“The Heart of Gossip”
Resisting Gossip - Summer 2011
May 29, 2011
Listen to this true story sent to me by friend who wants to remain anonymous:
Gossip is an addiction. . . I was gainfully employed as a teacher in a school district. I liked my job and liked all the people I worked with… But as time went on, things got tougher with certain personalities at work. For several months I kept my mouth shut and simply listened to the talk about campus. When asked a direct question about another teacher, or our supervisor, whom my colleagues did not like, I would shrug and offer up that I had no opinion. Mind you, I did not stop any gossip. Instead I was quite intrigued to find out what the ‘scoop’ was around town. This was just the beginning for me…listening to the gossip without protesting.“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Proverbs 26:22
It wasn’t long before I had my own negative encounter with our supervisor. By this point, I had made several friends in the department and felt comfortable going to them with my issues. I wish I could say that I strictly presented the facts in a non-emotional way, but I never did. I always let my personal feelings get involved. As a result, gossip started. Once this little tiny bit of juice spilled from my lips, it kept flowing: day after day, month after month, until I couldn’t stop doing it. Even after the Holy Spirit convicted me that what I was doing was wrong, I still couldn’t stop. It became a very difficult addiction to break. My gossip finally caught up to me and got me in trouble with the person I was speaking out against all this time. Even after a confrontation it was difficult to stop. The confrontation itself became a juicy piece of gossip to share with others.
As I type this I remember how much I hated myself then and still hate myself now for doing and saying what I did. As a teacher, I should have known that one negative comment about someone takes over a hundred positive comments to rectify it. I have since apologized to my supervisor, but unfortunately the only way the gossip stopped was when I had to quit my job because we were going to move across the country. With no one to gossip with I was able to finally break free.
I am happy to report that I have been able to stay ‘sober’ from gossip ever since. It’s been over two years since I last succumbed in any amount of severity. But I know that I need to be careful so I am not lured into it again. It’s like a drug dealer giving you the first taste for free…you get so hooked that you keep coming back for more. And it can ruin your own reputation and witness too. It’s very ugly.”
We’re going to jump all over the Bible today, but we’re going start in Matthew 12.
Our sermon series this Summer is on “Resisting Gossip.”
I’m sharing what I’ve been learning in my doctoral studies on the problem of gossip and the answers that are in the Bible.
Thank you for your feedback from last week’s message. It was very encouraging and very helpful. Keep it coming.
Rick Sipe told me after church last week that he liked what he heard, but if he thought of anything wrong with it–he’d be sure to spread it around town!
And I love your questions that are coming in after last week’s message. Please keep them coming, too. If what I say doesn’t make sense or raises a question for you, that’ll be really helpful for me as I continue to develop this material–and eventually, Lord-willing, put it into a book.
Last week was “Recognizing Gossip.” Being able to tell what was sinful gossip and what wasn’t.
And we learned a simple, yet functional, definition of sinful gossip.
Can anybody remember it?
Sinful Gossip Is...
Bearing Bad News
Behind Someone’s Back
Out of a Bad Heart
That’s simple, but I think it’s helpful.
Bearing Bad News (and that news could be bad because it’s false or bad because it’s about someone shameful thing someone has truly done, or because it’s something bad that is projected for someone else)
Behind Someone’s Back...The person whom the story is about is not present.
Out of a Bad Heart.
That’s sinful gossip.
And I said last week that today we’re going to focus on that last phrase.
“Out of a Bad Heart.”
Gossip comes out of a heart that is bad.
Because all bad words do. Jesus says so.
Look down at Matthew 12:33-37.
Jesus is denouncing the Pharisees. They have just accused Him of being in league with Satan. Those are bad words, if I’ve ever heard any!
And Jesus says this about their words. V.33
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Jesus has some strong words about bad words, doesn’t He?
Where do bad words come from?
They come from the heart. Verse 34.
“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Why do we gossip? Because there is something bad going on in our hearts.
Jesus likens people to trees. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”
If the heart of the tree is healthy–the root system and trunk of the tree is healthy–then the fruit of the tree will be good, too.
But if the heart of the tree is bad–the root system and the trunk is bad, then the fruit will be worthless. And you can tell what’s in the heart by what comes out in the fruit.
I have a history at this church of pouring things out on the stage.
I’m going to do it again right now. [pouring water bottle onto stage]
Why is there now water on the floor?
We could say a lot of things that are true.
But why is there water on the floor and not Pepsi or Kool-Aid?
Because I would get in major trouble with Cindy Green if it were Pepsi or Kool-Aid!
Fundamentally, there is water on the floor because there was water in the bottle.
“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Jesus says the Pharisees, being snakelike, couldn’t say anything good. V.34 “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?”
V.35 “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
So, the most important thing to understand about gossip is where it comes from.
It comes from the heart.
Good gossip (if we can call it that, that is good small talk, good talk about others) comes from good stored up in the heart.
Evil gossip, sinful gossip, comes out of the evil stored up in the human heart.
Even for believers in Jesus who now have a new heart–the remaining stain of indwelling sin lingers within (we call it “the flesh.”) and continues to create evil motivations.
This isn’t the only time that Jesus talks like this.
In just 3 more chapters (chapter 15) Jesus says to the same kind of people:
“Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” He could add, “sinful gossip.”
“Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
And it’s really important to get a handle on that because we’re going to be held accountable. Did you catch that in verse 36 and 37?
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Not that your words could save you, but your words are fruit (evidence) to show what is genuinely in your heart.
Just think about verse 36 for one second.
Giving an account on the day of judgment–not just for every malicious word that I’ve spoken–but for every careless word. Every aimless word. Every idle word.
This stuff is serious!
Words are serious. They don’t just go into the air and then drift away.
They are all remembered. God is listening.
And we will have to give an account.
So, today, I want us to think more deeply about the overflow from heart to gossip.
I want us to think together about the connection between our heart’s motives, our deepest driving desires and the words that come out of them.
Today’s message is titled, “The Heart of Gossip.”
Because of out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
And here’s how I want to do it.
I want to introduce you to five different kinds of gossips.
That is, five kinds of people who fall into the sin of gossip.
They are gossipers. Five types of gossipers.
There could be many more, but we’ll just do these five today.
The book of Proverbs, especially, likes to categorize people into caricatures so that disciples can recognize them when they run into them–or when they are acting like them.
Some of you will remember the old Sesame Street song about “the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street in your neighborhood?”
On Sesame Street that was policemen, firemen, meter readers, and traffic cops.
But in the Proverbs, it’s the sluggard, the wayward wife, the hot-tempered man, the fool, and at least two kinds of gossips.
In fact, most of the time, when the word “gossip” appears in the Bible it is a person (a gossip) more than it is what they say, (“the words of a gossip”).
So, I want to introduce you to 5 different types of gossips and talk about what kind of heart motivations might be driving them.
And then, we get to think about how the gospel of Jesus Christ intersects those heart motivations and helps us to resist gossip in all its forms.
Because the good news is that even at the heart level gossip can be withstood.
The Bible says, “[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” in the heart (2 Peter 2:3-4).
Isn’t that good news?
In the precious promises of God and our knowledge of Jesus is everything we need for life and godliness and escaping the corruption of gossip.
Okay. Gossiper Number One.
#1. THE SPY.
Turn with me to Proverbs 11:13. Proverbs 11:13. Pew Bible page #635. Proverbs 11:13.
It says, “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”
King James, “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”
The Hebrew word for “gossip” or “talebearer” in Proverbs 11:13 is a different word than the one we saw last week in Proverbs 26:22 and 18:8.
This word is the Hebrew word “rakil.”
And it basically means a spy.
The Hebrew dictionaries define rakil as a peddler (of secrets), a huckster, a hawker, a deceiver, a defamer, a spy.
A rakil is someone who goes about from place to place spying things out and exposing secrets–often to the highest bidder.
We might call him an informer.
Do you get the picture?
This is somebody who loves to get the dirt on someone, and then use it to their own advantage.
They might seem like it, but they are not trustworthy.
“A gossip [rakil] betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”
Don’t talk to the spy or your secrets will be the next ones to be revealed. Right?
And don’t be that spy, either.
Now, what could be the motivation of the spy?
What kind of a bad heart would bear that kind of bad news behind somebody’s back?
Well, it could be a lot of things. People are complex and have many different motivations, often mixed together, for what we do.
But it seems here like the main motivation is power. A hunger for power.
There’s something that a spy wants. And they’ll use your secrets and mine to get it.
Now that power might be just mischievousness. They might enjoy making trouble.
They might just like the power of knowing something they shouldn’t.
Or they might know that they can get something even better by trading this secret for another one.
I think we see this a lot with teenage girls. Am I right on that?
They trade gossip about each other to maintain power over each other in their cliques.
The spy has a heart that lusts for power.
Is that you?
Well, if it’s power you want, then what you really want is Jesus.
Because the power of gossip enslaves, but the power of Christ emancipates. It frees you.
Satan lies about His power. It is derived and it is waning. He is a defeated ruler on the way out.
But Jesus’ power is the power that brought Him back to life after He was crucified.
And it is eternal and available through the Holy Spirit of God.
If power is your temptation, then pray along with Paul the prayer of Ephesians 1:18-21.
“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
That’s gospel power. And it’s better than anything gossip promises.
And how did Jesus use His power? He used it in love.
He was a trustworthy man. Someone you could entrust your deepest, most shameful secrets to.
Proverbs 11:13, “A [spying] gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”
#2. THE GRUMBLER.
Turn with me now to Proverbs 16:28. Proverbs 16:28. That’s Pew Bible Page #641.
Proverbs 16:28 says “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”
Now, that’s a different Hebrew word for gossip. The same one that we saw last week in 26:22 and 18:8.
It’s not rakil. It’s nirgan. Both mean “gossip” but this is the kind of gossip that comes from a grumbler.
The Hebrew dictionaries say that a nirgan “refers to murmuring about another person behind their back rather than openly complaining about their behavior.”
The King James uses the word “whisperer” here.
The root word is the same word used to describe the people of Israel when they grumbled in their tents.
Did they go out and directly talk to the Lord about their problems?
No, they hid in their tents and grumbled about Him in secret.
Of course, nothing is secret with God.
The grumbler complains. The grumbler criticizes.
The grumbler is upset about something, and misery loves company–so they talk about somebody behind their back.
We often it call it “venting.”
“I just needed to ‘vent’ to someone.” When all it really is is sinful gossip.
There is no constructive purpose, no love in the heart. Just grumbling.
Do you see the grumbler in your minds’ eye?
Have you ever been the grumbler? I know that I have!
The anonymous writer of that first story I read to you today? It started with grumbling, didn’t it? They didn’t like their supervisor, so they talked about him or her behind their back.
This is often where jealousy comes in.
I got an email from a pastor friend a couple of weeks ago asking about my project and wondering does all gossip come from jealousy?
Because it seemed to him that most, if not all, of the gossip that he encounters comes out of a jealous heart.
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
Of course, not all gossip is from jealousy, but if you are jealous, you’ll be tempted to grumble behind the back of someone who has something you want:
A job, a position, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a car, happiness, whatever.
One of you wrote me a note saying, “About 12 years ago I was discouraged because I saw people in my organization who made more money [than I did] who I believed did not work as hard or have as hard of a job as I did. Because I felt this way, I would voice my opinion to many people at work.”
And you know what happened? Two of the people that this person talked about stopped interacting with them altogether. They wouldn’t even say hello.
It took some humbling apologies and some amount of time before the relationship was restored at all.
Proverbs 16:28. “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a [grumbling] gossip separates close friends.”
The gospel remedy to grumbling is contentment and thanksgiving.
It’s not bad to want something, but it’s terrible to want something too much.
And isn’t that what jealousy is?
Christians need to cultivate a heart of contentment with what we have and thanksgiving for what we’ve been given.
Grumbling gossip feels good (even justified and righteous), but it’s NOT good.
Contentment feels even better.
Contentment is counting your blessings and knowing that if you have Jesus Christ, you have everything.
Isn’t that what we saw in Philippians 4 on Mother’s Day?
Paul said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. [What’s the secret?] I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength.”
#3. THE BACKSTABBER.
This one is like the grumbler, but it’s more active anger, more hateful.
And the water inside the bottle is the water of revenge.
Backstabbing gossip overflows from a heart bent on revenge, on retaliation.
The backstabber engages in malicious gossip. Truly malicious.
There is a malice in the heart of the gossiper, a desire for the target of the gossip to be hurt, to experience pain.
Now, it might be by spreading lies. We saw that last week.
We call that a smear campaign. This is the stuff that political campaigns are made of.
I read a whole book on gossip and politics this Spring. It made feel all dirty when I read it. I wanted to take a bath after every chapter.
And it’s not gotten better in our time.
It might be spreading lies. It might also be spreading truth to harm others.
Love covers over the warts in someone’s reputation if at all possible.
Backstabbing is an age old problem.
Turn to Psalm 41. Pew Bible page #556. Psalm 41.
I was telling you about this last week.
King David was very sick and it brought out the gossip of His enemies. Look down again at verse 5.
“My enemies say of me in malice, ‘When will he die and his name perish?’ Whenever one comes to see me, he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad. All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me, saying, ‘A vile disease has beset him; he will never get up from the place where he lies’” (Psalm 41:5-8).
And now go down to verse 9.
“Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
That’s betrayal. That’s treachery. That’s backbiting. That’s backstabbing.
Now, we’re not sure exactly who David is referring to here, but we know how the Lord Jesus used this very Psalm about Himself, don’t we?
Jesus quoted Psalm 41:9 at the Last Supper with Judas.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be betrayed.
This kind of malicious gossip shows up all through the Bible. If I had time, I’d take you to 2 Corinthians 12 to show you how it was ripping apart the church in Corinth, and I take you to 3 John, verse 10 to show you how a man named Diotrephes was maliciously gossiping about the apostle John.
Where does this malice come from?
Well, again, the heart is a complex thing.
Proverbs 20, verse 5 says, “The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters...”
They are not always obvious! But it also says, “...but a man of understanding draws them out.”
So it is possible to understand, to some degree, why we do what we do.
And it seems to me that the water inside of backstabber’s bottle is the water of revenge.
It’s anger to the point where you want that other person to pay for it.
And gossip is a delicious way to do it. Because they don’t even know (until it’s too late) what’s going!
What does the gospel say to backstabbers?
Isn’t not just “Don’t do it!” “Cut it out!” “Don’t be a hater!”
As true as that is, it doesn’t go very deep down into the heart.
The gospel says to backstabber, justice will be done.
Justice will be done.
But you need to leave it in the proper hands.
Loving confrontation, sure.
The proper authorities, yes.
But revenge. No.
Here’s why. Because God will take care of it.
On His time-table and His own way, but perfectly. Justice will be done.
Romans 12 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).
Only a Christian can truly do that.
Because we know something about justice: that every wrong will be paid for either at the Cross of Jesus or in the eternal judgment of Hell.
And that can change our hearts.
It can make it possible for us to overcome evil with good and not take revenge.
Do you see how the gospel intersects with the heart of the gossip?
Here’s number 4.
It’s one that I’ve heard from a number of you.
#4. THE CHAMELEON.
The chameleon is the person who goes along with gossip to try to fit in with the crowd.
Someone wrote on my blog last week, “I think that sometimes people gossip so that they can be a part of the conversation. If they know something 'interesting' about another person they might get people to listen to them.”
If you’re a chameleon and you’re talking with the spy, you’re under a lot of pressure to share some tittle tattle yourself, aren’t you?
What’s in the heart of the chameleon?
What’s driving that?
The Bible calls it, the fear of man.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
A chameleon gossip is worried about what other people will say about them, do to them, or think of them.
They are afraid of being excluded.
But the gospel speaks to that, too!
It says fear God, not people!
If my mind becomes full of who God is (and God is holy and omnipotent and awesome and...my Father. He’s FOR me like no else is. I am included where it counts the most), then I won’t worry about what other people might say, do, or think!
Here’s the last one for today.
Next week, we’re going to talk about the judge. Because most sinful gossip includes sinful judgments about others.
But we’ll save that for next week.
Here’s our last type of gossip for today.
#5. THE BUSYBODY.
And this is the one that I think almost all of us can relate to personally.
I know I can.
This is the person who is idle (who isn’t engaged in purposeful business).
This is the person who likes to engage in other people’s business.
This is the person who wants to be entertained.
They gossip for titillation and living vicariously through the stories of others.
This is a meddler.
It’s a busybody.
Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 5.
Paul is explaining to Timothy what to do about the widows.
They had a list of widows that the church cared for.
But you had to be a certain kind of widow to make the list.
Basically a godly one. But also an older widow.
Because, look down at v.13, the younger widows have some particular temptations if they are put on a list like this. V.13
“[T]hey get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”
Do you see how this works?
If you aren’t busy with productive, purposeful godly activity, you can easily get sucked into being a gossipy busybody.
Now, this is not just a woman thing! If I had time, I’d take you to 1 and 2 Thessalonians to show you how men get into being busybodies themselves when they aren’t working.
This is not a guy or gal thing. This is a sinner thing.
And we’re both that.
Here’s where boredom becomes a key factor.
Escape from boredom is a major heart motive for gossip in our culture.
That’s why there are gossip columns in the newspaper and gossip shows on television and gossip blogs with the latest information about Lindsey Lohan or Arnold Schwarzennager or whomever.
Escape from boredom is often the water in the bottle for busybody gossip.
And we rationalize.
“It’s not malicious gossip!” we say.
And it’s true!
But it isn’t love either, is it?
No it isn’t.
And we’re going to have to give an account for every idle word...
I’ve been thinking a lot about stupid people recently.
You know what I mean. The stupid, shamelful things that people do.
We love to talk about stupid people.
It makes us feel good about ourselves to think how stupid other people are.
But here’s the truth.
The stupid people of the world do not exist for my entertainment.
That’s not how God treats people, is it?
God loves people. And treats them with much more mercy than they deserve.
God loved me. And I’m a very stupid person.
The Bible would call me a “fool.”
But, in love, God sent His own Son to die for this fool and gave me His word and His Spirit to make me wise.
The gospel escape from boredom is active love, active service, active mercy for other people–including those who do not deserve it one bit.
Paul tells the young widows to marry and have children. Not that marriage is an antidote to gossip.
But it is an antidote to being idle.
Paul tells idle busybody men in 2 Thessalonians to get a job. And if they don’t they shouldn’t eat. And the rest of the church should keep away from them.
To mind their own beeswax.
To get busy for their families and for the Kingdom.
Do you see what we’ve done here today?
For every kind of gossip (and we’ve really just scratched the surface), there are heart motivations that are driving the gossiping.
Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
And for everyone of those that is bad, there is a remedy in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And that’s true, not just for gossip but for every sin!
The truth of the gospel, the promises of God, knowing Christ in personal relationship, the power of the Holy Spirit–all of this is enough to change our hearts so that we can resist gossip in all of it’s forms.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires...”
...overflowing from the heart.