Exodus 20:16 – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” NASB
1 Timothy 5:13 – “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” NIV
Years ago, I had a lady in the church I was serving who would always ask, “Do you have any news?” She would also preface what she was going to share with, “Have you heard the news?” I asked her once if she considered what she was doing gossip. She said, “Oh no, pastor, I’m just sharing the latest news, not gossiping, for that would be wrong.” I could never convince her that they were the same thing. She longed to hear any tidbit documented or undocumented, and would share it with whomever she could find that would listen.
Gossip is a very destructive weapon the devil uses to drive wedges and damage people in their testimony. I recall hearing something once about a fellow minister that, if true, would be so damaging to his reputation that it would impact untold numbers of people. What I heard is not important, nor his name, but the fact that I listened is.
As I pondered what I had heard, the Holy Spirit brought conviction to my heart, and I sensed the Lord speaking to me, saying, “Why did you allow that gossip to be spoken into your hearing?” I began to weep, for I had listened, and without realizing it, I formed an opinion regarding this brother without actual documentation or evidence. It was wrong! I was wrong, and the gossip was a malicious lie later proven false. Yet had I repeated that gossip, I would have been furthering the harm brought to an innocent brother. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit arrested me before I participated in an activity I have long abhorred – Gossip.
When people come to me with tidbits about someone, I usually ask, “Have you gone to that individual to discuss this?” If the answer is no, I stop them and ask that they not continue with gossip. My directive is to take it to prayer and approach the person in question with that little morsel they share. Some have become quite angry with me, calling me self-righteous or worse, because I did not want to participate in gossip regarding another. However, I must ask, “Would you want someone spreading gossip about you?” Consider that point when you are tempted to share news, as that little lady called it.
Some years ago, Gil LeBreton, a sportswriter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote a piece regarding the Texas Ranger’s manager Ron Washington’s resignation. He used an illustration from a movie that speaks to what I’m talking about. It was excellent, and I share it here.
In the Academy Award-nominated movie Doubt, there is a memorable scene in which the accused priest, Father Flynn, delivers a powerful homily to the congregation. The priest, brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, tells the story of a woman who “was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew.” Seized later with guilt, the woman went to a Catholic confessional and asked her parish priest if she had done anything wrong.
“Yes,” said the priest. “You have borne false witness against your neighbor. You’ve played fast and loose with his reputation and should be heartily ashamed.” As her penance, the priest instructed the woman to go to her roof and gut a pillow with a knife, a scene classically depicted in the movie. And what did she see? The priest asked. “Feathers,” the woman answered. “Feathers everywhere.” “Now, I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out into the wind,” the priest instructed. The woman protested. “It can’t be done,” she said. “I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.” “And that,” the movie’s Father Flynn said, abruptly ending the sermon, “is gossip!”
That is a fantastic illustration of the damage and futility of trying to retrieve harmful words spoken about another. It is IMPOSSIBLE! The damage is done even if we go to them in repentance begging forgiveness; we will never retrieve all the words or find where they have been carried. Therefore, the biblical policy is DO NOT GOSSIP!
Blessings as you go through your day!