Gossip Can Destroy You!
“I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.”—Matt. 12:36, 37, NW.
1. What is characteristic of those who gossip, and why should we be on guard against it?
GOSSIP started with the Devil. Eve listened to his slanderous tale about Jehovah, believed it, acted upon it, spread it to her husband, and the final result was that the first human pair was separated from their best Friend. From that time to this men have gossiped and men have suffered for it. Few, if any, have not been guilty of it or victimized by it. Often those repeatedly guilty of it are the most indignant when they become its target. When it is about them they hate it. When it is by them they gloss it over. Many preface their gossip with an apology and thereby betray a guilty conscience. Frequently they begin, “I don’t like to say this, but . . .” and then proceed with relish to say it. Or the opening may be, “I don’t know whether this is true or not, but . . . ” and proceed to tell what they suspect is false. Really, we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices. We should be on guard against gossip, a weapon of the Devil.
2. What should we have in mind as we study this article?
2 Be on guard against whom? Against ourselves. As you read this, think. Think how it applies to you, not to your neighbor. True, it applies to your neighbor. He admits it. But the important thing is for you to admit it applies to you, for you to apply it to yourself. You can change yourself. You may not be able to change your neighbor. Concentrate on yourself. Then when you have become faultless in this matter help your neighbor to become that way also. When you have removed the rafter from your own eye you may then try to extract the straw from your neighbor’s. We are prone to be easy on ourselves and hard on others. For our own safety, reverse it and be hard on ourselves and easy on others.—Matt. 7:1-5.
3. Why do gossipers exaggerate, and what is the status of those who reveal secrets?
3 What is gossip? It is talk that works injury. It may be done maliciously and with intent to injure, but often it is innocently performed with no desire to hurt anyone. A harmless statement upon repetition becomes harmful because it is colored or twisted or exaggerated to add spice to it. Without malice a person may do this to make the tale more enticing, more acceptable to hearers, capable of causing a more gratifying reaction of surprise or dismay or shock, and in his zeal to spice up the tale the gossiper never thinks of the harm he inflicts on the one involved in it. His mouth becomes a snare in which he puts his own foot and he is caught violating Jehovah’s command: “You must not go around among your people for the sake of slandering.” “You must not take up an untrue report” and “you must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.” Even though an untrue report is repeated by many, we do not have to follow that crowd and join in slandering our brother. If we are not sure the report is true we should not repeat it. And sometimes even if it is true we should not repeat it. “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing hidden.” “He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who speaks foolishly.” One who discloses secret matters of no concern to others is speaking foolishly, is meddling, busybodying, talebearing, gossiping. He betrays a trust and works injury.—Lev. 19:16; Ex. 23:1, 2, NW; Prov. 11:13; 20:19, RS.
4. When and to whom must secrets sometimes be revealed, and are such reports injurious gossip?
4 Sometimes a secret must be told even though someone is injured. When you know someone is secretly sinning and jeopardizing his standing with Jehovah and marring the purity of the congregation you must speak. Speak to whom? Everyone in the congregation? There is no reason to. To so spread it would be wrong, harmful to both the individual and the congregation. In some cases it may be sufficient to speak to the individual involved; more often it will be necessary to talk to the servant committee of the congregation. To make such a report may result in what seems injurious to the guilty person, but actually the ultimate result will be to his good. No discipline seems joyous at the time, but one submitting to it and trained by it finally reaps benefit from it. The point to remember is that when such a secret is revealed it should be to those able or delegated to correct the matter, and not to gossips for them to cluck about. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For the disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, by those of the house of Chloe, that dissensions exist among you.” Were those of the house of Chloe gossiping about the brothers at Corinth? No, the report was made for their good. It was made to one who could remedy matters by authoritatively correcting them and putting their feet back on the path of life and in the footsteps of Jesus.—1 Cor. 1:11; Heb. 12:11, NW.
5. Why do some refuse to report on a friend, and are they actually true friends?
5 Jehovah’s law provided for witnesses to testify against wrongdoers. We are not forbidden to bear witness; we are only forbidden to bear false witness. Many in the world condemn as “squealing” the disclosure of facts that expose another. Especially is this the code of the underworld, which says it is all right to remain silent or to testify falsely to shield a criminal, but it is odious to tell the truth if it exposes a wrongdoer. In the Christian congregation it is a mistaken sense of loyalty to a brother to shield his sins when those sins jeopardize both his life and the congregation’s purity. The true friend of the brother and of Jehovah’s congregation will rebuke him, or if necessary will report to the committee so that a rebuke of greater force can be given to shock the sinner back to his senses. A true friend will inflict this temporary wound for the sinner’s eternal healing: “Sincere are the wounds of a friend; but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” So the friend that conceals a continuing sinful practice is not a real friend, but is actually an enemy. He may be commended by the code of the underworld, but he is condemned by the scriptural principles of the new world.—Prov. 27:6, AT.
6. What talk is not gossip, when does it become gossip and what questions help us to determine proper and improper talk?
6 Hence it is not gossip to report to the proper servants a continuing sinful practice, but it would be gossip to spread it to others in the congregation who are in no position to take corrective measures, and it would be wrong to reveal a past sin of one who had truly repented and reformed and who was demonstrating it by making straight paths for his feet. Nor is it gossip to talk about our brothers, what they are doing, where they are going or what is happening to them. We are interested in people, and especially in our brothers, and there is no harm in discussing their activities if we are accurate and if it results in no injury to them. But this talk becomes gossip when we probe into their personal, private affairs, or when we raise questions about their motives or cast doubts or plant suspicions about their conduct. Is your talk disparaging of the person? Does it hurt his reputation? Does it cause his friends to separate from him? Does it hurt his feelings or sow discord? Does it cause him to lose privileges of service? Is it true? If true, has it been exaggerated or colored until the impression it leaves is untrue? Is it spoken with a feeling of superiority, smugness, envy, malice or bitterness? Can you say it with a conscience that is clear, so clear that you would say it to the person’s face in exactly the same tone and words? And what is the result of your words? Is the fruit of your talk good or evil? By its fruit it can be recognized.
7. What indicates that women trespass with the tongue more often than men?
7 Not all individuals have the same weaknesses. To counter our weaknesses we must first know them. Do you have a weakness for gossip? If you do, admit it; millions of others keep you company. Admit it, and fight it! How else can you overcome it? Though it may not be pleasant for women to hear, the Bible seems to indicate that women trespass with the tongue more often than men. This is not to say men do not gossip. They do. Some gossip more than women. But women as a group are guilty of gossip more than are men as a group. The Bible specially cautions women: “Let the aged women be reverent in behavior, not slanderous.” Also, “Women should likewise be serious, not slanderous.” It is when discussing women that the Bible states: “At the same time they also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses, yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not.” Not the male tongue, but the female tongue is the one singled out as the irritant in households: “A wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.” Again, “A continual dripping on a rainy day and a contentious woman are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in his right hand.”—Titus 2:3; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13, NW; Prov. 19:13; 27:15, 16, RS.
8. Why do women gossip more than men, yet how is their talkativeness often an asset?
8 Why is this? Is it because men have higher principles in this regard? Not necessarily. A man’s aggressive tendencies make his trespasses take a different direction. As a group men are more prone than women to commit physical violence or murder. But women like to talk more than men do, and they are very much interested in people, the activities and problems and romances of people. When women talk they discuss what interests them, which means they talk about people, which in turn means there is an ever-present danger that the talk may deteriorate into gossip. Men are more interested in subjects, in science, world events, economics or their work, and when they talk about these things the danger of gossip is not so great as when discussing people. Talking in itself is not bad. Women’s flair for talking can be and often is put to good use. It is by their talkativeness that small children learn to speak. Because of their ready speech women ministers may present the truth to others more easily than men, and they may make more of a contribution to congregational meetings by volunteering comments when the program calls for audience participation. But this asset can become a snare when the tongue breaks loose and runs uncontrolled in gossip. Hence both men and women will examine themselves to see whether they have a weakness for gossip, and if they find they do they will keep a special watch over their tongue.
THE EVILS OF GOSSIP
9. What does the Bible say about meddlers and busybodies?
9 Jehovah’s Word repeatedly warns against gossiping. Gossipers are meddlers and busybodies, tending to the business of others while neglecting their own. Christians are cautioned: “Certain ones are walking disorderly among you, not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.” If we suffer it should be for maintaining Christian integrity, not for busybodying: “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters. But if he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame.” Rather than noisily intrude in the affairs of others, “make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business.” “Every fool will be meddling,” the Bible tells us. Why fit into the description of a fool?—2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Pet. 4:15, 16; 1 Thess. 4:11, NW; Prov. 20:3.
10. How do gossipers start trouble and keep it going, and why are they not friends?
10 Meddling gossips make trouble. They babble the business of others, color and exaggerate, misrepresent and distort, and heap high their inflammatory whisperings: “For lack of wood the fire goes out; and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” Rather than the words’ being spoken aloud to the person’s face, they are whispered behind his back and the slander is greedily swallowed by ears gluttonous for gossip. These whisperings make no mere superficial impression, but they sink in deep to be thoroughly chewed and digested. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity,” but the whisperer is no friend. Just when the person needs friends and brothers most, when he is in some trouble or undergoing adversity, then is when the whisperer strikes the hardest to deprive the sufferer of his friends: “A whisperer separates close friends.” “He who repeats a matter alienates a friend.”—Prov. 26:20-22; 17:17; 16:28; 17:9, RS.
11. What kind of talk was predicted for these last days, and what is the responsibility of the gossiper who unwittingly spreads lies?
11 “He who utters slander is a fool.” Most gossip is slanderous. Any truth once present is soon magnified till the bulk of the tale is lies. Friends begin to shy away from the one being slandered, and Jehovah’s hatred comes upon the gossiper “who sows discord among brothers” in the congregation. Slandering is one of the sins predicted to flourish in the last days and which makes this old world worthy of destruction; so Christians especially should shun “hypocrisy and envies and all kinds of backbiting.” (Prov. 10:18; 6:19, RS; 1 Pet. 2:1; 2 Tim. 3:3, NW) Often gossip is not malicious and no harm is intended, but harm follows nonetheless. If you accidentally kill a man he is just as dead as if you meant to do it. If you spread lies thinking them truths, they are still lies and you are lying. You may try to shift the blame to another, saying he told the tale to you. All right, he lied. But when you repeated it you lied. According to the libel laws if one repeats a lie in print he is guilty, regardless of who started it or whom he was quoting. After all, if only the originator of a rumor uttered it the rumor would never get very far or do much damage. Does not Jehovah hold responsible those today who repeat the religious lies started many centuries ago? He also holds accountable the gossipers who either start lies or spread lies.
12. What do gossipers seem to forget, and even when they remember what do they say?
12 If one has been spreading lies unknowingly he is not as reprehensible as the deliberate liar, but neither is he guiltless. If he is truly sorry he will certainly be cautious about repeating tales in the future. But this caution is not characteristic of lovers of gossip. Relative to proving himself faithful Paul said: “Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the calling above.” (Phil. 3:13, 14, NW) Paul forgot the past and looked ahead with a good end in view, but gossipers seem to forget their past tales that proved to be false and look ahead with undiminished fervor for more talebearing in the future. You would think they would remember how often their past gossip proved to be false, and hence you would expect them to be far more cautious in the future. But they seldom are. If they bother to give their past lies a thought, it is to justify them. They deny that they ever said it, or say they only repeated what someone else said, or they hide the first lie by telling another one. Suppose they were spreading a rumor that two persons were going to be married. Time passes and there is no marriage. Then they say the two had a fight and called off the wedding. Yet at the start it was all in the imaginations and suspicions of the gossipers, the rumor never having any solid foundation. If gossipers would look behind at the harm their lies had done they might not look ahead with such zeal for more tongue-wagging.
13. Why is gossip cowardly and murderous, and what will result to those who persist in it?
13 Gossip can be vicious. It is cowardly. It can be murderous. It can murder a good name or ruin a good reputation or poison the minds of people against the victim of the gossip. “They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the poison of vipers.” Speech can be deadly: “Their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords.” Some tongues are as sharp as swords and the words they shoot forth can pierce like arrows, and the verbal shots they loose are from ambush and strike their victim in the back: “Who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.” But the cowards that gossip behind a person’s back should remember that they have to face Jehovah, that Jehovah hears if their human victim does not, and “because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin.” Their gossiping tongues will get them uprooted from the land of the living: “Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.”—Ps. 140:3; 57:4; 64:3, 4, 8; 52:2-5, RS.
14. What can gossip lead to?
14 Gossip can become so wicked and do so much damage that it can merit disfellowshiping. It can bring the babbler to ruin in the congregation: “He who guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” His gossip may separate friends, but if it continues it will separate him from Jehovah’s organization: “Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that slandereth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his friend, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor.” “Perverted speech I hate,” says Jehovah. If Jehovah hates it, so should we, and the hateful thing should not be permitted to exist in the congregation. We pray as directed: “Deliver my soul, O Jehovah, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.” If such lips and tongues are in the congregation, by disfellowshiping action the congregation can be delivered from them.—Prov. 13:3, RS; Ps. 15:1, 3, AS; Prov. 8:13, RS; Ps. 120:2, AS.
15. What makes gossip so dangerous, and what questions should the gossiper consider?
15 Many times gossip is concerning a minor matter, but discord is sown as wagging tongues magnify it out of all proportion. A gossip makes a mountain of the molehill and a molehill of the mountain. The real mountain, the sowing of discord, is as a molehill to the gossiper in comparison with the minor difficulty that he magnifies to mountainous proportions to bring about the discord. How dangerous is such unprofitable speaking! We read at Matthew 12:36, 37 (NW): “I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned.” How do you think words of gossip will be viewed during judgment periods? Can you vindicate your gossip? Will the plea that you meant no harm suffice? Will it ring true if the record shows you continued gossiping even after some of your tales proved false? Can you shift responsibility for the words that came out of your mouth? Be assured that your words, if they were gossipy words, will be condemned. How much better now to cultivate wisely a tongue that heals instead of injures: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”—Prov. 12:18, RS.