Guard Against Harmful Gossip!
“In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”—PROVERBS 10:19.
1. How damaging is malicious gossip, or slander?
NOTHING can change lethal venom into a healthful drink. Malicious gossip, or slander, has well been likened to poison, which can also rob an upright person of his good name. The Roman poet Juvenal called slander “that worst of all poisons.” And English dramatist William Shakespeare put these words into the mouth of one of his characters: “He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.”
2. What questions merit consideration?
2 But just what is gossip? How may it differ from slander? Why guard against harmful gossip? And how can this be done?
How They Differ
3. What is the difference between gossip and slander?
3 Gossip is “idle talk, not always true, about other people and their affairs.” It is “light, familiar talk or writing.” Since all of us are interested in people, we sometimes say good, upbuilding things about others. Slander is different. It is “a false report meant to do harm to the good name and reputation of another.” Such talk is generally malicious and is unchristian.
4. According to one writer, how may slander begin, and from what does it spring?
4 Harmless gossip may turn into vicious slander. Said writer Arthur Mee: “More often than not the slander that injures a man, and may bring about his ruin, begins in gossip, the gossip that comes, perhaps, from nothing worse at first than idleness. It is one of the greatest evils in the world, but it springs, as a rule, from ignorance. We find it chiefly among those who have very little to do, and have no particular object in life.”
5. What is the essence of Paul’s counsel at 1 Timothy 5:11-15?
5 Since idle talk may lead to slander, the apostle Paul spoke out against certain gossipers. After mentioning widows qualified for congregation assistance, he wrote: “Turn down younger widows, for when their sexual impulses have come between them and the Christ, . . . 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. Therefore I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children, to manage a household, to give no inducement to the opposer to revile. Already, in fact, some have been turned aside to follow Satan.”—1 Timothy 5:11-15.
6. What should be done to overcome a personal weakness for the type of gossiping that may lead to slander?
6 Since Paul wrote under divine inspiration, he was not making unfair remarks about those women. What he said is food for very serious thought. No godly woman wants to ‘turn aside and follow Satan.’ Yet, what if a Christian woman finds that she has a weakness for the kind of talk that could make her guilty of slander? Then she should humbly heed Paul’s counsel: “Women should . . . be serious, not slanderous.” He also said: “Let the aged women be reverent in behavior, not slanderous.” (1 Timothy 3:11; Titus 2:3) Brothers too should soberly apply that wise advice.
7. Scripturally, why would you say that all of us should control what we say?
7 At times, of course, all of us talk about other people, their experiences in the ministry, and so forth. Let us never, however, ‘sit and speak against our brother.’ (Psalm 50:19, 20) Indeed, it is wise not to talk too much because “in the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” (Proverbs 10:19) So we should guard against gossip, even if it does not seem harmful. We have no need to talk about people all the time, since we have a fine selection of topics if we consider righteous, chaste, lovable, virtuous, and praiseworthy things.—Philippians 4:8.
How Gossip Becomes Slander
8. Why is it not always wrong to talk about fellow Christians?
8 There is no harm in talking about the field ministry and other godly activities of fellow believers if we are accurate and no injury results from what we say. In fact, positive remarks of this sort may encourage others. (Compare Acts 15:30-33.) Some Christians talked about the faithful older man Gaius, to whom the apostle John wrote: “Beloved one, you are doing a faithful work in whatever you do for the brothers, and strangers at that, who have borne witness to your love before the congregation.” (3 John 5, 6) So it is not always wrong to talk about fellow Christians.
9. (a) How may light talk turn into slander of the upright? (b) What questions might we appropriately ask ourselves?
9 However, light talk can turn into slander of the upright if we probe into their private affairs, question their motives, or arouse suspicions about their conduct. We might get into the practice of asking ourselves questions, such as: Would my speech damage another person’s reputation? Is what I say true? (Revelation 21:8) Would I say the same thing in his presence? Would it sow discord in the congregation? Might my statements cause him to lose privileges of service? Could envy be in my heart? (Galatians 5:25, 26; Titus 3:3) Would the fruitage of my remarks be good or evil? (Matthew 7:17-20) Would I have said similar things about the apostles? (2 Corinthians 10:10-12; 3 John 9, 10) Does such talk befit those who have reverence for Jehovah?
10, 11. According to Psalm 15:1, 3, what will we not do if we desire to be God’s guest?
10 Alluding to those who revere God, Psalm 15:1 asks: “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent? Who will reside in your holy mountain?” Concerning such a person, the psalmist David answers: “He has not slandered with his tongue. To his companion he has done nothing bad, and no reproach has he taken up against his intimate acquaintance.” (Psalm 15:3) Here the word “slandered” is from a Hebrew verb meaning “to foot it” and thus “to go about.” The Israelites were commanded: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (Leviticus 19:16, New International Version) Anyone who ‘goes about spreading slander’ is not God’s guest and friend.
11 Friends of God do nothing bad to their companions and will not take up, or receive as truthful, any reproachful tales about upright acquaintances. Rather than spreading false stories about fellow believers and adding to the evil reproaches by the ungodly that they already bear, we should speak well of them. Never would we want to increase the burdens of our faithful brothers and sisters by saying reproachful things about them.
When Difficulties Arise
12. How may Acts 15:36-41 help us if we are tempted to gossip about one with whom we have a disagreement?
12 Being imperfect, we may be tempted to speak against a person with whom we have had a serious disagreement. But consider what happened when the apostle Paul was about to set out on his second missionary journey. Though Barnabas was determined to have Mark accompany them, Paul did not agree, “seeing that [Mark] had departed from them from Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” At that, “a sharp burst of anger” ensued, and they separated. Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus, whereas Paul had Silas go with him through Syria and Cilicia. (Acts 15:36-41) Later, the breach between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark was evidently healed, for Mark was with the apostle in Rome, and Paul spoke well of him. (Colossians 4:10) Even though there had been a disagreement, there is no evidence that those Christians had gone around gossiping about one another among fellow believers.
13. Under what circumstances involving Peter did Paul resist a possible temptation to gossip about a fellow Christian?
13 Paul also resisted a possible temptation to resort to damaging gossip when he reproved Cephas (Peter), who had been ashamed to eat with Gentile believers and associate with them because of the presence of certain Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. Instead of talking about Peter behind his back, Paul “resisted him face to face,” speaking up “before them all.” (Galatians 2:11-14) Peter did not gossip about his reprover either. In fact, he later referred to him as “our beloved brother Paul.” (2 Peter 3:15) So even if a fellow believer needs to be corrected, this provides no excuse for gossiping about him. There are very good reasons to guard against such speech and to resist the temptation to spread harmful gossip.
Why Be on Guard?
14. What is the principal reason not to listen to or spread harmful gossip?
14 The principal reason why we should not listen to harmful gossip or share in spreading it is that we want to please Jehovah, who condemns slander. As noted, the way God views such speech was made clear when the Israelites were commanded: “You must not go around among your people for the sake of slandering. You must not stand up against your fellow’s blood. I am Jehovah.” (Leviticus 19:16) If we are to enjoy divine favor, then, we must not slander anyone we may mention in our conversations.
15. Who is the foremost slanderer, and what effect can engaging in harmful gossip have on our relationship with God?
15 Another reason not to engage in harmful gossip is that such could lead to imitating Satan, the foremost slanderer of Jehovah. This archenemy of God was appropriately given the name “Devil” (Greek, di·aʹbo·los), which means “slanderer.” When Eve listened to Satan’s slanderous talk against God and acted upon it, the first human pair was separated from their best Friend. (Genesis 3:1-24) Let us never succumb to Satan’s designs and become involved in harmful speech that merits divine disapproval and that can, therefore, separate us from our best Friend, Jehovah God.
16. How does a slanderer ‘separate those familiar with one another’?
16 We should not listen to malicious gossipers, since they separate friends. Often, slanderers exaggerate, misrepresent, lie, and heap up mountains of inflammatory words. Instead of speaking to a person face-to-face, they whisper behind his back. Unfounded suspicions are often aroused. Thus, “a slanderer is separating those familiar with one another.”—Proverbs 16:28.
17. Why should we guard against becoming deeply involved in light gossip?
17 We should guard against becoming deeply involved even in light gossip. Why? Because a remark not meant to hurt anyone may become hurtful when it is repeated. It may be embellished or twisted until it damages the reputation of a godly person, robbing him of his good name. If that occurred, how would you feel if you had originated the story or even passed it along? People might view you as someone likely to do injury, and therefore they might no longer seek your fellowship.—Compare Proverbs 20:19.
18. How may gossip make a liar out of a person?
18 Another reason to be on guard is that damaging gossip may make a liar out of you. “The words of a slanderer are like things to be swallowed greedily, which do go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” (Proverbs 26:22) What if you swallow lies and repeat them? Well, even if you think the lies are true, you are lying when you spread them. When their falsity is revealed, you may be considered a liar. Do you want that to happen? Does not God hold false teachers responsible for religious lies? Yes, and he also holds lying slanderers accountable. Jesus warned: “Every idle word that men shall speak they shall account for at the day of judgment; for you shall be acquitted on your own words and condemned on your own words.” (Matthew 12:36, 37, Byington) Since “each of us will render an account for himself to God,” would you want to have him condemn you as a lying slanderer?—Romans 14:12.
19. Why can it be said that harmful gossip can be murderous?
19 Still another reason not to spread harmful gossip is that it can be murderous. Yes, it can be deadly, destroying an innocent person’s good reputation. Some tongues are ‘sharp swords,’ and bitter words are like arrows shot at the blameless from ambush. David prayed: “May you [Jehovah] conceal me from the confidential talk of evildoers, from the tumult of practicers of hurtfulness, who have sharpened their tongue just like a sword, who have aimed their arrow, bitter speech, to shoot from concealed places at someone blameless.” (Psalm 64:2-4) Would you want to be responsible for saying such evil things about a fellow human to the point that he felt compelled to pray to God for relief, as did the psalmist? Do you want to be guilty of what amounts to murder?
20. (a) As far as God’s congregation is concerned, what can happen to an unrepentant slanderer? (b) What caution must elders exercise in connection with gossip and slander?
20 Slander can lead to expulsion from God’s organization; a slanderer may be disfellowshipped, perhaps as an unrepentant liar. However, such action is not to be taken against those guilty of light gossip. Elders should weigh matters prayerfully, drawing a sharp distinction between mere gossip and vicious slander. To be disfellowshipped, the wrongdoer would have to be a malicious, unrepentant slanderer. Elders are not authorized to disfellowship anyone for trivial gossip that is motivated by human interest but that is not false or malicious. Matters must not be magnified beyond proper proportions, and there must be witnesses with substantial testimony to prove that slander is unquestionably involved. (1 Timothy 5:19) Unrepentant slanderers are expelled primarily so that malicious gossip will be quenched, and the congregation will be spared from becoming leavened with sin. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, 13) But never should elders be so hasty that they expel anyone on unscriptural grounds. By means of prayer and counsel, they will often be able to help the person to repent, apologize or otherwise make amends, and make continued progress in taming the tongue.
Is It Slander?
21. Instead of gossiping about a wrongdoer, what should you do?
21 A wise proverb says: “The one walking about as a slanderer is uncovering confidential talk, but the one faithful in spirit is covering over a matter.” (Proverbs 11:13) Does this mean that if you know that someone is secretly engaging in gross sin, it would be slanderous to say anything about it? No. Of course, you should not gossip about the matter. You should speak to the wrongdoer, urging him to seek the help of the elders. (James 5:13-18) If he does not do this within a reasonable period of time, concern for the cleanness of the congregation should move you to report the matter to the elders.—Leviticus 5:1.
22. Why can we say that 1 Corinthians 1:11 does not authorize gossiping?
22 Such a report may result in discipline for the wrongdoer, and that would not seem joyous. Still, a person trained by discipline reaps the fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11) Wrongdoing should be revealed to those appointed to handle such matters, not to gossipers who may chatter about it. Paul told Christians in Corinth: “The disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, by those of the house of Chloe, that dissensions exist among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:11) Were members of that household gossiping about fellow believers? No, but the report was made to a responsible elder who could take steps to assist those needing help to get their feet back on the path of life.
23. What question remains for consideration?
23 If we help a person to guard against involvement in harmful gossip, we are doing something for his good. A wise proverb says: “The one guarding his mouth is keeping his soul. The one opening wide his lips—he will have ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3) Clearly, then, there are good reasons to guard against harmful gossip and wicked slander. Yet, how can harmful gossip be crushed? The following article will tell.
What Are Your Answers?
◻ What is the difference between light gossip and slander?
◻ How may gossip become slander?
◻ What are some reasons to guard against harmful gossip?
◻ Why is slander not involved when we report the gross wrongdoing of another person?
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Make sure that you are never guilty of shooting a person in the back by gossiping about him