Gossip is tasty to its speakers and hearers. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8 NIV). A choice morsel is exciting and enticing, swallowed greedily, like potato chips or onion rings. But gossipy words aren’t just a burst of flavor on the tongue; they “go down to the inmost parts,” promising to meet the deep desires of our hearts.
Why does gossip taste so good? Ironically, while gossip’s content usually focuses on other people, at its core, gossip is really about me. It promises to make me feel a certain way about myself. We gossip because of what gossip promises to do for us. Therefore, when we gossip, we’re serving and worshiping ourselves (perhaps that’s why Paul lists gossip as a sin of idolatrous people in Romans 1:29).
Jonathan Dodson’s articles have helped me identify gossip’s false promises. Let’s consider four of them it makes to us.
1. “You Are Interesting.”
We all like to feel accepted, and interesting gossip can serve as our entrance badge into a conversation or group. All the more so if the gossip is negative and leads to mutual complaining. Gossiping and griping can be a bonding experience (“Did you hear the latest about our boss?”).
But gossip offers what it can’t deliver. When gossip says, “You’re interesting,” or, “You belong,” it’s lying. To people who thrive on gossip, you’re only interesting as long as your gossip is interesting. When we use gossip to gain access into a community (a church, a workplace, a friendship circle), our words tear apart the very community we want to join.
Jesus gives us a true community, the church. Our entrance badge into that community is his own blood, which unites the church in love. We don’t get into the church based on what we say about others. We get in based on what God says about us in Christ.
2. “You Are Powerful.”
Having information about other people makes us feel powerful and important. We may say to someone in authority over us, “I’m not the only one who disagrees with you; I’ve heard lots of people are unhappy with your new policy.” That’s power-play gossip: reporting vague public opinion as a club to batter down the thing or person in your way. Sometimes we gossip about the weaknesses or misfortunes of those we envy, because it makes us feel good to take them down a notch.
But gossip can’t deliver on its promise of power. It may give us some tiny, temporary degree of influence in the communities to which we belong. But when we stand before almighty God and he holds us accountable for how we spoke about others, we’ll see that our gossip gave us no real power. It was a false promise, a foolish illusion.
The gospel tells us something very different about ourselves: we are weak, and we need help. God is powerful. His words created the world! He sustains all things by the word of his power, and if we will trust in Jesus, God will put his awesome power to work and make us part of his new creation.
3. “You Are Indispensable.”
For those of us who meet needs because we like the feeling of being needed, gossip may be rescue equipment. We may hear of someone with a struggle, and our first impulse will be to spread the word in order to get others involved in a rescue effort. On the surface, we just want to help. But in fact, we usually make the situation worse by inserting ourselves into situations where we don’t belong.
We may say, “Hey, do you know Barry is upset at you?” Our intention may be to encourage our friend to have a conversation with Barry. But we should have told Barry to speak directly with the person, and then stayed out of it. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit, we’ve trusted ourselves, because we like to feel indispensable.
The truth is, gossip is lousy rescue equipment. It can never make us indispensable. Jesus alone is our Rescuer and Deliverer, and Jesus can save us even from our need to be needed. Jesus gives us true significance — not as mini-saviors, but as those who are saved by him.
4. “You Are Righteous.”
Gossip makes us feel righteous in comparison to others. We may grumble-gossip to our friends about the annoying or hurtful habits of our spouse or children. Or we may say to one neighbor about another, “I can’t believe Tom bought a brand-new car. I heard he has huge credit card debt.” One of the reasons we enjoy celebrity gossip is that it’s delicious to hear of the secret brokenness of the very people we envy (maybe we’re better than them after all).
But gossip can’t give us the righteousness we desire. Only Jesus does that. The gospel tells us we’re unrighteous and need a perfect Savior to be righteous for us. And it tells us that through faith, Jesus’s perfect righteousness becomes ours.
Look to Jesus
In Jesus, we belong. In Jesus, God’s power works for us. In Jesus, we find significance. In Jesus, we’re righteous. Let’s stop gossiping about others, and instead start talking to Jesus about them, and to them about Jesus. Let’s expose the lies of gossip and instead believe the truth that is in Jesus.