand as we engage in battle with gossip. I encourage you to write these down, or memorize them and try to apply them to your life this week. They will reveal your tendency to gossip and make you more aware of how much you engage in gossip (whether on the talking or listening side).
There is one more thing to be said here though, something that gets misunderstood. The Bible does not teach that we should never talk about people who are not present, rather it warns us to be careful what we say. Of course we should praise other people when they are not with us, we should turn gossip around and spread good news about people instead! Another time it is appropriate is under “the biblical principle of warning others…parents, teachers, elders and pastors, even friends, teammates, coworkers and neighbors all have to do that sometimes.” The biblical principle of warning others is also touched on later in the book, so once I get there I will unpack that a little more on the blog as well.
Finally, sometimes when we are seeking wise counsel from people about our conflicts, struggles, and problems we may need to share shameful things that someone else has done without them being present. This is not sinful gossip if you are truly seeking out help. But there is a fine line here. Often times we are tempted to mask our desire to gossip by labeling it “seeking counsel.” This is the area in which I have felt the most confused about gossip.
Since I was in elementary school I have found that people gravitate towards me to confide in and seek out wisdom and counsel, a gift I know is from the Lord. I so enjoy being that for people, but I can remember countless times when I have felt as though I know information about someone that I shouldn’t know, information that has tainted my view of someone because of what was shared by someone else. I know many times I have felt like “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this information.” Most of it over the years I have held it inside because I haven’t wanted to share it, because people don’t confide in you so you can go tell other people. But it wears on you at times, it’s something you really have to ask The Lord to help with, to help you see people through grace-filled eyes. We must remember that we are only hearing one side of the story at times. I’ve come to find the antidote to this is finding and focusing on one good thing about the person you’ve heard shameful things about. And of course, we must remember that there are shameful things about us too. The ground is even at the cross.
As I seek counsel, as I struggle in my relationships with others, I have always tried to make an effort to talk more about what I am struggling with and my wrongs in the situation than focusing on the wrongs of the other person. Sometimes I fail, I fall into gossip disguised as “seeking counsel.” But the more I make a conscious effort to seek out what I need to work on in my relationships, the sin in my heart, the reasons why I feel hurt or angry or jealous toward someone else, the easier it is to seek wise counsel in a healthy way, a way that leads away from gossip instead of close to the line.
When I got married (and even when I was dating my husband), one thing I vowed to myself was I would always strive to only talk positively about my husband in public. I never want to be the reason someone’s view of my husband is tainted. But the thing is, I struggle in my relationship with my husband. There are conflicts, there are hard things, there are things that annoy me and things that hurt me, there are things that breed tension, there are things that I need to seek wise counsel on. And in these moments I make a sincere effort to focus on the struggle at hand more than the one I struggle with, I make a conscious effort to paint my husband in a positive light, even when I am sitting across from a friend or mentor seeking wise counsel. It’s not easy to keep that vow to only talk positively about my husband all the time, but that doesn’t mean I stop striving towards it. So should it be with any person.
One final note on this: It is important to choose wisely who we seek wise counsel from. Honestly, there are people in my life that I will never talk to about my struggles with my husband or other relationships I have. There are people of mine that I will never talk to about certain relational sin struggles I have. Why? Because I have found that with certain people it is easier for me to veer off the “seeking counsel” road and end up on the gossip trail. Or if someone has shared gossip to me, I know they will share it about me. Also we can get counsel from anyone, but not everyone will give wise counsel. As a rule of thumb, when a situation arises that we need wise counsel in, there are three things the person should posses: a fear of God (for the fear of God is the begging of wisdom and God is the giver of wisdom), the view that Scripture is supreme, and in most cases (if not all) you should seek wisdom from someone who has experience in the same situation you are seeking counsel on. As much as your single friend would like to give you marriage advice, there are just some situations they cannot speak into like a seasoned married person can. As much as they would love to seek wise counsel on how to handle a conflict with your boss, your atheist friend from high school cannot speak into your life about the Biblical principles of confronting conflict.
“They key to sharing circumstances with people in a right way is to keep loving others even when we have to talk about them and even if they are our enemies…simply put, we just need to apply Jesus’ Golden Rule to any difficult situation. If you have to talk about someone when they are not present, make sure that you are treating them as you would want to be treated.”
Join me next time as we touch on the final part of the definition of gossip… “out of a bad heart” and sift through why we gossip.
And as you go through this week, here’s some questions to reflect on:
-Why do you think it’s easier to talk about someone behind their back?
-How are you going to implement the questions Mitchell gives in your conversations to help you fight against gossip?
-Are you masking your want to gossip by labeling it “seeking wise counsel?” Who can you seek out when you need wise counsel who will keep you from veering to the gossip trail?
-Do you believe Jesus is better than gossip?
-Do you believe God is powerful enough to overcome gossip in your life?