A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28
And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 1 Timothy 5:13
How delightful it is that God saves sinners by His grace, cleansing them by the blood of Jesus Christ, covering their many transgressions and drawing them into a restored relationship with Himself. Truly God Himself is our reward, our treasure, our inheritance, the pleasure of our eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth. No gift is greater than God Himself. But God has also done the same things in the lives of a multitude greater than anyone can count from every tribe and language and people and nation. And He has drawn us as redeemed sinners into fellowship not only with God but with each other. Our future in heaven will be a corporate one; we will delight to share the glorious place and the perfect experience with other people just like ourselves. In preparation for this, God in His wisdom has drawn Christians into local churches, to live life on earth in fellowship with each other by the power of the Spirit.
The church is called the “Body of Christ,” and is a living organism. The human body is kept alive by the flow of blood which unites all organs and all members in oneness; by the circulation of the blood, nutrients and oxygen are delivered to every cell of the body and by this, the body is kept alive. But if the blood should be poisoned, the circulation will produce disease and death, not health and life. And few things damage healthy churches as quickly and powerfully as the twin Gorgon sisters of gossip and slander. Gossip: the sharing of true but damaging facts about another person, resulting in that person’s reputation being damaged in the hearts of the hearers. Slander: the spreading of false impressions or facts about a person, resulting in that person’s reputation being damaged in the hearts of the hearers. The outcome (and almost certainly the goal) of both gossip and slander is the same thing: character assassination. There is not a church on earth that does not face the danger of these disgusting sisters, and our church is no exception.
Why are gossip and slander so pernicious? Because in our sinfulness, we have a perverse delight in the sins of others. It makes us feel better about ourselves. This is especially true when a painful encounter has happened in which we have had some conflict with another person. We seek to garner support from our friends and acquaintances by recounting the events to that captive audience. We shade the tale by carefully selected words in which we appear to be as pure as the driven snow, and the other person as guilty as sin. If we are skillful at it, we can completely reshape the image the hearer has of the person we’re slandering/gossiping against… in a few minutes, the unseen person has suffered irreparable damage in the hearts of the enticed hearer. For a few moments, we can be like God: creating a new reality by our retelling of the tale, laying down the law that the person violated, and acting as Judge over that sinner.
Jesus revealed a better way in Matthew 18: if your brother should sin against you, go to that person in private and show him his sin. The first step of privacy is revealing. Jesus desires that we protect other people’s reputation from misunderstanding as much as we can. As Matthew 18 unfolds, of course, if the individual will not repent, the circle of those “in the know” can widen gradually until the sin is purged from the church. But the first step is quiet, private, and direct… as well as courageous and loving.
So, if you feel that someone has sinned and the sin needs addressing, follow Matthew 18 rather than the promptings of the flesh or the devil. Go to that person directly and with humility work it out. Galatians 6:1 speaks of doing it with humility and gentleness. Jesus said in Matthew 7 we are to take the plank out of our eye and then we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.
One final word. The issue of gossip and slander is especially poisonous when it is directed against the elders of a church. The elders lead as much by their character in the eyes of the church as by the Scripture they can marshal. They would not even have become elders if they had not been “blameless” and have a “good reputation with outsiders.” So if the devil can destroy an elders’ reputation, he has gone a long way to destroying that elders’ ministry. For this very reason, Paul commands the church Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19) There is this special protection for elders because of their vulnerable and influential position in the church. So, if a church member starts to talk about how an elder (or the elders) did this or said that or should have done the other better or differently, be courageous and stand up for the unity and health of the church. Say to that (we hope) well-meaning talker, “If you think that an elder has done something wrong, you are commanded in Scripture to go personally and speak to him/them.” And whether the issue concerns an elder or not, it is clear that Christ wants us to deal with each other better than the world deals with its own: They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful… (Romans 1:29-30). Let’s live far better!
Editor’s Note: Andy Davis is the Senior Pastor of FBC Durham in Durham, NC.