3 Questions To Consider About Gossip
He who… rules His spirit [is better] than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32, NKJV
It’s an old story but one that still brings a chuckle: Three preachers were at a conference, and prompted by a message on “besetting sins,” late one evening the three began to reveal some of their secret flaws. One said that his besetting sin was that he enjoyed an occasional drink. Naturally, he explained, he didn’t like folks in his congregation knowing about it so he was quite discreet in his drinking.
The second said that he wasn’t bothered at all with the temptation to drink, but he confessed that he, too, had a besetting sin. His, he admitted, was gambling.
The third listened quietly and as they waited for him to admit to a besetting sin, he smugly said, “I, too, have a besetting sin.” “Yes,” encouraged the first. “Mine,” he said, “is gossip, and I can hardly wait to post our conversation on Facebook.”
My daughter Bonnie quips, “Christians don’t gossip; they just share prayer requests.” How do you respond to those bits of somewhat salacious information which get passed on to you? At times I ask, “Do you know this for a fact, or did you just hear someone else say this?”
Rumors or half-truths can be as devastating as a bullet in the dark. I’m thinking of a Methodist pastor whose associate didn’t like him, so the youth pastor composed a letter accusing the senior pastor of wrongdoing and mailed the letter to the entire membership. What happened? As church leaders began to investigate, it became apparent that the accusations were totally untrue. The associate admitted to fabricating the story, but the damage was done, and within two years the pastor quietly left town. He had become known as the “pastor whose reputation was questionable.”
In regard to passing on information which may or may not be true, there are three questions which you need to ask.
First: Is it needful? What you say may be completely true. You may well know something about a person which only God and the other person knows, and God has long since forgiven that individual, blotting out the record forever. But you casually mention that failure in a conversation. What you shared had no bearing on the present situation. What you know is completely unnecessary.
Second: Is it kind? In recent years we’ve come to think of absolute frankness as being the equivalent of honesty. While I believe in honesty, I also believe in kindness. Criticism is often a blunt expression of what someone already knows. It takes little brilliance to recognize failure or shortcoming, but it takes a great deal of kindness to withhold the obvious.
Ever hear the expression, “I feel like giving him a piece of my mind?” My father-in-law, Guy Duffield, suggested that some folks have a good deal more mind than they know what to do with since they keep giving pieces of it away.
Third question: Is it true? Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, once said, “All that one says may be true, but it is not necessary to say all that is true.”
Paul says that learning when to speak and what to say is part of maturity. He suggests that infants are quick to speak their minds but men and women who are mature, “speak the truth in love,” as they grow into Christ who is the head of all things (Ephesians 4:15, KJV).
The next time you are tempted to pass on a choice bit of news, ask if what you are about to say will pass these three simple tests: (1) Is it needful? (2) Is it kind? (3) Is it true?
Remind yourself of what the writer of Proverbs said long ago when he wrote, “He who… rules His spirit [is better] than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV).
Resource reading: James 3:1-12