This past week we started a new Sunday School class at 2nd Reformed Presbyterian Church. We are discussing the sin of gossip and how it can bring great harm to the church. Our main source is Matthew G. Mitchell’s work Resisting Gossip. In the first and second week we are working to define gossip.
1. The Lure of Gossip
Gossip is like Doritos. You eat one and suddenly the whole bag is gone. It says in Proverbs 18:8; 26:22, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” We like it so much, but why? Mitchell explores the seductive nature of gossip by walking by first defining it.
2. What is Gossip?
Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” (23)
First, gossip has to do with words. A gossip can be one who speaks gossip but also one who receives it. Hence, it says in Proverbs 17:4 that “wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip…”
Second, gossip is bad news. Mitchell explains that there are three kinds of bad news.
There is “bad information” or information that is completely false. There is bad news about someone that is true but shameful. Sometimes we call it a “bad report.” Lastly, there is bad news about someone’s future. You predict what is going to happen to someone in a bad way. For instance, “they’re going to lose their job.” “He’s clearly not going to make the team.”
Mitchell notes that words of “bad news” are not always gossip. Sometimes we have to speak bad news and hear bad news. He discusses how we can do this appropriately later in the book.
Third, gossip happens behind someone’s back, when they are not there. Mitchell offers four questions to help diagnose whether what you’re saying is behind someone’s back:
1. Would I say this if he were here?2. Would I receive this bad news about her in the same way if she was present?3. Am I hiding this conversation from someone?4. Would I want someone else to talk this way about me if I was not present?
Lastly, gossip is out of a bad heart. Christ said that “out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) From our heart comes our motives/reasons for our words. This begs the question, why does our hearts enjoy the taste of gossip?
3. Why do we Gossip?
Everyone loves a good story. God designed us to eat them up. This is one reason the gospel comes to us in four stories. Gossip is a story, but it is a bad story. “Bearing bad news can be antithetical to the gospel itself.” (37) In the garden the serpent slandered/gossiped about God, “Did God really say….” (Genesis 3:1) All gossip is an echo of this first slander against our Lord. Mitchell explains that:
“Gossip is believing the ancient lie that we can attempt to play God by destroying others with the power of our words. Gossip is not just breaking a rule; it is perversely living out Satan’s lies, which we would rather believe than the truth.” (37)
Using Christ’s words from Matthew 12:34, Mitchell develops “the principle of overflow:” we gossip because bad words overflow from our bad hearts. Gossip is not a minor offense against God or our neighbor. It’s a sign of deep sin in our lives. What we speak is merely the overflow of the wretchedness of our hearts.
So how do you change your heart? We can’t change ourselves. We are helpless. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that any change happens. Paul speaks in Romans 6:22-23 that:
“But now that you have been set free from sin” [Christ’s work on the cross to pay for our sins] “…..the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
With this being our key premise, next week we’ll begin to embark on how to discern what kind of gossip are we individually especially attracted to. Then we’ll move into how to combat the sin of gossip with Godly language. Lord willing, not only will be learning how to defeat the sin of gossip but transform how we think about words and their power.