Gossip is one of those habits for which we tend to make excuses. Whether in the name of friendship, conversation or even “exchanging prayer requests,” gossip parades as harmless—when it’s actually a sin. Though we might not feel like we’re doing much damage with our words—especially when the person in question isn’t there to hear them—the effects of gossip are far reaching. More importantly, God hates gossip, because gossip prevents us from loving His people. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). This verse, penned by Paul to the church at Ephesus, gives us a framework for our speech.
If you’re not sure whether or not your conversation is veering into gossip, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this build up others? If you’re discussing someone with your mentor in order to better your relationship with that person, the conversation has a goal. Gossip doesn’t have a goal, and conversations characterized by gossip only serve to tear down others—and tear down our own character. Before discussing another person, we should ask ourselves “What is my goal in this conversation?” and also “Does this build up my listener and does it build up my own character?” Though a gossip thinks she’s protected from her own words, they actually work against her, facilitating a critical spirit that destroys her friendships and witness for Christ.
- Does this fit the occasion? Gossip rarely fits the occasion in which it is used. It usually has to be “invited in,” brought up by the person who wants to have the discussion. Any occasion—a coffee date, party or just a hangout among friends—should be centered on genuine love for others. When we refuse to love people with our words, we can’t authentically love people with our relationships. We might think we love our friends—after all, we’re not gossiping about them!—but if we refuse to love the people outside our immediate circles, we’re misunderstanding God’s definition of love. His love is not exclusive. It does not show favoritism. And it does not malign people behind their backs. Gossip never fits the occasion, and therefore it shouldn’t be spoken among Christian women.
- Does this give grace to my listeners? This last question helps us discern between a healthy conversation whose goal is reconciliation (e.g., “Should I stay friends with a spiritually toxic person?”) and gossip. It’s possible to graciously discuss whether or not you should stay friends with someone who betrayed you. It’s possible to show grace while talking about an acquaintance’s upcoming wedding. But it’s not possible to be simultaneously gracious and critical, judgmental or rude. Cutting and snide remarks, knowing looks and even inside jokes—if displayed publicly to make a point—do not show grace to our hearers. God asks us to show grace because He shows grace to us. If God has set this example, we need to follow it!
The true character of our hearts is revealed not in how well we worship in church or how often we read our Bibles, but in how well we love the way He does—even with our words.