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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gossip - How Do I Identify It?

(Click here to read the previous posts in the series:  Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4)
So far in this series, we’ve worked to formulate a definition of gossip, we’ve considered the damage that gossip does, and we’ve identified God’s standard for our speech.  Now we need to move into the more practical arena of identifying gossip in everyday life.
Though we have defined gossip already, being able to recite the definition is not the same as being able to identify gossip when you hear it in real conversation.  That being said, the definition can serve as a starting point for devising a method for evaluating the things that we say and the things that we hear.  Our working definition is that gossip is secret slander or providing harmful information about a person in a secretive manner.
Last time we saw that gossip obviously falls short of God’s standard for our speech found in Eph 4:29, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  Gossip harms, corrupts, or tears down the relationships and reputations of those involved.  With that in mind, we can formulate some questions to use to test our speech.  Here are some suggestions:
Am I using edifying speech right now?  If I am only supposed to speak words that are good for building up, this question is great for holding up that standard.  I need to ask this question regarding everyone involved.  Will this lead to the edification of the person I am talking to?  Will she be encouraged in the faith?  Will her relationship with the subject be strengthened?  What at about the subject – will he be built up if I share this information?  If the answer is no, I should not share it. 
Was this information shared with me in confidence?  If the information was shared with me in confidence, I am not free to pass it along.  A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret (Pro 11:13).  Sometimes we try to cover ourselves by prefacing the information with “don’t tell anybody I told you this,” as if we are guilty only if we get caught.  Whether the person who trusted us with the information ever finds out or not, if we divulge something shared in confidence, we are guilty.
Am I just “venting”?  If you think about it, the only thing that distinguishes venting from gossip is that venting has the added element of personal frustration.  We think of venting as an innocuous itch that we may legitimately scratch in the presence of others, but there is no excuse for this biblically.  We call it “venting,” but God calls it “complaining” and “slander,” and He hates it (Lev 19:16; Num 11:1; Psa 101:5;Phil 2:14; Jas 5:9).
Is what I’m about to say about this person good or for their good?  The following quote from Stuart Scott’s “From Pride to Humility” identifies this manifestation of humility: “Talking about others only if it is good or for their good. A humble person will speak well of others, not negatively. He will convey something negative about someone only if he must do so in order to help that person.”  What reason might a person have for helping someone by sharing something negative about them?  Moving beyond the first step of confronting sin would definitely require someone to do this (Matt18:15-17).  Yet how often is this our motive?
Am I discussing someone’s sin who is not present?  This one is related to the previous one.  If I am not discussing someone’s sin for the purpose of their good, that is, graduated levels of confrontation, what justification do I have for talking about it? 
What is my motive for sharing this?  A word of warning: our hearts are deceptive (Jer 17:9).  We are masters at justifying ourselves, especially when it comes to our own motives.  We must consider whether or not our desire to share information is motivated by genuine love for the subject.  If it is not, we should end the conversation or change the subject.  If we think it is motivated by love and we are sharing for that person’s good, we need to be able to identify how it will do them good.  If we can’t do that, we should not continue.
Our primary concern should be our own speech, however, there are at least three good reasons to develop the ability to identify gossip in the speech of others as well.  First, the Bible condemns listening to gossip. He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip (Pro 20:19).  So we should be able to identify gossip so that we are not guilty of entertaining it.  Second, we have a responsibility to help brothers and sisters in Christ to walk in faithfulness.  The ability to identify gossip will enable us to bring loving correction, which is a blessing to the speaker and to the entire body.  Third, if enough people refuse to listen to gossip, it dies for lack of fuel: For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases (Pro 26:20).  If we are going to put out the fire, we need to be able to recognize it. 
In evaluating whether or not what I’m listening to is gossip, I really need to ask questions of the speaker.  I don’t know what their motive is, nor do I know where they are headed with the information they are sharing.  The only way to know is to ask them.  Suggestions:
I just want to make sure we are not veering into gossip – are we discussing this for this person’s good? (If yes,) How are we benefitting them?  (If no,) Why don’t we talk about something else then?
It sounds like you are sharing with me about another person’s sin – have you confronted this person one-on-one? (If yes,) Are you asking me to go with you to confront them again or are you asking me for counsel?  (If no,) I would encourage you to go and talk to them about it.
Are you telling me something that was shared with you in confidence? 
Do you think we are edifying one another by talking about this?
By asking these kinds of questions, not only are you confirming whether or not you are listening to gossip, but you are also making a statement that you do not want to listen to gossip.  Even if the person speaking was not engaging in gossip, they will know that you do not entertain such things.
If we are committed to glorifying God with our speech and we make it a habit to test ourselves with questions like the ones above, we will develop the ability to spot gossip very quickly.  But identifying gossip is not the ultimate objective – stopping gossip and replacing it with godly speech is.  So what if I’m a habitual gossip?  What do I need to do to change?  That’s what we’ll look at next time.
Until then consider the benefit of striving for obedience in this area.  Not only will our speech not be filled with harmful communication, but since we are only speaking words that build up, our every conversation will be edifying to the body of Christ.  And in that, our God will be glorified.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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