Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Gossip

In his sinfulness, man cannot help but defame others. It is intrinsic in his fallen nature. His pride, self-love, and disregard for God, God’s law, and his fellow man all result in a mindset of self-preservation that is often exercised through defamation and slander.

Defamation and slander. These are two words that make most men shudder, for no one wants to be on the receiving end of such activity. But what about gossip? That isn’t quite as bad, is it?

Gossip is one of those “acceptable” sins or, as it has been called, a “respectable” sin, that tends to be viewed less seriously then others. After all, such talk is harmless! It is not as though we intend to continue spreading the news after we hear it and, furthermore, it certainly is not as though we were engaging in such appalling activities as is the person about whom we are talking!

You have to promise not to tell anyone, but I heard that so-and-so did/said/saw such-and-such…

We all know a person in our lives who is skilled at gossiping. In fact, I daresay we all know at least one such person in nearly every realm of our lives: the neighborhood gossip, the office gossip, the school gossip, the family gossip, the church gossip.

Wait…what was that last one again?

The church gossip. Unfortunately, they are easy to find in nearly every church, no matter how doctrinally sound that body may be. Even more unfortunate is the fact that we all have most likely engaged in some type of gossip at church or about our church friends at one time or another.

Merriam-Webster defines gossip as “a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others,” or “a rumor or report of an intimate nature.”

So, one can either be a gossip or engage in gossip. Either way, gossip is unattractive, to say the least. Still, those definitions aren’t too terrible, are they?

I don’t habitually engage in gossip, I just share information now and then. That isn’t that big of a deal!

Is that true? Is it true that gossip is a lesser sin, a more easily overlooked sin, a sin that is a bit more flexible in God’s mind? As with any issue, when it comes to gossip, we do well to consult the scriptures on the matter.

The actual word “gossip” appears infrequently in most English translations, but the notion is there. A quick reach for the concordance reveals that many of the terms used as synonyms for gossip mean, in the Hebrew and Greek, “whispering,” “defamation,” or “slander.”

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip. (Proverbs 20:19)

A well known verse, Proverbs 20:19 is interesting in that it appears to equate a slanderer with a gossip. In fact, it is interesting to observe that, in many places, especially in the New Testament, the ideas of slander and gossip appear alongside each other.

In passages such as 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:3, and Titus 2:3, the English word gossip is qualified by the adjective “malicious.” Interestingly, in the Greek, the word translated in these verses as “gossip” is actually “diablos,” the same word that is used for devil. This word means slanderous, or accusing falsely.

As a side note, even though the warning against being a “malicious gossip” is directed toward women in 1 Timothy 3:11 and Titus 2:3, gossip is not merely a “women’s issue.” Men gossip too. Men slander too. There is no sin that is unique to only one of the sexes, and to narrow and direct teaching about gossip to women only is to do great harm to the body of Christ. Such an approach elevates men in their own eyes, whether intentionally or not, and perpetuates the dangerous errors seen in some circles that hold to what is ultimately an abusive, patriarchal mindset. But that is all discussion better reserved for another time.

Now, back to the primary matter at hand. In a study of the mention of gossip or gossiping within the biblical text, one cannot ignore its appearance in Romans 1.

Wait—Romans 1 is that passage that talks about man’s depravity, describing such sin as a judgment from God. What does gossip have to do with any of that?

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

If we read these verses in their broader context, we see that the Apostle Paul is describing men and women who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and, because they do so, God gives them over to their own depravity. It is there above, in verse 28! “God gave them over to a depraved mind…” And what characterizes this depraved mind?

  • Unrighteousness,
  • Wickedness,
  • Greed,
  • Evil,
  • Envy,
  • Murder (and remember, in Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus explained that a heart of anger toward another is akin to murder),
  • Strife,
  • Deceit,
  • Malice,
  • Gossip,
  • Slander,
  • Hating God,
  • Insolence,
  • Arrogance,
  • Boasting,
  • Inventing evil,
  • Disobedience,
  • Lack of understanding,
  • Dishonesty,
  • Lack of love,
  • Lack of mercy,
  • Approval of evil.
That is quite a list! And there, in the middle of such a list, we find gossip and slander. These traits characterize a depraved mind. This must not be overlooked! In fact, to review this list is to realize that there are many “acceptable” sins included besides gossip and slander, such as envy, arrogance, boastfulness, and others. What does this mean? It means that there are no acceptable sins. All sin is an abomination to God, and even these oft-thought minor sins are demonstrative of a heart that hates Him.Scripture is certainly not silent on this type of sin; rather, it very clearly recognizes the serious damage that can be wrought by the tongue.

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:6-10)

A person who gossips is a person who cannot be trusted. He or she is a person who can never be a true friend. If we associate with a gossip, we will inevitably find that others will begin to view us the same way: as an untrustworthy, murmuring talebearer, because it is true that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). The character of a gossip, whether as the gossiper or the recipient of the gossip, runs entirely contrary to the character of Christ.Ultimately, like all of the sin we so dreadfully engage in, gossip is a heart issue. It reveals our lack of regard for the body of Christ and, even worse, it reveals our lack of love for Christ Himself and for His Word. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and when we willfully participate in talebearing we unveil a frightening idol. We are to be like Christ and we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do this when we practically and actively live as we are called to in the Scriptures.It is true that, this side of Heaven, we will not attain perfection. We will all stumble and struggle and sin, yes, even committing the sin of gossip. Yet this ought not be the dominating pattern of the life of a Christian. Consider the many calls in Scripture for believers to “put off” the old self and “put on” the new self. We are new creations in Christ and we are called to live our lives accordingly. A review of passages such as Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3:5-17 demonstrates that the character of the new man specifically calls the believer to practice the fruit of the Spirit (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control [Galatians 5:22]), and these attributes reflect a person who loves the brethren and would not seek to deliberately defame his brother or sister in Christ.

This heart issue cannot be remedied by self-restraint alone. Sure, we can muster up some of that restraint and refrain from gossip for awhile, crossing it off of our list of Bad Things Not To Do Today, but if the idol lives in our heart, then that list will eventually be torn up and we will succumb to the sin.
Our hearts must be conformed to the image of Christ and for the believer, his or her heart is being conformed to Christ’s image by the enabling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We actively pursue righteousness, but we do so with complete dependence on the Lord, knowing that mortification of even the “minor” sins cannot be achieved by our own efforts. This is grace. This is God, in His goodness, promising to bring His good work to completion (cf. Philippians 1:6). We strive to live in a manner worthy of the gospel that is honoring to the Master who purchased us with His blood. Yet, we do not strive alone. We willingly labor in this by the power granted to us by God—the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (cf. Ephesians 1:19-21).
In light of this, we also recognize that, while gossip may not be an acceptable sin, it is a forgivable sin. There is grace for the unsaved gossiper who turns to Christ and grace for the gossiping Christian who hates the war that is still being waged with his sinful flesh.
Thank God for grace. Thank God for Christ.
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  • 2iceblest

    While gossip is not good or right, it is not comparable to the 9th Commandment not to give FASLE witness. The one and only ‘Old Testament’ verse of Proverbs 20:19 given proves my point, as it is also about saying things which are not true about another. Let’s keep to Scriptural Truth rather than doctrines fed to us by the seminary.

  • EBenz

    Thanks for your comment. I'm not exactly certain what you are attempting to say here, particularly with your last sentence, and to my recollection, I did not directly discuss the ninth commandment within this article. Nevertheless, I will try to respond as best I can.

    This was a difficult post to write because it resulted in the convergence of several somewhat different ideas (e.g., gossip, slander, lying). Yet, these are all—or can all—be related, as anyone who has ever been the victim of gossip knows. Gossip often leads to the proverbial game of telephone, which inevitably results in false information being spread about an individual. Thus, the sin of gossip can be engaged in even to the point of slander, though that may not have been the original perpetrator's intent.

    I hope this helps.