Today we will be concluding our series called “Zip It!” This series has been a tough one. I hope that it has been helping us examine what we say a little more closely. In week one, we talked about “Curbing our Complaining”. We learned that a thankful heart curbs complaining. In week two, we talked about “Criticism Gone Bad.” We learned how to speak words of life instead of words of criticism. Today we are going to be talking about “Overcoming Gossip”. Today, we are going to learn that gossip is destructive and we need to overcome it. We are going to learn that we need to talk TO people instead of talking ABOUT people.
I’m sure everyone here today can rest easy because none of us have challenges in the area of gossip, right? Just in case there might be someone who needs to hear this today, I will continue on. Let’s begin by defining gossip. What is gossip? Here are a few definitions that I found: (1) Rumour or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature and (2) idle talk, usually about other people’s private lives, especially of a disapproving or malicious nature. Gossip isn’t defined very nicely, is it? It is destructive. The reality is that we would ALL agree with the fact that gossip is destructive BUT sadly we don’t often recognize how it reveals itself in our lives. Most of us think that we are not guilty of gossip.
I want to spend a few moments looking at some ways that gossip can reveal itself in our lives – sometimes it is subtle and other times it is not. To do this, I want to introduce you to four different types of gossipers. The first type of gossiper is the prayer request gossiper. These are the ones at prayer request time that say things like, “You know, we really just gotta pray for Don. I saw him last week. He was at Movie Gallery and he was renting adult videos. I can’t believe it. His family’s just falling apart, and he’s addicted to cocaine, so let’s pray for him.” How many of you know any prayer request gossipers? Prayer is supposed to be the business of building our relationship up with God and uplifting others to further God’s kingdom. Prayer is not a place to share information that others do not need to know. We should not share personal matters unless the person we are sharing about has agreed for us to do so.
The second type of gossiper is the “bless their heart” gossiper. This is the person who has something kind of mean to say about somebody but they don’t want to appear to be spreading gossip, so they always punctuate their thoughts with the phrase, “bless their heart.” They say things like: “You know Bill? Well his wife left him because he ran up so much credit card debt that she didn’t know about. And he got fired from his job. But, bless his heart, he’s trying as hard as he can.” How many of you know this kind of gossiper? We think that throwing in that phrase “bless his heart” somehow makes the gossip we say okay.
A third type of gossiper is the “chit chat” gossiper or as they are sometimes called the “news flash” gossiper. These are the people that just love to talk and they just kind of talk because that’s what they do. Some people go to work, and some people just talk. And so, they just talk, and they’re always talking and they say things like: “Did you hear that Debbie’s parents are fighting again?” or “Do you know about Joanne? They’re marriage is really struggling” or “I hear Shawna is pregnant.” And they keep talking, and they keep talking. They’re talking about the neighbours’ problems, they’re talking about the people at work, their talking about the grocery store clerk and they talk … and they talk. This type of person isn’t too worried about accuracy either. They just feel it is their duty to inform everyone about other people’s lives. How many of you know these kinds of people?
And then, last but not least, you’ve got the more macho type of gossiper – the “I’m just telling the truth” gossiper. This gossiper says things like: “Just telling the truth. If they didn’t want anybody to know, they shouldn’t have said anything. Right? I’m just telling the truth. I’m just throwing it out there.” How many of you know this type of gossiper? Just because something is true does not give us permission to share it with others – it still could be potentially harmful and hurtful information. We need to check our motives when sharing a story. If we are sharing it with the motive to hurt the person, to taint their reputation or just because we want to be the first to share the juicy news – our motive is bad and we shouldn’t be sharing the information.
Here’s the reality: gossip is everywhere. You are going to notice it when you walk out here today (hopefully in a new and fresh way). You are going to notice it right away when you go home. You turn on the television and they’ve got Entertainment Tonight, Hard Copy and Current Affair. Gossip is all over the place. It is on mobile phones, text messaging, emails and Facebook. And it’s not just through technology, but it happens in our homes. It happens with our neighbours. It happens at the office. It happens at our small groups, and the list goes on and on and on. Gossip is all over the place and it is destroying people’s lives – sometimes slowly and sometimes not so slowly – and we need to overcome it!
So, what does God’s word have to say about gossip? The book of Proverbs has some pretty specific things to say about gossip. Proverbs 11:13 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” Proverbs 16:28 says: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19 says: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” Proverbs 26:20 says: “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” Two different Hebrew words are used in these verses BUT they both mean the same thing – tale tellers. People who specialize in talking about other people’s lives.
Over the course of this series we have also looked at some specific verses that talk about the power of the tongue – which is really what this series is all about. We have looked at verses like Proverbs 12:18 which says: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” And Proverbs 18:21 which says: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” And also, Matthew 12:34-35 (which has kind of been our theme verse for this series) which says: “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.”
The book of Psalms has a lot to say about the tongue as well. The language in the book of Psalms is really interesting – it uses language that typifies a violent scenario. It uses words like daggers, and swords, and poisonous tips, arrows, and death, and destruction, and things like that to describe the tongue. We are not going to look at these verses right now but if you get a chance and you have a concordance take the time to look up how the word tongue is used in the book of Psalms – it is very eye opening. The tongue has the power to destroy lives.
One final passage on the power of the tongue. It comes from the book of James. This is a very familiar passage to most. This section of verses is titled “Taming the Tongue.” Let’s start reading from verses 3. These verses say: “3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise 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. 6The 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. 7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
The tongue may be small but it has great power. I want to focus on verses 5 and 6. James 3:5-6 says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a very small spark.” One of the things that I remember about the five years that I lived in Whitehorse was every summer, we had forest fires that literally burnt thousands of acres. It was massive destruction and these fires were usually started by some very, very, very small spark. Let’s keep going on in this verse. The rest of this verse reads kind of like a movie trailer from a horror film. It says, “The tongue is also a fire. It’s a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person. It sets the whole course of his life on fire.” What James is saying here is, “The tongue can literally ruin somebody’s life and the generations that come after that.” You see, the tongue can leave a path of destruction.
As I was thinking about all the various ways that the tongue is described in the bible I began to wonder: “What kind of language would God use today to really explain the destruction that the tongue can bring?” Maybe He would say something like: “The tongue is like a suicide bomber walking into a mall full of thousands of people and innocent children.” We all know the images of destruction that brings. Or maybe He would say something like this, “The tongue is like a kid that is on the verge of lunatic fringe that walks into a cafeteria at school one day and begins to just spread bullets all over the place.” Images come to our mind – destruction, harm, hurt. Or maybe, “The tongue can be like a sniper who puts on a silencer and hides himself a safe distance away and then kills from long distance so that their victim never knows what hit them.” The reason that God uses such vivid description in imagery is because, rarely do we think about the destructive path that our tongue leaves behind. If we did we wouldn’t be doing it!
Who are the people that have been hurt by your words – by your gossip? What relationships have ended? Maybe you have friendships that were really, really strong at one point aren’t quite the same anymore. Maybe it was with a family member and now that relationship is broken. Maybe you’ve destroyed someone’s character or hurt their feelings and the list and goes on and on and on. Some of you, maybe you are the one who’s been charred by someone else’s words, and I want you to know that God loves you so much. He knows how fragile your heart is and He cares about you, and He deeply wants to take His healing ointment and just drop it into your wounds and bring healing to your life.
The question we need to ask is: How do we move on from here? We know that the tongue can leave a path of destruction. We know that gossip hurts and maims. How do we change things? How do we raise the bar spiritually? How do we say, “Okay, I am not going to live my life like that anymore,” and, “I want to move forward and I want to change the way I live life.” How do you begin to do that? How do we overcome gossip? Very simply: Stop talking ABOUT people and start talking TO people. This is what we need to do .
I want to read to you from the book of Ephesians. We read this verse when we looked at criticism. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” I love the last part of that verse. It says, “Building others up according to their needs.” We need to ask the question, “What are this person’s needs?” What is it that is going on in their life right now? What is the hurt? What’s the pain? What’s the joy? What’s the passion? What happened this morning at work before they even got here? What is it that’s going on in their life? And what we need to begin to do is to start asking these questions. And once we know and understand that, then we can intentionally begin to craft our words to speak into their life words that will build them up and not tear them down. Let’s stop talking about people and let’s start talking to people. That is one of the things we can do to start to move forward and say, “I’m going to live my life differently. I’m going to do things different.” This is how we overcome gossip
Now imagine this. Instead of sharing Don’s dirty laundry through the guise of a prayer request imagine going to Don and encouraging Don. Imagine finding out what his needs are and then speaking words into his life that will build him up. Imagine that instead of ripping into Bill’s life under the guise of “bless his heart” and leaving his reputation simmering in the ashes that you go to Bill and you speak uplifting words into his life. You talk TO him instead of ABOUT him. Can you imagine a very different world if we actually did this? If we actually talk TO people instead of talking ABOUT them?. The stakes are very high when it comes to our words.
As we conclude this morning, I want to read a poem. It is called “Nobody’s Friend.”. It goes like this:
I have no respect for justice.
I maim without killing.
I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.
The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.
To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody’s friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
I topple governments and wreck marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartaches and indigestion. I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses. I am called Gossip.
I make headlines and headaches.