Robert in Peachtree City, Georgia asks, “What is the biblical definition of gossip?”
It was good for me to think about. I hate gossip, and I wasn’t even sure how to define it. That is very dangerous, isn’t it?
Roots of Gossip
Romans 1:29 says, “They are fully of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanders.” So you see the context of it: deceit, maliciousness, slander. It is really ugly, and it is right in there with things that hurt people.
“Gossip is something hurtful. It is something that damages community and damages people.”
Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 12:20: “There may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit.” There it is back-to-back with slander again. So gossip is something hurtful. It is something that damages community and damages people. Same thing, again, in 1 Timothy 5:13: “Besides that” — he is talking about some women in the church at that time who were going about from house to house — “they learn to be idlers, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies.” And there you hear the fact that it seems to be the kind of thing that you just fall into when you don’t have anything better to do.
Pride and Negativity
So here are a couple of things that seem to mark what gossiping is: Number one, a negative spirit that is more bent on hurting than helping. Gossip is not something that is really redemptive: “I just want to help or do good, so I am going to gossip.” But it is deceptive. There are people who can deceive themselves into thinking they are doing good by chattering away about somebody and saying, “Well, no, let’s pray for that.” And they really are getting pleasure out of sharing the negative news.
And the other thing is that it is an excessive interest in affairs that belong to others. It is just not our business. Paul calls them busybodies. They are intruding where they don’t belong. And I would add a third thing from my own experience. There is a kind of pride — I think I just know this from myself — I think John Piper’s pride is what makes him savor that I know something somebody else doesn’t know. I know it, and I can tell you. And I feel in the know, which kind of elevates me a little bit. So I think it is pride at the root of that.
So there is a negative spirit that is not helpful or loving or kind. There is an excessive interest in the busybody affairs of others. And then there is this pride. So here is the way I would define it, and I get part of this right out of the dictionary of the Greek term for this:
Derogatory information about someone that you have that is shared with others in a tone of confidentiality, that is not motivated by doing good to them, and that you are enjoying in a way that shows your heart is not humble.
Replacing Gossip with Love
And the remedy for that kind of gossip is love — love for the person, love for the church and her unity, love for Jesus whose fellowship is sweet enough. So you don’t need to have all the titillation that comes from these unclean pleasures of spreading negative information.
So gossip is not limited to false statements, right? It seems gossip can be spreading true information.
It can be true. But it is almost always negative. It is almost always scuttlebutt. But, yes, it may be true. The fact that you are telling the truth doesn’t mean you are not gossiping.