Here’s today’s reading from Proverbs 11:1-18.
One of the most corrosive sins to personal relationships is the sin of gossip. I don’t know who made up this definition of gossip--I heard it first from Dave Ramsay--but gossip is talking about a problem with someone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution.
Verse 13 here in Proverbs 11 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence...” That’s how the sin begins; it starts when you are in a position to know something. Either you observed something that surprised you, or were told something in confidence by a person who is having a problem. Often, someone who has sinned or has been sinned against in some scandalous way reaches out for comfort or advice to someone they trust. If that person is you and you talk about it with a third person, you have gossiped by betraying someone’s confidence.
Why do gossip so frequently or easily? In my experience, it happens for a few different reasons.
First, we gossip when we are surprised by information and have trouble making sense of it. If you saw me walk out of a store with an item but didn’t see me pay for it, hopefully that would surprise you. You might wonder if you should say something to me or to the store. Or you might doubt what you saw and wonder if it could really be true. Without the ability to resolve your concern on your own, you might call a friend you trust. That person might give you good advice--you have to ask him about it or you have to report it to the store. Either of those options is correct. But the person you call might be just as shocked as you are and, instead of helping you solve the problem, the person you called calls someone else.
A second reason why we gossip is that it makes us feel good to know a secret. But what good is knowing a secret if nobody else knows that you know--ya know? So you tell a third person but because you want to impress them and create a little bit of intimacy with that person. Again, if that person talks to someone else, the gossip fire has started and it will spread quickly.
A third reason why we gossip is that we want to hurt another person. We feel inferior to them, jealous of them, or contemptuous of them, so when we have some dirt on them, we spread it in order to bring them down a peg.
There maybe more reasons why people gossip than just these three. The third of these three feels like the most wicked because it is done to hurt someone deliberately. But the Bible tells us here that all gossip--all communication of a problem with someone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution--is wicked in God’s sight. The best way to avoid it is to be “a trustworthy person” (v. 13b). And what makes someone a trustworthy person? That person “keeps a secret” (v. 13b). Is that you? Can you be trusted with sensitive information? Gossip is a destructive sin--it destroys others but it also ruins your credibility because many people you gossip to will wonder if they can trust you in the future or if you will gossip about them, too.
The best way to overcome a tendency to gossip is to pay the price for your gossip. Confess to the person whose confidence you have betrayed and admit you sinned to anyone you gossiped with. When you see how hurtful gossip is and how humiliating it is to make it right, it will help you learn to keep a confidence in the future.
Gossip is destructive, but Jesus died for gossips. Forgiveness is offered, therefore, and God’s word and his Spirit are ready to strengthen you against future temptations to gossip. So consider how you talk to others and learn, by God’s grace, to be “a trustworthy person.”