Gossip Can Be Deadly
WHAT does the word “gossip” convey to your mind? A pleasant chat about familiar matters with an old acquaintance, perhaps? Or, the passing along of some ‘juicy tidbit’ of current personal news at someone else’s expense?
Gossip usually finds its basis in our interest in people and their doings. Gossip can be the relating of something trifling or unobjectionable about others, out of human interest. It might even include commendatory remarks about the person. Often it takes the form of light and humorous talk, in which there is no bad intention. On the other hand, what is said may tend to place the person talked about in a poor light. It may be said jokingly, perhaps thoughtlessly.
Even when gossip is without bad intent, there are times when it is better that some things be left unsaid. They may be truthful, but, then, they may be matters that the third party would not want talked about among his friends and neighbors, and if those matters do not involve their welfare, there is no need for them to know about them. Here is where empathy is called for. How would you like your private affairs to be the subject of such conversation?
GOSSIP THAT IS HURTFUL
It is so easy to slide from harmless talk about personalities into hurtful, troublemaking talk! Here is where there is danger. Do you know where to draw the line? Can you distinguish one from the other? It is vital that you do if you want to guard your lips from troublemaking speech.—Prov. 24:2.
The question you must ask yourself is: Is this gossip hurting someone? This question is very important because the Bible clearly counsels Christians: “Speak injuriously of no one.” (Titus 3:2) Even if your motive is innocent, if such talk results in hurt to someone, you may be subject to reproof by men of responsibility in the Christian congregation. It is their job to maintain peace and good relations among all members of the flock of God.
That gossip was troublesome in the days of the apostles, we can note from these words that the apostle Paul wrote about young widows: “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.” (1 Tim. 5:13) Gossiping is linked with unwarranted concern about other people’s private affairs. And it often takes the form of criticism, judgment that is premature because of not knowing all the facts of the case.
Detrimental talk about someone behind his back can produce bad results. The gossiper may be talking to one who is a close friend of the one talked about, and one of two things can happen. Either that friendship cools off, or the one to whom the gossiper has spoken goes and reports to the person talked about. That can arouse the spirit of retaliation and ill feelings within the congregation. As the proverb declares: “He that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.” (Prov. 17:9) Surely no Christian would want to do that!
SLANDER IS DEADLY
While gossip can, under certain circumstances, become deadly, all slander is deadly. Slander is defined as “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.” Not mere gossip, slander is intentionally hurtful talk. It purposely seeks to put someone in a bad light. How completely opposite to the spirit of love and of peace! Such talk that is meant to harm another person separates friends, causes divisions, promotes sects, and disrupts the usefulness of a congregation of Christians. No wonder the apostle Paul classifies all these troublemakers together, declaring: “God gave them up to a disapproved mental state, to do the things not fitting, filled as they were with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, injuriousness, being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malicious disposition, being whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, insolent, haughty, self-assuming, inventors of injurious things.” (Rom. 1:28-30) Concerning the tongue that speaks injuriously of others the disciple James said that it is “full of death-dealing poison.”—Jas. 3:8.
The deadly effect of slander was recognized and warned against in the law that God gave to Israel. “You must not go around among your people for the sake of slandering. You must not stand up against your fellow’s blood.” (Lev. 19:16) The slanderer foments hatreds, and “everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer.”—1 John 3:15.
Hurtful, slanderous talk is like a two-edged blade. It cuts both ways. It is easy enough to perceive how it plays havoc with the life of the one who is its target—arousing anger, resentment, bitterness, even desperation. But what about the slanderer himself? Let not that one be deceived, for the wisdom from heaven warns: “The lips of the stupid one swallow him up. The start of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end afterward of his mouth is calamitous madness. And the foolish one speaks many words.” (Eccl. 10:12-14) His foolish course feeds such evil inclinations as envy, pride and malice and will lead him to calamity.
Mature Christians avoid the slanderer as they would a plague. As the apostle Paul recommends to fellow worshipers: “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling . . . and avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17) Jehovah’s servants must dwell together in peace and love if they would have the blessings of their God.
The Greek word for “slanderer” is di·aʹbo·los, meaning also “accuser.” And it has become one of the titles of God’s archenemy, the Devil. Those who slander others as he slanders the righteous God are really constituting themselves devils or children of the Devil.
DISRESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
Hurtful gossip about men of responsibility in the Christian congregation is equally serious, for it immediately affects the loyalty of all concerned. It can develop into slander and calling down evil on those whose duty it is to shepherd the flock of God. This kind of talk is sometimes described as “reviling.” Such lack of proper respect is viewed seriously by Jehovah himself. “You must not call down evil upon God nor curse a chieftain among your people,” God commanded the Israelites. (Ex. 22:28) A case in point was that of Korah and his associates, whose disrespect for Moses and Aaron led to Jehovah’s swift execution of judgment upon them.—Num. 16:1-3, 12-14, 31-35.
The Christian Bible writer Jude calls attention to those rebels and points to their end as a warning to all slanderers and revilers. (Jude 10, 11, 14-16) The apostles Peter and Paul both had occasion to condemn this evil attitude. (2 Pet. 2:10; Rom. 3:8) And the apostle John specifically names Diotrephes as one who had no respect for Jehovah’s appointees, the apostles, for he kept “chattering about us with wicked words.” (3 John 9, 10) Will God overlook any similar disrespect today toward those whom he chooses to honor with special responsibilities?
God’s servant Jude reminds us of the fine example set by Michael the archangel. When he “had a difference with the Devil and was disputing about Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a judgment against him in abusive terms, but said: ‘May Jehovah rebuke you.’” (Jude 9) That glorious archangel did not stoop to abusive speech even against the Devil, but, having respect for authority, said: “May Jehovah rebuke you.”
AVOID THE DANGERS OF HURTFUL GOSSIP
To be marked among God’s congregation of worshipers as a hurtful talker, a whisperer, a backbiter, a slanderer or a reviler can produce evil results for the guilty one. True Christians will avoid such a one. The spiritual health of the congregation can be endangered. Individuals have had to be cast out of the pleasant fellowship into the darkness outside because of letting their tongues wag too freely, to the injury of others. Surely these are situations in which one would never want to find oneself! But how can such a danger be avoided?
The prime need is for God’s spirit to direct our minds and hearts. That is gained by study of the fine principles of the Bible and by prayer to God for his help in putting those principles into practice in our lives. Then, too, it is necessary to root out any evil thoughts one may be harboring against any spiritual brother or sister, whether due to contempt, envy, animosity, rivalry or any such spirit. Remembering that each one of God’s servants is accountable to Him alone, we are most likely to refrain from assailing their reputations, for then we would be joining forces with the Devil and his demons, who delight in slandering all of God’s slaves, putting them in a bad light.—Rev. 12:10.
Note the fine advice offered by the apostle Paul on how we can control our thinking and so avoid the dangers that can arise from hurtful talk and slander: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” (Phil. 4:8) In that way there will be no room for thoughts that are hurtful, thoughts that have a way of showing up in talk, with far-reaching and devastating consequences.—Jas. 3:5-10.
For those who love God and who want life according to his kind provision, there should be a healthy fear of being found guilty of the habit of talking harmfully. Christ Jesus warned: “Every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36, 37) The way of the hurtful gossiper leads to a dead end. It can lead to his death.