Despite how frequently people gossip, it is a terrible transgression. Paul lists gossip among sins like envy and murder that are “worthy of death” (Rom. 1:28-32, cf. 1 Tim. 5:13, 2 Tim. 3:3).
It takes two to gossip—one to talk, and one to listen! “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels” (Prov. 26:22), and the one who craves tidbits of gossip shares the guilt with the one who offers them. The fastest way to stop gossip is to refuse to receive it; just like the fastest way to douse a fire is to remove the fuel (Prov. 26:20).
Gossip is defined as talking about other people with wicked intent. Gossip is almost always listed with other sins of personal ill-will, such as “jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, … arrogance, disturbances” (2 Cor. 12:20), which indicates the attitude that motivates gossip. People use gossip to feel the excitement of scandal, and to belittle the character of others.
Gossip is still evil even when it is true—spreading news of someone’s misbehavior to cause further harm. “He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends” (Prov. 17:9). Maybe Bro. So-and-So is having trouble with his marriage, and maybe Sis. So-and-So did blurt out a naughty word at the dog—but these things don’t need to be broadcast. Do you remember how Joseph sought to put away Mary quietly, not wanting to bring disgrace upon her? God called him “a righteous man” for it (Matt. 1:18–21).
Gossip is still evil even when it is spoken to the preacher. I have never found an exception in the Bible that what is wrong to tell to a brother in the church is somehow OK to tell to the preacher.
It’s Not Gossip When It’s Open and Meant to Help
However, there are occasions when talking about another person is not gossip. In fact, as we read the Bible, we find some times when it is necessary to talk about other people.
Talking about another is not gossip when it is motivated by the desire to save his soul. Paul began his rebuke of the Corinthians by saying, “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11).
Chloe and her household were apparently members of the Corinthian church who felt a great concern for the sins persisting in the congregation. They contacted Paul, so that he could help correct the problems. We have a solemn responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ to admonish one another, to restore those caught in a trespass (Gal. 6:1), to turn back those straying from the truth (Jam. 5:19–20).
There is a previous step to take first, which we can safely assume Chloe’s people would have taken. Jesus says in Matthew 18:15–17,
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Many of us, when we become aware of a sin in a brother’s life, first go and talk about it with a third party. This is wrong. We should go to him first, and if the problem is handled there, news never needs to go further. If the problem cannot be solved, it is then acceptable to involve a few others, to try to save the brother’s soul. When someone approaches us with news about bad behavior, our first question should be, “have you talked to him about this?” If the answer is no, then the next question should be, “then why are you talking to me about this?”
This suggests a good test. When talking about someone else, do you plan to say the exact same thing in his presence? Christians must not be “double-tongued” (1 Tim. 3:8); that is, slandering someone in his absence, and smiling at him in his presence. According to the old Law, the eyewitnesses of a crime were to be the first to throw the stones. Speak nothing of a brother that you could not speak to his face.
It’s Not Gossip When It’s Praise!
It’s never wrong to praise! When you share news of another person’s good deeds, it’s certainly not gossip. Paul did it often: “We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (2 Thess. 1:4, cf. 1 Thess. 3:6-7, Rom. 16:19).
People don’t necessarily want news of their humble acts of kindness to be spread all over the place (Matt. 6:1–4). But it is a great encouragement to the church to draw attention to stellar examples of Christian behavior (1 Cor. 11:1). So when spouses are quarreling, tell them how good old Bro. and Sis. So-and-So solved the problem. When a cancer diagnosis has planted doubt in a young man’s mind, put him in touch with a good brother whose faith endured a similar circumstance.
The tongue can be used for evil or good—let’s be sure we are using ours for building up rather than tearing down! —John Guzzetta