“If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me.”
We’ve all been hurt by the careless words of others, yet we continue to throw our own into the ring like stray dogs trained to fight.
Why? Because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and they’ll get us if we don’t get them first? That’s not an acceptable reason to wound. Rather, it’s a compelling reason to become an agent of change so those who come after us don’t have to suffer as we have.
Those of us who claim to belong to God have an even more compelling reason to wage war on careless speech. God is rescuing sinners from the consequences of sin through the Gospel message that’s been entrusted to us. If they’re too wounded to hear it, our mission is compromised. If we are the ones doing the wounding, then we’ve lost our credibility as messengers of love and hope and are finished before we even start.
So how do we kill this weed that threatens the harvest, this cancer that weakens the Body?
First, we define it. Its name is gossip.
You may have heard that gossip is anything that isn’t true, kind, and/or necessary, but I’ve found those criteria too easy to skirt when I really, really want to say something to someone. It’s very possible to say a true thing in a kind way because you think it’s necessary and still do a lot of damage because you weren’t the right person to speak, spoke to the wrong person, or did it all with impure motives, hiding behind a checked-off list of criteria rather than listening to the still, small voice inside that told you to keep your mouth shut.
Let me offer a new definition:
Gossip is any discussion of others and/or circumstances that fails to move everyone involved or impacted forward into God’s best.
The more you understand God’s will for our lives (Christ-likeness) and ultimate purpose (His glory), the more hesitant you’ll be to speak when operating by this definition. In my case, it’s the very muzzle that’s needed.
The second step in killing the cancer-weed that is gossip? Find it.
Like other weeds, gossip can be found in and among the beautiful and beneficial, disguised by flowery words and soft smiles and couched in muddied motives. Pleasing to the ear, it takes root, then takes over, choking the beautiful and beneficial until people who used to be good for each other find themselves in a ruinous pattern of speech from which they can’t break free.
Trust is eroded.
Dissention is stirred.
Suspicion hijacks perspective, and love is suppressed by a perceived need to survive.
We bring it on ourselves, you know, this paranoia. If we didn’t gossip, we wouldn’t suspect others of it. We wouldn’t waste time wondering, and we wouldn’t spend so much energy preventing, protecting, and perpetuating.
The third step in eradicating this cancer-weed? Cut it out.
The Bible says if we confess our sins (things that don’t line up with God’s will and character) and turn away from them, God will forgive and forget (1 John 1:9, Isaiah 43:25). Of course, doing so will probably cost you externally—friends, position, power—but it will ease the burden gossip has laid on your heart and mind, make it easier for you to communicate with your Heavenly Father (Psalm 66:18-19), and free you up to be the people-loving, God-honoring, Gospel-proving Jesus-follower He designed you to be.
Others may or may not follow your lead, but that’s not your concern. You neither answer to nor for them. Regardless of their response, continue to love God by obeying Him (1 John 5:3) and to represent Him well by resisting the temptation to lapse into old patterns of behavior.
Change the topic.
Say positive, complimentary, and encouraging things.
Walk away if you have to, but don’t play games with God’s reputation. There’s too much at stake.
Gossip isn’t just harmful; it’s murderous.