What we say reveals what we believe. We can’t hide it. Fresh water, salt water, and the like (James 3:11–12). Some forms of speech reveal in a more straightforward manner: “I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.” Thanks. Others are more complex, like gossip. “Can you believe that about Laurie and John? What she said? How he reacted? You know Amber overheard them, right? And she knows Laurie, and she said that. . . .” What does that reveal?
It’s juicy. It feels so good to sink our teeth into fresh secrets (Proverbs 26:22). But with our self-involved search for the knowledge of good and evil happenings in our community, we reveal an entire theology under our indulgence in such things — a dark, hidden, embedded, implied theology, spoken in whisper and innuendo.
When Scripture warns against gossip (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 5:13), it is applying an entire understanding of God, Jesus, his word, his image, his plan, his salvation, and his people. To refrain from gossip is an on-the-ground practice of Christian theology. Likewise, to share in gossip is to practice a distinctly non-Christian theology.
For the sake of those who indulge in gossip, and for the sanity of those who have heard gossip about themselves, we will articulate the theology insinuated by gossip — we will speak out loud the things we would elsewhere only whisper. We will make known hidden and unspoken and even undesired allegiances and indulgences woven in the words “Well, don’t tell anyone, but I heard. . . .”
Gossip contains speech that would never occur in heaven — moreover, that would never occur among the members of the Trinity. To be gossiped about is a bitter suffering, because it spills into almost every other relationship — even one’s relationship with God. We would never say it out loud (why?), but it’s easy to slip into the belief that God is laughing at us with everyone else. Indeed, this is the implicit theology of gossip. The one who gossips finds ways for God to endorse their evil, and the one who is gossiped about is naturally inclined to believe that endorsement.
But Jesus does not speak words of judgment or accusation about you to the Father. In fact, the Trinity doesn’t even speak neutral words about you. All speech between Father, Son, and Spirit about the Christian is overflowing with active love (1 John 4:16). The Spirit is praying for you (Romans 8:26). The Son is your priest (Hebrews 8:1), cleanser (Hebrews 10:22), advocate (Hebrews 10:20), and the one who subdues your true enemies (Hebrews 10:13). The Father loves you with the same love with which he loves the Son (John 17:23).
Gossip is the opposite of how the Son speaks to the Father about you. The Trinity talks about you behind your back. And it would be really encouraging if you heard what they said. When they talk about your sin, there is hope and a plan (1 Corinthians 1:21; Philippians 1:6). When they talk about your suffering, there is help and a purpose (James 1:3).
“Gossip is the opposite of how the Son speaks to the Father about you.”
Gossip is built on the attitude “We are different — you are different. You are not normal.” Christology is built on the attitude, “We were different, but now we are the same. I am the same as you.” The Son says, in taking on a human nature, “I will dwell in the mud with you” (John 1:14), “I will become nothing and die with you” (Philippians 2:7–8), “I can totally sympathize with you” (Hebrews 4:15).
Of course, Christ is not sinful. But that is what makes the incarnation glorious — that God created commonality between us and him “while we were enemies” (Romans 5:10) — not only becoming man, but in taking the humiliation and mockery of his fellow man (Luke 22:63), even his closest friend trades Jesus’s dignity to warm himself with an in-crowd around a fire (John 18:17–18). Gossip is a dismissal of the decisions, experiences, and love of Jesus.
First of all, Scripture forbids gossip (Proverbs 17:4–5). Second, when God speaks to us, it is always direct, and for our good (Psalm 119:9–11; Psalm 119:129–133). He is never passive-aggressive or holding back (Job 40:1-7) — he intimately pulls us into his thoughts even about our great sins and shortcomings (Isaiah 62:5; Hosea 14:4) for our good, for our salvation, and for our peace (Zephaniah 3:17). He says, “I’m not hiding my thoughts from you. Some of them will be hard to hear, but for every difficult word I have, I have a plan, power, and grace for you specifically” (cf. Psalm 18:31–32).
Gossip is the exact opposite of this sort of speech. It is behind closed doors, whispered under breath, and is a sinful response to human insecurity. When God speaks, he offers security and wisdom out of his self-sufficiency. God judges gossip to be arrogant (Proverbs 21:24) and foolish (Proverbs 9:8) because it is so unlike and in contradiction with the character of his own speech.
4. Image of God
Gossip reflects the image of a spiritual, celestial being. But it is not God. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). It is not a stretch to say that Satan’s name is “Gossip” — he is the accuser (Revelation 12:10). In John 8:44, Jesus links evil speech with reflecting the image of Satan, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Gossip is so easy to justify, because it’s working with the material of truth. Often, people really are sinful and stupid, and gossip is a response to those real events. The lie of gossip isn’t, “I’m going to falsify a story about this person,” but the unspoken and assumed, “I have the right to talk about anything I want with whomever I want in whatever way I want.” And it comes from one’s character. It comes from one’s father.
“When the Trinity talks about your sin, they don’t gossip. There’s hope and a plan.”
Those who love God respect the dignity of his image. That is why love of God and neighbor are inseparable (Luke 10:27). That is also why gossip about other humans, who bear God’s image, is taken as a personal offense by God himself (Psalm 101:5).
To gossip is to damn. Judgment and declaration is reserved, not only for God, but for “the last day” (John 6:54; John 12:28). To gossip is not only to presume the place of God in the world, but also in history. Gandalf wisely said, “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.” To thus banish someone from hope — to give them over to the realm of despair through judgment — is to open the scroll that only the slain Lamb can open (Revelation 5:3–5). Gossip says, “If only they knew how bad they really are, they would despair.”
To speak gossip is to feign knowledge of the Book of Life written before the foundation of the world. Interestingly, people of God are identified in terms of the Son writing about them in the Book of Life in response to the Beast gossiping about the saints, who “was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words … against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:5–6). Eschatological salvation and judgment occurs against the unfiltered character of Satan, which takes the form of gossip in the final battle.
6. Union with Christ
Our shortcomings and sufferings are our portion in being made one with Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Peter 4:13). Our sin is not outside of God’s sovereign timing either, or the sanctifying timing of Christ (2 Peter 3:15). To stigmatize a sinner for their sin or their suffering is to stigmatize Christ himself. To roll one’s eyes at a person’s failures and sufferings is to roll one’s eyes at their share in the person of Christ (Malachi 3:17; 1 Corinthians 6:17).
If some random person gossips about us, it can hurt, but it is flat and carries no credentials in our heart. Secular gossip is just another mode of discourse in our culture. But when a believer gossips, it takes on another category, since it amounts to a brother throwing a sister under the bus for his own ego – gossip becomes betrayal (Proverbs 11:12–13; Proverbs 16:28). Gossip within the church is a special kind of iniquity. When Christians gossip, they participate in an act of betrayal. “My friend (Psalm 41:9), my brother (Proverbs 17:17), my body (1 Corinthians 12:12–27) has hurt me.”
Paul Tripp helpfully puts it this way:
“Judgment is easier than mercy. It’s easier to stand apart from somebody and point a finger than it is to patiently walk alongside of them, to love them, to forgive them, to get your hands dirty as you help them bear the burden of change.”
Indeed, what else is the church’s job but to do these things? Mercy and judgment are mutually exclusive, and mercy is a mission of the church. It is not random that church discipline requires face-to-face interaction — to avoid embodying the character of the devil, and to embody God’s own relational and intimate character (Matthew 18:15). Gossip foregoes intimacy for a false sense of self-built security. Biblical discipline should always be in the context of mutual intimacy, not the secretive and dismissive qualities of gossip.
Who’s at the Center of Your Theology?
The difference between a practical theology that refrains from gossip, and one that endorses indulgence in gossip, is which person is at the center of the theology. One is Christ. The other is Satan. One is the scarred, slain, risen Lamb. One is the accuser. One is “Our Father, who is in heaven.” One is “the father of lies.” Life-giving speech and gossip are the respective languages of the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Let us embody “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) by becoming vulnerable and merciful with our neighbors and ourselves in consistency with the theology of Scripture, and for the sake of Christ (John 13:35).
“When we gossip, we betray. We throw each other under the bus of our own ego.”