by Keith Sharp
Arkansas is unusually blessed. There are only four kinds of poisonous snakes in North America, and all four are found here!
The deadliest is also the smallest, the coral snake. It reminds me of the tongue – small but dangerous. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21; cf. James 3:1-12). The use of the tongue produces fruit, and if we love to use the tongue, we must eat its fruit.
One of the chief dangers of the tongue is gossip. What does the Bible teach about gossip?
What is “gossip”?
One reason the apostle Paul advised young women to marry is because otherwise they might “learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Obviously we shouldn’t be “gossips” or “busybodies.” Albert Barnes explains that the word “gossip” means literally, “‘overflowing;’ then overflowing with talk; … They would learn all the news; become acquainted with the secrets of families, and of course indulge in much idle and improper conversation” (Notes.). Gossips talk too much, and they love to engage in idle talk about others.
Closely akin are “busybodies.” Vine defines acting as a busybody as “meddling in other persons’ affairs” (Vine. 1:61). Wise Solomon observed, “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17). A bad dog attacks, and you grab it by its ears. Now what will you do? You can’t hang on forever, but you can’t let go. Busybodies grab bad dogs by the ears, and they will get hurt. We need to mind our own business. Paul was afraid he would find “contentions” (“strife,” NASB) among the brethren when he came to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20). Two causes of strife are “backbitings” and “whisperings”(Ibid).
The term translated “backbitings” is rendered “slanders” in the NASB and “slander” in the ESV. Mounce defines it as “evil-speaking” (1183). I once attended a lecture at an institutional congregation in Lakeland, Florida. Someone in the audience asked the speaker what “Antis” believed. He answered that they are “opposed to almost everything.” He uttered slander.
“Whisperings” is “secret slander” (Vine. 4:212). Asaph accused the wicked: “You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:19-20). Solomon declared, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18).
Why Not Gossip?
Why should we avoid gossip? Gossips bring trouble on themselves. “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). What will you do when the victim of your gossip confronts you? Gossip stirs up strife. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20). A wagging tongue can keep strife going as effectively as adding wood to a fire keeps the fire burning. Gossip hurts the one being gossiped about. It damages a good reputation and is an act of hatred. “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). God hates gossip! (Proverbs 6:16-19)
How can we avoid gossip?
To avoid gossip, before you say anything bad about someone else, ask yourself four questions.
- Is it true? (Are you sure?) “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25)..
- Will it do any good to tell it? “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
- Will it help all involved to tell it? (Ephesians 4:29)
- Have you spoken to the person himself? “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Always remember the power of the tongue. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
The story is told of a Christian who learned that a member of the church was spreading gossip about him. He went to see the gossip on a windy day and took with him a feather pillow. Upon being confronted, the gossip confessed his sin and said he wanted to undo the damage. The victim of the gossip tore open the feather pillow, and as feathers blew far and wide, he told the gossip to pick them all up and put them back in the pillow case. Impossible? That’s how hard it is to undo the harm caused by a wagging tongue. “Whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). Let’s keep our lips pure.
Barnes, Albert, Notes on the New Testament, on e-Sword Bible program.
Bible, English Standard Version.
Bible, New American Standard Bible.
Mounce, William, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Vine, W.E., Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.