Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:29 ESV
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all done it, but yesterday after hearing some gossip about someone I felt really sad. It was obvious this individual was being laughed about. I knew something of their pain, and I didn’t laugh. It caused me to ask myself the question, What is it about another person’s pain that talking about it brings me pleasure?
The truth is, gossip brings me relief from thinking about my own screw ups. I believe when I gossip that the ones I’m gossiping about are worse than I am. They got caught and I did not. Their sin is way more messy than mine. At least I can hold it together better than that. Maybe I’m better than they are, smarter than they are. I must be doing something right. What a joke that is!?
The real question is, What am I looking to relieve myself from that I need to gossip?
Recently, I discovered that others were gossiping about me. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard this were the things that I’d said about other people, how harsh I’d been, and the gossip I’d heard about others. I think this is why God warned us that we’d be judged by the same measure that we judge others. Our loving Heavenly Father is protecting us from more unnecessary pain. Gossip doesn’t help. It only heaps on the very shame, guilt and condemnation that Jesus died to save us from. We can be so merciless and cruel. And my own previous gossip just made the pain I was already living with ten times worse. I felt isolated and alone knowing that people were gossiping. So the very thing that had brought me relief before just heaped on more pain.
I don’t think we intend to hurt others when we gossip, most certainly not ourselves, but we do.
It seems there should be a much better thing to do when we hear that someone has done something worthy of gossip than continue spreading the rumor. If we don’t know them well, we can always pray. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. As a Christian, we are counted righteous because of what Christ did for us, not because we are perfect people. There’s none righteous, not one without the blood of Christ to cover our sins. When we embrace His righteousness, the need to gossip is gone. We don’t need to talk about others to find relief. The truth of His forgiveness brings it. Most likely what we are hearing in gossip probably is distorted, but usually where there’s smoke there is fire, and they need our prayers.
The second thing we could do when we hear gossip, is stop and think about our own failures. What do we want to receive from others when we’ve messed things up really bad? Maybe this person could use a word of encouragement, and rather than spread the rumor more, we could take the time to send a card or a text. Many times I have been uncomfortable doing this. Sometimes we feel threatened that this person’s problems are so messy that if we reach out they might latch onto us. We tell ourselves we just really don’t have time for that. We have enough problems of our own. So we don’t do anything out of fear. But we need to recognize this is the enemy talking. He doesn’t want us to help. He’s out to steal, kill, and destroy and gossip is one of his best tools. The ones we are gossiping about are probably are too consumed with their problems to give us a lot of time. Many of them are like me and afraid that they’ll be too needy. And if they do try to latch on, we are in control of how much time we give them. I’ve found the thing that drains me the most when I’m listening to others problems is my tendency to want to fix them. But I’m recognizing God did not place on me the responsibility of fixing another person. He only asked us to speak the truth and offer help through the means that He has provided. He’ll give you the grace to do what you need to. If it’s a burden that’s too heavy you are doing too much. So stop. It’s His job to work in the circumstances to bring about real change. We can reach out, speak truth and help carry another’s burden, but it’s not our job to carry their loads for them. Sure it might be messy and even uncomfortable at times, but isn’t that what love is all about? Washing another’s feet is messy, but also what Jesus asked us to do for one another.
I’ve read too many stories lately about people committing suicide over being caught in a sin. I suspect the knowledge that they were being gossiped about only made it easier for them to give up.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus is clear. Our words harm others.
The person I mentioned earlier that was being gossiped is someone who has gone through a recent divorce (which statistics show can be worse than death), is an alcoholic (who grew up in an alcoholic and abusive home) and has even been suicidal. He also has children who are suffering as a result of his choices, too. He doesn’t have any friends. A long time ago people stopped hanging around him, because he’s the kind of person who will take a mile when you give him an inch. He’s gotten drunk and gossipped about others. He’s even called and told others about my own personal problems without ever talking to me about them. The knowledge that he did this caused me to spend days depressed. Now I carry the burden as a result of what he said that others in my family know all about a past I am not proud of. It’s made things harder than they already were. This weekend he got caught in his alcoholism. He’d gotten out of control and been left on the side of the road. And of all people, he called me asking for help.
Of course in my humanness, I initially wanted to gossip about how he messed up. Turn about is fair play. An eye for an eye. But then I heard the desperation in his voice and asked him what I could do to help.
My husband and I picked him up and got him a ride back home and encouraged him to get help for his alcoholism. We listened to him talk about what a mess he’d made and admit he needed help. We encouraged him to get that help and told him about ways to do so. I also admitted to him that I was getting help for my own problems. It was such a comfort to me to know that God had given me the ability to offer help to someone who’d hurt me. It wasn’t the comfort that comes from pride that I helped him because I was so good, no rather it was the comfort in knowing that God gives grace to all of us even when our sins placed Him on the cross and that all really is grace.
Then yesterday, one day after this happened, I got a call from 300 miles away from a family member who’d already heard gossip about what had happened, and I got so angry. Bad news travels fast. The same people this man had probably gossipped to about me was now spreading gossip about him. I wanted to call the gossip up and ask him why didn’t he lend a hand, rather than throw a stone that the ripples came all the way back to me! The enemy must smile when he’s so successful.
Thinking of this man’s pain reminds me of my own. I felt so alone, so sick from knowing others were talking about me that I wanted to die. I suspect if we knew how much damage gossip caused we’d stop. So take my word for it, we don’t need to do it. It doesn’t help and it only makes things worse. If we aren’t doing anything to make another’s problems better, we’d do better to keep our thoughts to ourselves.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Matthew 5:7 ESV