An old proverb relates the story of a person who repeated gossip—some rumor about a neighbor. Soon, the whole community had heard the rumor. Later, the person who spread the gossip learned that the rumor was untrue. The person was very sorry and went to an elder in the community who had a reputation for great wisdom to seek advice. The elder told the person, “Go to your home and take a feather pillow outside. Rip it open and scatter the feathers, then return to me tomorrow.” The person did as the elder had instructed. The next day, the person visited the elder. The elder said, “Go and collect the feathers you scattered yesterday and bring them back to me.” The person went home and searched for the feathers, but the wind had carried them all away. The person returned to the elder and said, “I could find none of the feathers I scattered yesterday.” “You see,” said the elder, “it’s easy to scatter the feathers but impossible to get them back.” So it is with gossip; it doesn’t take much to spread hurtful words, but once you do, you can never completely undo the damage.
The dictionary defines the word gossip as a rumor or report of intimate nature. When applied to describe a person, the word means one who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others. Gossip is one of those areas of the Christian life that is so important for us to work to restrain—because of the potential damage it causes—but so difficult for many of us to get under control. It is easy for us—within the Christian community—to gossip about others, often within our own community of faith, because we do so under the banner of “sharing.” We “share” with others about a friend’s “problem” because we want others to pray for them. Wink. Wink. The reality is, however, that it’s just plain gossip. Gossip feels good. It feels good to know something about someone else and to share that something with another. Yet, even under the best of motives, “sharing” easily turns into “gossip” and we do damage that we can’t completely undo.
Here are some of the most common dangers of gossip:
1. Damaged Relationships. When we learn that a friend has passed on a rumor about us—or true, but confidential information—it always does damage to the relationship. In Proverbs 16:28 we read: “A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends.”
2. Trust is destroyed. Years ago, I told a pastoral colleague a personal problem I was having. Two days later I got a call from a mutual friend wanting to help with my problem. The colleague is still a friend, but that was the last time I ever trusted him with personal problems that I did not want broadcasted. We find this warning in Proverbs 11:13, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”
3. Our spiritual life suffers. All sin separates us from intimate fellowship with God. Gossip is no different. God holds us accountable for our careless words. In the Gospel of Matthew we read (Matt. 12:36-37): “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”
4. Gossiping often spreads untruths. So often, our gossip consists of sharing unproven rumors about others – that turns out to be untrue. This is dangerous in a number of ways. First, the person the rumor is about has no opportunity to respond as the rumor spreads. Second, people often make incorrect judgments about people based on rumors that prove untrue. This does an untold amount of damage to the person the rumor is about. Third, we participate in spreading what amounts to lies. This does harm to our own integrity and reputation. We read in Proverbs 15:4, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
Nothing is more deadly to relationships than spreading false rumors and gossip. The wise person keeps their tongue in check. The next time you are tempted to gossip, remember the proverb of the feathers – and how your words, once they do damage, may never be completely undone. Ask God to give you the wisdom and strength you need to resist the urge to gossip.