Sunday, May 22, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Recognizing Gossip"

“Recognizing Gossip”  [Audio Page]
Resisting Gossip - Summer 2011
May 22, 2011
Proverbs 26:22

Today, we begin our new sermon series on “Resisting Gossip.”

This is the T-shirt that my wife and kids got me for my birthday this month.

It says, “Ask Me About My Book (No, Really!).”

Many of you have graciously asked me about my doctoral project which includes a ministry book on the subject of resisting gossip.

Well, for the next several weeks, I’m going to tell you about the book and share with you what I’ve been learning.

You might wonder why I’ve picked this topic.

I told somebody once that I was writing a book on resisting gossip, and he said back to me, “Oh, do you have that problem in your church?”

And I was able to say, “No. We don’t have a gossipy church. I would have picked a different topic if we did. I wouldn’t want anybody to feel like I was picking on them!”

And I promise not to gossip about any of you during this series.

However, gossip is a problem that we all experience.

No one is immune from the temptation to gossip.

And no one is immune from the effects of gossip.

And yet, there hasn’t been very much teaching on the subject for Christians.

Gossip is an everyday problem yet there isn’t much in the way of everyday help from Christians resources to help followers of Christ to resist it.

So, that’s why I picked gossip, and what I’ve been learning, I think, is very helpful.

So I’m going to test-drive it with you.  You’re the guinea pigs.

You give me feedback about it, and then we’ll put into a book to help others.  Okay?

What do you think of when you think of gossip?

Perhaps you think of Abby Houston hilariously playing Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in the West Branch production of the Music Man.  And the young ladies clucking along with her, “Pick a little, talk a little, pick a talk a little, Cheep Cheep Cheep!”

My mom loves Norman Rockwell paintings.  So I grew up with having them always around the house. This is my favorite one. It’s called “The Gossips.”

It says a lot in just one picture. 

A woman tells her friend a story, about someone.

She tells her friend.  Who tells her friend.  Who tells her friend.  And they all laugh about it.

Until it gets back to the subject of the gossip.  He’s not so happy about it.

And he confronts the original lady.

Haven’t we all been in one of those positions at one time or another?

The speaker, the listener, the subject of the gossip.

Some of those positions are more fun to be in than others.

Norman Rockwell’s painting seems pretty harmless.

But gossip, at least sinful gossip, is not harmless.

It’s harmful.  It’s dangerous. It’s evil. 

Listen to the Apostle Paul put it into a list of sins. This is Romans chapter 1.

He’s talking about the universal sinfulness of humanity, especially the depravity of the Gentiles.  Listen to this (Romans 1:28-29):

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Whoa. Being a gossip makes it into the list with “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity?”  It makes the list in between murder and God-hating, and Paul says that those who do such things as gossip deserve death!


That’s bad stuff!

Sinful gossip is not just a little neutral thing.

The apostle James says, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

Sinful gossip is not just a little neutral thing.

It’s playing with fire.

So, that’s why we’re going to talk about it for the next few weeks and develop some biblical strategies for resisting it.

The first step is to recognize gossip.

What is it?

What exactly is gossip?

If we’re going to resist gossip, we need to have a pretty good definition in our minds.

The first rule of war is to know your enemy.

What is gossip?

How do you recognize gossip?

That’s not an easy question.

One of the reasons why I tackled gossip as my doctoral problem was because I wasn’t exactly sure what was gossip and what wasn’t.

How do you know?

When is it just “small talk,” and when is it sinful gossip?

We are regularly confronted with the question, “Should I be saying this?”  “Should I be sharing this?”  “Should I be listening to this?”

What makes it wrong?

Is it...When it’s said?
Or Is it...Who says it?
Or is whom its told?

Well, isn’t it okay if you’re just telling your Mom?  Your wife?  Your sister?  Your pastor?

The hardest part about recognizing gossip is that it doesn’t come with a warning label.

Wouldn’t it be great if this would flash across above the heads of people you’re talking with?

I’m not sure I’d like because it might show up over my head.

But that’s not what happens, is it?

No, normally, there you are just minding your own business and this juicy piece of news about someone else just comes right across and asks you to swallow it.

Look down at Proverbs 26:22.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.”

Choice morsels are things that you want to swallow up greedily.

They’re the best, most addictive, things to eat.

They’re like Doritos put on the kitchen counter.

What happens if mom puts some Doritos (or substitute your favorite snack here) in a bowl on the counter in the afternoon?

They’re gone, aren’t they? Like that!

My wife has got wise to this and puts out a bowl of apples on the counter or carrots.

And they are gone long before supper.

But let’s say they’re Doritos. 

What happens if you eat the whole bag before supper?

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.”

You feel it right here.

My grandmother used say, “Once across the lips, always on the hips,” right?

Gossip tastes great, but it will poison your heart.

Now, again, what is gossip?

I’m glad you asked.

After a thorough study of the whole Bible, and every time the Bible talks about gossip, and uses a word that is translated “gossip,” and every time the Bible talks about gossip without using the word, I’ve come up with this definition that I hope will help us to identify sinful gossip when we hear it ... and/or when we are tempted to pass it on ourselves.



You can see that this working definition has three parts to it.

#1.  Bearing Bad News
#2.  Behind Someone’s Back
#3.  Out of a Bad Heart

Let’s go through those one at a time.


Gossip is a talking thing.

Right?  Verse 22.

“The WORDS of a gossip.”

Gossip is sharing.  Gossip is communicating.  It’s a talking thing.

Now, that goes both ways.  Sinful gossip is both talking and listening to this kind of bad news.

Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.”

So gossip is often sharing someone else’s secret. 

Have you ever done that?  Told someone else’s secret?

Have you ever had that done to you?  Someone told your secret?

How did that feel?

It’s talking. “Avoid a man who talks too much.”

But it’s not just talking. It’s also listening.

Proverbs 17:4 says, “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.”

The New Living Translation says it this way, “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander.”

So, sometimes, even just receiving that juicy piece of gossip without saying something or stopping the conversation is sinful, too. Almost as sinful as speaking it.  Listening is also bearing the bad news.

And of course, this bearing of bad news isn’t just talking out loud.

You can gossip online, right?

There is this thing called “Gossip Book,” right?

I’m just kidding. I mean Facebook.

Like most things, it can be used for great good (and I use it), but anything that can be used for great good can be used for great evil.  Especially if it involves lots of words!

So sinful gossip might be pressing the “enter” key on your computer. 
Or the publish button your blog.
Or the share button your Facebook page.

Sinful Gossip is #1. Bearing Bad News.

Now that news (that story, because it’s almost always a story) can be bad news in three different ways.

First, it might be “bad information” meaning that it’s false.

If you know that it’s false, then it’s not just gossip, it’s also slander.

But sharing lies about someone behind their back is gossip.

If I told you that Davey Williamson killed and then ate their own cat last week, that would be gossip, because it’s not true. [Is it? I hope not!]

But you and I can think of a lot of worse lies to pass around about someone–and what would that do their reputation?

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really hurt me!

Have you ever had your reputation hurt by the bad information that someone spread about you?

At one time, I heard through the grapevine of our little community a rumor was circulating that I had left my wife. This was laughable to anyone that knows us (I couldn’t live without her!), but I have no idea who started the rumor or who might have heard it and believed the lie.

Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” If you want to stay close to your friends, don’t gossip about them.

Don’t tell lies.

But the bad information might be something that you think is true but isn’t.

That’s just as bad.  That’s also sinful gossip.

Or it might be unverifiable.  Or rumor.  Or hearsay.

A second way that this news could be bad would be “bad news about someone” meaning a story about something bad that they have done.

It might be true!

But that doesn’t mean that you and I need to be talking about it.

Let’s say that one of your friends recently did something bad, and you heard about it.

Maybe they even were the one that told you.

They committed adultery.
They cheated on their income tax.
They lied to their boss.
They hit their mother.

They did something shameful.

They actually did it.

You and I don’t have to talk about it with our friends.

I know that’s hard to do.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels...”

Ooh.  They are hard to resist.

Now, some of you have the King James Version in front of you, and you’re scratching your heads at what I’m saying is in verse 22.

Because your translation says, “The words of a talebearer [that sounds right, bearing bad news] are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”

It’s the exact same thing as Proverbs 18:8. God thinks this is so important, He repeats Himself in the Proverbs.

The reason for the difference is a trickiness in figuring out what the Hebrew word is here.

The translators of the King James Version thought that the root word was a Hebrew word that mean to hammer or strike something (halam).  And that’s true, too, isn’t it?

The words of a gossip are harmful.  They wound you.  They are a kick in the gut.

But most scholars today think that a different Hebrew word was the root word for this one, laham (not halam) a word that means savory or delicious morsels that you can’t hardly resist and want to swallow right down.

My wife makes a candy called “Buckeyes.”  They are like a homemade Reeces’s Cup but better.  Chocolate on the outside and sweet peanut butter on the inside.

I just asked her to make some for me this week.  Oooh!

She almost has to lock the cabinet after making them.

Because I can’t say, “No.”

If she offers me a Buckeye, I don’t care how many platefuls I just ate and how full I am. I’ll find the room!

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels...”

Of course, they didn’t have confections back in Solomon’s day.

So, this was probably more like a choice piece of meat.

My son, Andrew, when the roast beef is going by, says, “Can I have piece with some fat on it?”  That’s the choicest morsel.  And it’s hard to resist.


Bad news, shameful news, is like that, too, for you and me.

It’s addictive. But it’s not good for us.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.”

Some foods make us sick to the stomach, but gossip makes us sick to the heart.

There is something wrong with us that makes us want to know and talk about the shameful things other people do.

And a third way that this news might be bad is “bad news FOR someone else.”

Meaning, not that they did something shameful themselves, but that something bad is projected to happen to them.

In Psalm 41, King David got really sick, and his enemies rejoiced and started to gossip about him.

David writes, “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).

That’s gossip, too.

David has not done anything shameful here, but his enemies are two-faced and come in and say, “Oh poor you.” And then they spread the bad news that he’s going to die.

Have you ever had this one happen to you?

People are saying, “He’s going to lose his job.  He’s not going to make team.  She’s going to get kicked out of school. Her husband is going to leave her.  They’re going to lose their house.”  And so on.

Gossip can be bad news that is projected for someone else.

Sinful gossip is bearing bad news...


By definition, gossip happens when the person you are talking about isn’t there.

That’s one of the things that makes it gossip.

If you have the New American Standard or the Revised Standard or the English Standard Version, then your translation says here in verse 22, “The words of a whisperer are like choice morsels.”

A whisperer.

A whisperer, a gossip, is someone who talks about you behind your back.

And that’s intentional.  It’s much easier and more interesting to talk about someone who isn’t there.

So we have to ask ourselves the question, “Would I say this if he were here?”  Would I receive this bad news about her in the same way if she were here?

That might show you whether or not it’s gossip.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t ever talk about people who aren’t present.

We certainly can say GOOD things about people who aren’t here.

Let’s turn gossip around and spread good news about people!

But sometimes we have to talk about people who aren’t present.  And even to share bad things about them.

Parents have to do that.
Teachers have to do that.
Elders and Pastors have to do that.
Even friends and teammates and co-workers and neighbors have to do that sometimes.

There is a whole biblical category of warning others that we have to do.

I heard about a Christian couple who tried really hard to resist gossip. They wouldn’t talk about someone who wasn’t in the room.  Nothing.  Not even a positive word!

But that doesn’t work.

Sometimes we have to get some counsel from someone about our problems, and that involves sharing about the shameful things someone else has done without them there.

It’s not gossip to truly seek out help.

But the key is to keep loving them even when you have to talk about them.

Even if they are your enemies.

We’ll talk more about this in a few weeks when we start to get really practical.

But it’s just applying Jesus’ “golden rule of thumb” to a difficult situation.

If you have to talk about someone when they are not there, make sure that you are treating them like you would want to be treated if you were the person that wasn’t there.

Because sinful gossip is clandestine.

It is bearing bad news behind someone’s back.

Number three. 


Because that’s where ALL bad words come from.

The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 12, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Whatever our hearts are full of is what will come out of our mouths.

The heart is the control center of the person.

It’s the inner you.  The real you.

The heart is the worshiping core of a human being.

And it’s out of the heart that we live.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

We live out of our hearts.

Our hearts are where our motivations form.

And, I believe that our sinful motivations for speaking or listening is what makes sinful gossip sinful.

Because “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

So, the most important thing about gossip is where it comes from.

The WHY question.
WHY am I saying this?
WHY am I attracted to this bad news?

Because of something going on in here.

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.”

And we are attracted to those choice morsels because of something already wrong in our inmost parts.

Can you think of some bad motivations, some icky things going on in your heart that might lead you to gossip?

Come back next week, and we’ll talk about it.

Because it’s more than just jealousy and revenge.

Those are the ones that come quickly to our minds.

And we’ll talk about them.

Malicious gossip is almost always about jealousy or revenge.  Anger.

But sinful gossip is bigger than malicious gossip.

There are other motivations, others things that can drive us towards gossip than just those.

Take boredom, for example.

A desire to be entertained.

Idle gossip is also sinful gossip.

And, my personal temptation is pride.  I am tempted to gossip to show that I am “in the know,” that I’m in the inner circle.  A real someone!

Next week, we’ll look at several different heart motivations that need to be confronted by the gospel of Jesus Christ so that we can truly change and resist the temptations to gossip.

Because it’s not so easy.

I know that sometimes, when I’m talking about this problem of gossip, it’s easy to just say, “Well, don’t do it!”

“Cut it out!”

“Stop it!”

But it’s not always that easy.

Often the battle is down at a core level, at a heart level.

But it is possible to win.

Jesus Christ has made it possible by dying on the cross to save us.

By coming back to life to give us power to live a holy life.

And by sending His Spirit to apply His promises to our hearts.

What is the state of your heart today?

Is it centered on Jesus Christ who lived and died and lived again for you?

Or is your heart swallowing the icky candy of sinful gossip?

The only sure way for us to resist gossip’s lure is to have a heart that is full of worshiping Christ.

That is full of Jesus, that is feasting on His delicious words.

A heart, an innermost being, that is full of Jesus.

Now, Proverbs 26:22 is just a warning. It doesn’t tell us how to resist those choice morsels.  Just that we need to.

And now that we’ve got a biblically informed definition to recognize gossip, we can begin to think better about gospel strategies for saying no.

    For bearing good news.
    For being up front and loving those we talk about and talk to.
    And for having a changed heart that loves God and loves people.

It’s important to know that it is possible to resist gossip.

Hear this promises from 1 Corinthians 10:13.

“No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. [The words of a gossip are choice morsels. You’re going to get seized, and that’s normal.] And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear [In Christ, you can say, “No!”].  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

And resist gossip.