How Harmful Gossip Can Be Crushed
“Do set a guard, O Jehovah, for my mouth; do set a watch over the door of my lips.”—PSALM 141:3.
1. What capacity does our God-given brain have?
JEHOVAH gave us a brain, and how wonderful it is! Says the book The Incredible Machine: “Even the most sophisticated computers that we can envision are crude compared to the almost infinite complexity and flexibility of the human brain . . . The millions of signals flashing through your brain at any moment carry an extraordinary load of information. They bring news about your body’s inner and outer environments . . . As other signals process and analyze information, they produce certain emotions, memories, thoughts, or plans which lead to a decision. Almost immediately, signals from your brain tell other parts of your body what to do . . . Meanwhile your brain is also monitoring your breathing, blood chemistry, temperature, and other essential processes outside your awareness.”—Page 326.
2. What question now merits consideration?
2 Surely, such a marvelous gift from God should never be used as a trash barrel or a garbage can. Yet, we can misuse the brain by listening to and spreading harmful gossip. How can we avoid such talk and help others to refrain from engaging in it?
Appreciate Your God-Given Mind
3. Why would no true Christian engage in harmful talk?
3 Appreciation for our God-given mind will restrain us from listening to harmful gossip and spreading it. Jehovah’s spirit would not motivate anyone to fill his mind with such ideas and use his tongue to injure anyone. Rather, God’s Word says: “Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:7) The mind of a wicked person is filled with evil ideas, and he is quick to slander the upright. But we would never expect such speech from those who appreciate their God-given mind.
4. If we appreciate our brain and our ability to speak, how will we use our mind and our tongue?
4 Proper appreciation will help us to refrain from using our mind and our tongue to cater to our sinful flesh. Instead, we will keep our thinking and speaking on an elevated plane. We can shun harmful gossip by prayerful reliance on the One whose thoughts are far higher than ours. The apostle Paul counseled: “Whatever things are true [not false or slanderous], whatever things are of serious concern [not petty], whatever things are righteous [not wicked and harmful], whatever things are chaste [not unclean slander or evil suspicions], whatever things are lovable [not hateful and belittling], whatever things are well spoken of [not derogatory], whatever virtue [not badness] there is and whatever praiseworthy [not condemned] thing there is, continue considering these things.”—Philippians 4:8.
5. What had fellow believers seen and heard in connection with Paul?
5 Paul added: “The things that you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, practice these; and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9) What had others seen and heard in connection with Paul? Things that were chaste and spiritually upbuilding. He did not fill their ears with the latest gossip about Lydia or Timothy. You can be sure that Paul did not listen to and spread rumors concerning the older men in Jerusalem.* Likely, respect for his God-given mind helped Paul to refrain from involvement in harmful gossip. We will imitate his example if we really appreciate the mind and the tongue Jehovah has given us.
Respect God and His Word
6, 7. (a) How did James show the effects of the unruly tongue? (b) What will not happen if we respect God and his Word?
6 Heartfelt respect for God and his Sacred Word will also help us to crush harmful gossip. Indeed, such respect will move us to heed the counsel of the disciple James, who took the tongue to task. (James 3:2-12) If a person could control the tongue, he would be able to bridle his whole body, even as a bit in a horse’s mouth can guide that animal. As a mere spark can set a forest ablaze, so the little tongue can be a fire that sets the wheel of life aflame. Man can tame wild beasts, birds, creeping things, and sea creatures, “but the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed,” said James. Yet, that is no excuse for making no effort to crush harmful gossip.
7 James also said that the tongue sends blessing and cursing out of the same mouth. This is not proper, for a fountain does not bubble forth both sweet and bitter water. A fig tree cannot produce olives, and salt water does not produce sweet water. Of course, as long as Christians are imperfect, the tongue will be beyond taming perfectly. This should make us merciful toward repentant offenders, yet it does not excuse harmful gossip. So far as it depends on us, such poisonous misuse of the tongue will not go on occurring if we truly respect God and his Word.
How Prayer Can Help
8. How can prayer help us to crush hurtful gossip?
8 Temptation to listen to hurtful gossip and then to spread it can be very strong. So if you have yielded to such temptation in the past, should you not ask God for forgiveness and help? Jesus taught us to pray: “Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matthew 6:13) Christians who earnestly pray that God not abandon them to such tempting but evil talk will not succumb to this device of Satan; they will be rescued from the great slanderer.
9. If tempted to slander anyone, how might we pray?
9 If we are tempted to slander anyone, we might pray: “Do set a guard, O Jehovah, for my mouth; do set a watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3) We could ruin our prospects for eternal life by yielding to temptation and imitating the Devil as a hateful, lying, murderous slanderer. (John 8:44) The apostle John wrote: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.”—1 John 3:15.
Love Banishes Gossip
10. Rather than gossiping about others, what do we owe them?
10 All of us owe others something, but we do not owe hatred that prompts hurtful gossip. “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another,” wrote Paul. (Romans 13:8) We should be paying on that debt daily instead of speaking against others and damaging their reputation. If we claim to love Jehovah, we cannot be slandering a fellow worshiper, “for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 John 4:20.
11. How might Jesus’ illustration of the sheep and the goats give us some food for thought regarding hurtful gossip?
11 Consider Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. Goatlike ones were told that what they did to Christ’s brothers was counted as done to him. Would you gossip about Christ? If you would not speak against your Lord and Master, do not treat his anointed brothers that way. Do not commit error as did the goats, who “will depart into everlasting cutting-off.” If you love Jesus’ brothers, show it by what you say about them.—Matthew 25:31-46.
12. What is the essence of Proverbs 16:2, and how should it affect our thoughts, actions, and speech?
12 Since all of us are sinners and in need of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, if someone wanted to make unfavorable remarks about us, he could find plenty to say. (1 John 2:1, 2) Of course, we may think that we are doing quite well. “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but Jehovah is making an estimate of spirits.” God’s scales are not tilted by favoritism or partiality. (Proverbs 16:2; Acts 10:34, 35) He weighs our spirit, noting our disposition and the impulses that motivate us to think, act, and talk. Surely, then, we would not want God to find that we wrongly consider ourselves clean and others soiled and worthy of hurtful remarks. Like Jehovah, we must be impartial, merciful, and loving.
13. (a) How can the fact that “love is long-suffering and kind” help in crushing harmful gossip? (b) What will keep us from speaking against someone who receives a privilege of service that we do not have?
13 Applying what Paul said at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 can help us to crush harmful gossip. He wrote: “Love is long-suffering and kind.” A sister who is suffering persecution in a divided household may not greet us cheerfully. Or some may be slower physically, perhaps because of poor health. Should not love move us to be patient and kind toward such individuals instead of making them victims of critical gossip? ‘Love is not jealous, does not brag, does not get puffed up.’ Thus, if another Christian receives a privilege of service we do not have, love will prevent us from speaking against him and suggesting that he is unfit for the work. Love will also keep us from boasting about our attainments, talk that could depress those less privileged.
14. What else is there about love that would affect what we say about others?
14 Paul also said that ‘love does not behave indecently, look for its own interests, become provoked, or keep account of injury.’ Instead of indecently saying unchristian things, we should let love move us to speak well of others and to consider their interests. It keeps us from becoming provoked and speaking against people for real or imagined injuries. Since ‘love rejoices not over unrighteousness but with the truth,’ it keeps us from engaging in harmful gossip even about opposers who experience injustice.
15. (a) How should we be affected by the fact that ‘love believes and hopes all things’? (b) What facets of love can help us to stick with Jehovah’s organization even if others speak against it?
15 Love ‘believes and hopes all things’ found in God’s Word and moves us to appreciate the spiritual food provided by the ‘faithful slave’ class, instead of listening to the slanderous statements of lying apostates. (Matthew 24:45-47; 1 John 2:18-21) Since ‘love endures all things and never fails,’ it also helps us to remain loyal to God’s organization even if “false brothers” or others speak against it or its members.—Galatians 2:4.
Respect Curbs Gossip
16. How was Paul treated by false brothers in Corinth?
16 Respect for fellow believers also helps to crush hurtful gossip. Since they are acceptable to God, surely we should not malign them. Let us never be like the “false brothers” that Paul encountered. Doubtless, they said evil things about him. (2 Corinthians 11:26) Apostates must also have maligned him. (Compare Jude 3, 4.) In Corinth some individuals said: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence in person is weak and his speech contemptible.” (2 Corinthians 10:10) People do not make such remarks about those they love.
17. With what sort of words was Diotrephes talking about the apostle John?
17 Consider the apostle John, who was spoken against by Diotrephes. “I wrote something to the congregation,” said John, “but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words.” (3 John 9, 10) Such chattering was a very serious matter, and if we are listening to or spreading similar talk today, we should stop doing so immediately.
18. How did Demetrius differ from Diotrephes, and how might this contrast affect our conduct?
18 Urging respect for the upright, John told Gaius: “Be an imitator, not of what is bad, but of what is good. He that does good originates with God. He that does bad has not seen God. Demetrius has had witness borne to him by them all and by the truth itself. In fact, we, also, are bearing witness, and you know that the witness we give is true.” (3 John 1, 11, 12) Each of us might ask himself: Am I a chattering Diotrephes, or am I a faithful Demetrius? If we respect fellow believers, we will not make negative remarks about them, giving others reason to view us as chatterers.
19. How did false brothers seek to defame C. T. Russell?
19 False brothers did not exist only in the first century. During the 1890’s, unscrupulous individuals associating with God’s organization tried to get control of the Watch Tower Society. They conspired against Charles Taze Russell, seeking to bring about his end as the Society’s first president. After brewing for about two years, the conspiracy erupted in 1894. The false charges centered mainly around Russell’s alleged dishonesty in business. Some of the petty charges betrayed the accusers’ intention—the defamation of C. T. Russell. Impartial Christians investigated matters and found him to be in the right. Thus, this plan to “blow Mr. Russell and his work sky-high” was a failure. So, like Paul, Brother Russell was assailed by false brothers, but this trial was recognized as a design of Satan. The conspirators were thereafter considered unfit to enjoy Christian fellowship.
Good Works Stifle Harmful Gossip
20. What fault did Paul find with some younger widows?
20 Paul knew that harmful gossip was often related to idleness, not plenty of good works. He was not pleased that some younger widows had learned “to be idlers going the rounds of the houses, and not only idlers but also chatterers and busybodies, talking of what they ought not.” What was the remedy? Wholesome activity. Thus, Paul wrote: “So I would have younger ones marry, bear children, keep house, not give the opponent any opening toward abusive talk.”—1 Timothy 5:11-14, Byington.
21. What bearing does 1 Corinthians 15:58 have on avoiding the snares of harmful gossip?
21 If women manage a household, train children according to God’s standards, and engage in other worthwhile pursuits, they will have little time for idle talk that can lead to hurtful gossip. Men too will have less time for such speech if they are occupied with good works. “Always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord” will help all of us to avoid the snares of harmful gossip. (1 Corinthians 15:58) Especially will wholehearted involvement in the Christian ministry, congregation meetings, and other godly pursuits keep our minds on spiritual matters so that we do not become unoccupied gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs.
22. What does Proverbs 6:16-19 say about God’s view of slanderers?
22 If we keep busy in godly works and seek to bless others spiritually, we will be loyal friends, not disloyal talebearers. (Proverbs 17:17) And if we avoid damaging gossip, we will have the best Friend of all—Jehovah God. Let us remember that seven things detestable to him are “lofty eyes, a false tongue, and hands that are shedding innocent blood, a heart fabricating hurtful schemes, feet that are in a hurry to run to badness, a false witness that launches forth lies, and anyone sending forth contentions among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) Gossipmongers exaggerate and twist things, and slanderers have false tongues. Their words set in motion the feet of those eager to bear tales. Almost invariably, contention is the result. But if we hate what God hates, we will shun hurtful gossip that can damage the upright and bring glee to the great slanderer, Satan the Devil.
23. As regards our speech, how can we make Jehovah’s heart rejoice?
23 Therefore, let us make Jehovah’s heart rejoice. (Proverbs 27:11) Let us avoid speech that he hates, refuse to listen to slander, and do our best to crush harmful gossip. Surely, we can do so with the help of our holy God, Jehovah.
Even today it is not advisable to listen to and spread sensational tales (often not based on any fact at all) about what members of the Governing Body or their representatives have supposedly said or done.
How Would You Reply?
□ How can prayer help us to avoid slandering others?
□ How can applying 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 help us to crush harmful gossip?
□ How can self-respect help us to curb any temptation to gossip about fellow believers?
□ What bearing can 1 Corinthians 15:58 have on avoiding the snares of harmful gossip?
[Picture Credit Line on page 17]
U.S. Forest Service photo