Does Christian gossip make you want to avoid church? Do Christians gossip? Yes. Even in church? Yes. We are people, so the answer’s got to be yes. No, we aren’t supposed to. But just stopping at yes we do and no we shouldn’t – well, that’s just not good enough. Let’s face it, Christians who gossip do make people want to avoid church.
At some, it would make me leave a church.
So I’m sure it would turn off non-Christians to the point where they would avoid church altogether. And that’s terrible.
On several counts.
Gossip seems like a big attraction for some people. Others don’t like it. Still others think gossip is something other people do, but when they talk about other people it’s not gossip.
In other words, it’s like something people love to hate – but also love to do.
What does the Bible say to Christians about gossip?
What does the Bible consider to be gossip?
We need to begin with a common understanding of what kinds of things are considered gossip in Biblical terms. To that end, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary says this:
GOSSIP — a person who spreads rumors or idle, fruitless tales. The apostle Paul described some of the early believers as “not only idle but gossips [tattlers, KJV] and busybodies” (1 Tim. 5:13). Jesus said, “For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). 1Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Sure, we think about rumors as gossip. But do we remember/realize that fruitless tales – idle words – are also considered to be gossip? Let’s take a look at the passages that include the verses mentioned in there.
Paul on gossip, in 1 Timothy
Before we read this, I want to point out that things were different at the time Paul wrote this. Biblical times were very much male-dominated. And while Jesus actually did begin a change in this kind of thinking, as well as Paul (who worked with Aquila and Priscilla), this passage is directed towards young widows.
Paul writes this letter as a manual for the young pastor Timothy. He stresses the importance of sound doctrine that leads to godly living and warns him of the inherent dangers of church life in a fallen world, especially false teachers and false doctrine. Thus the church and its leadership should prepare themselves well for the work of the ministry by choosing competent leaders and avoiding dishonest and unethical ones. The Zondervan Quick-Reference Library: The Books of the Bible
The reality is that everyone – male or female, young or old – gossips. So let’s not throw out the message because of cultural differences between then and now.
Advice About Widows, Elders and Slaves
1Ti 5:9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
1Ti 5:11 As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 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. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
So here’s the key portion about gossip.
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.
But let’s be honest. Paul, as I said, was addressing specific issues and some of them involved young widows.
The culture in many parts of the world today is not like this anymore. Therefore, we shouldn’t get stuck in this one part and get upset about the scenario Paul painted and the people in it. Rather, let’s tell it like it is. Everyone, to a lesser or greater degree, is involved in gossip! Everyone!
It’s really hard to be in a group of people for any length of time and not have something come up that, if we’re honest, is gossip. And it’s hard to walk away. Harder to call it out as gossip. And sometimes it seems impossible to stay and not take part in it. And then what do we do if/when we realize that we are gossiping? Do we walk away? Try to put a stop to it? Continue to take part in it because we don’t want to be the one who’s seen as a stick in the mud?
Paul on gossip in 2 Corinthians
Personally, I think a better passage to use is from another letter from Paul. To a church. With problems.
Paul’s Concern for the Corinthians
2Co 12:11 I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
2Co 12:14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course?
2Co 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.
In this case, we see a more general application of the problems in this church. As such, I feel it’s a better reference for us as Christians in general.
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
These are the kinds of things people all over engage in. Including Christians. So – what’s the big deal?
What’s the big deal about gossip?
How can gossip be a big deal if everyone does it? How can it turn anyone off if everyone does it?
Those questions remind me of back when most people smoked cigarettes. Then some began to quit because of all the health problems. Former smokers complained about people who smoke more than someone who never smoked. It’s like – it takes one to know one – and hating people who do things you’re trying not to do – tolled up into one.
And that’s the problem I’m looking at today. This is the first in a series of things that we, Christians, do that destroy the church.
Here’s an example. Someone’s trying to learn about God. Wants to be a better person. So they go to a Christian church. But what do they find? If it’s a church full of people who act like what they’re trying to get away from, to improve on, then why should they stay? That will destroy the church. If not the overall church, then at least that one church.
This series is based, at least initially, on something from crosswalk.com titled Ten Ways You May Be Destroying The Church. Of course, for me, I’, also looking at it as ten ways Christians may be destroying the church for you. Then, you might be either a Christian or a non-Christian.
Since I am a Christian, I can say I wouldn’t attend a church that was full of gossip. Therefore, if you’re a non-Christian, one who wants to really know about Jesus and learn to follow Him, how can I expect you to want to stay at a church like that? Worse yet, what if it turns you off to Jesus entirely?
Listen, think, and then speak
I used to have a small sign that said – put brain in gear before engaging mouth. To that end, here are a couple of passages to help us with the gossip problem.
Listening and Doing
Jas 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Ah – if only it was so easy. Just get rid of all moral filth and evil. Stuff that’s all over. And that’s in all of us. Not easy at all.
Fortunately, James didn’t stop there. He gave some further advice. Reminders. Commands. Incentives.
Jas 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
This is brutal. And yet, so true. It’s something many of today’s Christians need to keep in mind. I’m thinking particularly of those who believe, and even teach, that all we need to do is say, “I believe”, and we’re done. Saved. And nothing else matters all that much, if at all.
Jas 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
And then James follows it up with a comparison that could be a motto for this site when he writes about “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless”. That is, as opposed to what we try to turn Jesus’ words into.
What if we have a legitimate issue with some Christian(s) in our church?
No, gossip isn’t the way to deal with legitimate issues. As if we think our gossip will reach the ears of the offender, be taken as loving, and then will spur that person on to repent and change. Would we do that if the shoe was on the other foot?
Here’s what Jesus said to do instead.
A Brother Who Sins Against You
Mt 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Mt 18:18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Mt 18:19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
That’s not gossip. That’s controlled, loving correction. Something that doesn’t bring a bad taste to others in the church, because they don’t know what’s happening. Nor do they need to know. Too much stuff like that is what destroys churches. As Crosswalk wrote about destroying churches with our words:
Gossip, backbiting, slander, and venting can all create ripples of disunity that ultimately lead to severed relationships, shattered ministry teams, and wounded Christians.
Scripture says love always protects.* When tempted to say something, we must ask ourselves: Am I protecting this other individual? And, am I protecting the unity of the church? When we share with others regarding an “offense”, we risk harming a fellow church member’s opinion of someone else, thus laying the foundation for division.
If we must vent, we can do so without mentioning names, and we can always vent to God. He’s the only One who perceives the situation and all involved accurately. If we must bring others into a conflict, we should do so following Christ’s very clear instructions found in Matthew 18:15-17.
*Please note, this doesn’t pertain to situations of rape or abuse.
Does Christian gossip make you want to avoid church?
I think we’ve shown that gossip is something that can destroy a church. And one of the ways that happens is that people who visit the church won’t come back. And people who are there may leave when it becomes too much of a problem.
However, let me close with a more disturbing question for Christians. If the first church you visited had a gossip problem, and it turned you off, would you even be a Christian today? Could gossip be something that would have prevented you from following Jesus? And in turn, prevented you from entering Heaven for all eternity?
And even if you think it wouldn’t have affected you, consider that it will affect some people. It’s said that we cannot undo a bad first impression. Of course, that’s not always true. But as Christians, do we even want to risk someone’s eternal would by giving them a bad impression of those of us who truly follow Jesus?
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- 1Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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