Biblical Womanhood, Part III: Gossip

I recall passing a note to a friend when I was in fifth grade. The words of the text focused on a girl named Lisa who was upset by something or other that my friend had done to her. I don’t remember the specific cause of Lisa’s hurt emotions. What I do remember were these words of mine about Lisa in that note: “She’s so sensitive.”

 

In my mind, I was simply analyzing her reaction and comforting my friend who had caused the hurt. In God’s correct view, however, I was gossiping.

 

Aren’t we adept at defining our actions as different from what they really are? As different from how God sees them?

 

For women, we too often fail when it comes to gossip. We then misappropriate our actions for several reasons.

 

On the fringes

Curiosity. What a pleasant word to cloak what curiosity often really is: nosiness. For some reason, we want to know what’s going on. We want to be in the know.

 

Some women possess enough self-control to walk away after hearing juicy nuggets without contributing to the gossip. They believe that they’ve done no wrong since they’ve controlled their tongues. The words they hear do not always disappear, though.

 

7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin,

   and his lips are a snare to his soul.

8 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;

   they go down into the inner parts of the body.  (Proverbs 18)

 

Ever eaten something loaded with sugar and/or fat? That large bowl of queso or an extra hefty slice of German Chocolate Cake? Those treats satisfy the taste buds as we consume them, but afterwards they frequently consume us, producing results such as stomachaches, weight gain, binger’s remorse, and even for some the occasional diabetic coma. Curiosity about someone else’s drama functions in the same manner. It enters the ears like a delicious, savory pizza, but then settles in our bellies. It establishes in us the foundation for potential future sin.

 

Like our food diets, it’s best to control what we intake rather than work afterward to remove the unwanted effects.

 

But there’s the problem. Unless we exercise our faith consciously upfront, we want to hear the latest news. It’s in our pre-Christ nature to desire it. Worse yet, we give approval to gossip when we listen to it.

 

28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  (Romans 1)

 

Knee Deep in the “Pick-a-little Talk-a-little”

Women talk. Women connect with each other through communication. It’s how we’re wired, even introverts like me. Given that, we should approach our communication with each other with obedience to God’s commands as our primary aim. We’re commanded to love God first above all else, even before loving others.

 

Caring

Many women believe that they don’t exhibit a caring nature if they fail to lend an ear to a friend in need of counsel. I agree, yet it behooves us greatly to venture into that counsel with trepidation and caution. Some guiding questions:

 

  • Is our friend authentically struggling or is she gossiping about someone else?
  • Are we close enough with this friend that our relationship necessitates that we know our friend’s current trial?
  • How deep into the details of the struggle do we actually need to plumb?
  • Do we see the outcome of the counsel as leading to healing and closure or does the chat time encourage emotional reactions and intensify/prolong the situation?

At times, caring requires that we shun opportunities to fuel the gossip. At times, our sisters need to hear that we cannot discuss this or that because we want to honor God’s command to not gossip.

 

5 Better is open rebuke

   than hidden love.

6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend;

   profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

7One who is full loathes honey,

   but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  (Proverbs 27)

 

When we concern ourselves with God’s will and feed ourselves with his word and presence, we will not satisfy the flesh. Gossip will not taste sweet to our ears.

 

Fitting in

Most of us want to belong, to go where everybody knows our name, to know that we possess a group or place in which we feel secure and accepted. Once we’re comfortable, it can be all too easy to succumb to participating in chatter that dishonors God, disrespects our brothers and sisters, and stirs up unnecessary and meddlesome conflict. Proverbs and the Psalms abundantly reveal these truths to us.

 

17Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own

   is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.

18Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death 19is the man who deceives his neighbor

   and says, “I am only joking!”

20For lack of wood the fire goes out,

   and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.

21As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,

   so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

22 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;

   they go down into the inner parts of the body.

23 Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel

   are fervent lips with an evil heart.  (Proverbs 26)

 

1O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?

   Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

 2He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

   and speaks truth in his heart;

3who does not slander with his tongue

   and does no evil to his neighbor,

   nor takes up a reproach against his friend;

4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,

   but who honors those who fear the LORD;

who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5who does not put out his money at interest

   and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.  (Psalm 15)

 

11 Come, O children, listen to me;

    I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

12 What man is there who desires life

   and loves many days, that he may see good?

13 Keep your tongue from evil

   and your lips from speaking deceit.

14 Turn away from evil and do good;

   seek peace and pursue it.  (Psalm 34)

 

30The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,

   and his tongue speaks justice.

31 The law of his God is in his heart;

   his steps do not slip.  (Psalm 37)

 

19″You give your mouth free rein for evil,

    and your tongue frames deceit.

20You sit and speak against your brother;

   you slander your own mother’s son.  (Psalm 50)

 

13Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,

   but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.  (Proverbs 11)

 

28 A dishonest man spreads strife,

   and a whisperer separates close friends. (Proverbs 16)

 

Read Proverbs 18 and you’ll notice it repeatedly speaks of the fool and his lips.

 

Additionally, we’re told to choose our friends carefully:

 

19Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;

   therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.  (Proverbs 20)

 

17Iron sharpens iron,

   and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27)

 

The wisdom of the Proverbs should guide our daily choices and behavior, not only with the brethren but also in the marketplace. Should our coworkers with vitriolic tongues diminish our joy and commitment to following God’s command to do everything for God’s glory? Aren’t we called to be light in the darkness? Aren’t we to live such good lives that the pagans see our good deeds and glorify God?

 

The Antidote

God, of course.

 

He will uphold and strengthen us. He will lead us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He will work within us to conform us to his perfect and pleasing will.

 

Mary and Martha return to my mind yet again. Martha complained about Mary, and Jesus explained that Mary had chosen the best option: being at the foot of our Lord, listening and learning.

 

Focus on God. Learn from him. Trust him. Follow his ways. He will mold and improve us, revealing to us the motives of our hearts and also our errors.

 

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!

   Try me and know my thoughts!

24And see if there be any grievous way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting!  (Psalm 139)

 

James said that we cannot tame the tongue, but we can control the situations in which we place ourselves. We can walk out of a room. We can lovingly refrain from participating in conversations that border on slander. We can do all things through him who gives us strength.

 

Back to Lisa. She found the note that I had written. My best of intentions increased Lisa’s pain. How’s that for caring?

14 comments

  1. “James said that we cannot tame the tongue, but we can control the situations in which we place ourselves.”

    That’s a very profound thought that makes me feel better about what I find myself unable to do, and what I find myself able to do. Much as there’s always, always an “ouch” of conviction on this topic–I can always think of times where I’ve screwed up on this one within the last 24 hours–this gives me hope for walking closer to God and being more conformed to His will.

    And, wow, thank you, Areopagus, for hosting the WMBC banner! I am touched, and I’m sure the co-ordinators will find that very encouraging.

    ~Cat

  2. MS says:

    Shema,

    I’ve read over your post a few times now, and it gets better every time I read it. Not that I have a womanhood to be convicted of, but these words sure convict:

    23Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!

    24And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139)

    James said that we cannot tame the tongue, but we can control the situations in which we place ourselves.

    And how the situations from my own life that resemble yours with Lisa have come rushing upon me. Thanks for this one, and we’ll be looking forward to part IV…

  3. Shemaromans says:

    12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4)

    Amazing grace.

  4. Esther says:

    So, just stumbled on this Shema, because you or someone posted the link on fb. Read Part IV, and searched for Part III. Weird, because I just made a comment on another site-which-we-both-frequent about gossip and other sins…

    Anyway, I got a question. Now, I know we could pick this apart til doomsday and try to make a list of rules, but that would miss the point. However, I do have a situation I’ve always wondered about:
    4 years ago I and my family were forced to leave a church because of a huge lack of biblical ethics AND a very dysfunctional habit of ungodly manipulation on the part of the pastor and hand-picked elders.
    We had many close friends there. But they would not ask us about the reason we left nor allow us to tell them about it. They considered that gossip, and also were being told by the elders and pastor that they shouldn’t question their leaders.
    Would it really have been gossip if they had asked what was going on? Yes, at some level it could have devolved into gossip, but I was then, and still am, worried that these people don’t realize the danger they are in. Of course, you may say, God is in control. And He is. They will not suffer more than His best plan for their spiritual health and His glory.
    But I’m not sure that their idea of “gossip” is really right. I would have stated the facts, and only the facts of the situation had they asked or had I been allowed.
    Interestingly, one of those friends recently came to me and offered an apology. She had just been forced to leave the same church, and she wanted me to know that she really hadn’t understood what happened to me before, but she does now.
    Too bad she had to be hurt because I wasn’t able to caution her.

    I am also perplexed…why was it ok for me to hurt and have to leave without their love and support while they protected that pastor and those elders who were clearly sinning?

    Sign me,
    Confused

  5. shemaromans says:

    Second question: we face tough situations that seem unfair to us but actually help in our sanctification…maybe?

    First question: That one’s more difficult. Let me think about it. If he beats me to it, I bet Quixote will have a wise answer…much more wise than I could offer, I’m sure.

  6. C.L. Dyck says:

    Shema, due to time constraints, Quixote called in the Quiet and Unassuming Wallflower.

    Hi, Esther, I’m Cat, AKA EhRay, the Canadian wing of the Schooley circus. :-) My husband Dave and I have some experience with what you’re asking about. This is a very brief summary you’ve given, so please simply take what’s useful from these thoughts, and leave aside anything that doesn’t apply.

    “4 years ago I and my family were forced to leave a church because of a huge lack of biblical ethics AND a very dysfunctional habit of ungodly manipulation”

    First off, Esther, then you are not the problem. You’re the potential exposer of the problem, which makes you very dangerous to those benefitting from the dysfunction.

    1. Power-Posturing
    The first characteristic of an abusive religious system is what we call power-posturing. Power-posturing simply means that leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well. This is necessary because their spiritual authority isn’t real–based on genuine godly character–it is postured.

    “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” p. 63, David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, Bethany House, 1991

    “We had many close friends there. But they would not ask us about the reason we left nor allow us to tell them about it.”

    2. Performance Preoccupation
    In abusive spiritual systems, power is postured and authority legislated. Therefore, these systems are preoccupied with the performance of their members. Obedience and submission are two important words often used. (p. 65)

    “They considered that gossip, and also were being told by the elders and pastor that they shouldn’t question their leaders.”

    3. Unspoken Rules
    In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they’re not said out loud, you don’t find out until you break them. (p. 67)

    The “Can’t Talk” Rule
    The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is…the can’t-talk rule. The can’t-talk has this thinking behind it: “The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated.” (p. 68)

    “Would it really have been gossip if they had asked what was going on?”

    No.

    We are to snatch branches from the fire. Laying aside falsehood, we are to speak truth, every one, with his neighbour.

    There is a way to speak about these things which communicates grace, and a way which communicates bitterness. That is your only responsibility. It is certainly not the Christian’s job to participate in arbitrary redefinitions of the truth. There are criteria available straight from Scripture for weighing a dysfunctional situation, and we are to know these things by their fruits. Otherwise, people take the seat of God when they presume to designate which truth is valid and which is not.

    I hope the quotes above help answer your second question to some degree as well, Esther. What happened to you was not okay. From what you describe, it was based on a substitute ethic not drawn from Scripture, but cloaked in a false form of godliness.

  7. Esther says:

    Hey, Cat…thanks for your answer. I’ve actually read the book you quoted: my son-in-law passed it on to me for a read-through. It’s been awhile, and I read it a couple years after the incidents, so wasn’t able to actually DO anything about it except find some healing for myself and pray for others still involved there.
    Thanks for your answer. I wonder, though: if it wouldn’t have been gossip, should I have tried to say something to these friends?
    Of course, their definition of gossip rather prevented me from doing so…I suppose forcing the information on them would only have confirmed what the leaders/elders were saying about me.
    Ha! Sometimes there’s no right answer from a human perspective, and you really do have to turn it all over to God.

  8. shemaromans says:

    “Shema, due to time constraints, Quixote called in the Quiet and Unassuming Wallflower.”

    Cat, are you referring to one of your other personalities? :)

  9. shemaromans says:

    J.I. Packer, in Knowing God, wrote the following as a portion of his thoughts concerning discerning the will of God:

    “Sixth, unwillingness to wait. “Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”

    Esther quote:
    “I wonder, though: if it wouldn’t have been gossip, should I have tried to say something to these friends?
    Of course, their definition of gossip rather prevented me from doing so…I suppose forcing the information on them would only have confirmed what the leaders/elders were saying about me.”

    If we’re uncertain whether to share information with our friends regardless of their refusal to listen, then perhaps God had/has reasons to keep us silent.

    Yet another thought…did you discuss the matter with the authority in place at the church? If so, then you did your part. After that, we have to trust the Holy Spirit to accomplish the plan set forth by God. Many purposes could exist: the sanctification for your friends through their own personal discovery and trials…future spiritual discipline meted out to the church authorities…false teachers in place purposely per God’s sovereignty…the list could continue.

    Where do I stand on the matter after a couple days of thinking? I’m still not sure…However I think you did right by not *slandering* the church leadership to your friends afterward. It’s a spiritual matter, and one that only the Holy Spirit can correct. Your good friends know your character and your fruit, and pressing the issue might have caused your friends to question your motives instead of leaving them with the memories and testimony of a God fearing women.

    Fruit always displays itself for what it is, whether immediately or down the road…

    Perhaps your experience is a “shake the dust off your feet” experience?

    Rambling thoughts…thanks for giving me something to think about!

  10. C.L. Dyck says:

    Esther,

    >I wonder, though: if it wouldn’t have been gossip, should I have tried to say something to these friends?

    They bear the responsibility for examining the Scriptures too. You can’t decide for them. You can only be there for them and be godly.

    Also, God’s not going to ask you to face a situation that’s already hurt you until you’re ready to. He’s your Shepherd too. When no one was caring for you, He was. When you wished people would ask, He had means of which we know nothing for speaking into the situation. When the time is right, you or someone you may not even know will be there with the needed words.

    >Cat, are you referring to one of your other personalities?

    Sheesh, I cain’t get no respect around here… 😀

    >Yet another thought…did you discuss the matter with the authority in place at the church?

    Shema, assumption one to question: that the authority was valid in view of Scripture. Assumption two: that dialogue would be a one-time (or minimally-recurring) event prior to leaving.

    Often by the time people leave, they’re driven to it after years of attempting to discuss and being rebuffed or punished for the attempts. When they leave, people want to know if they engaged in what would amount to a final confrontation, contextually. I’ve heard of people getting blamed for leaving “without trying to reconcile” when they spent years at it behind the scenes, attempting to work with the “don’t-talk” environment, before giving up. The silence conspiracy masks their efforts quite thoroughly.

    Sometimes a final discussion is helpful, sometimes it’s not a fit to the case. Applying biblical discipline and reconciliation can be freakishly tricky, depending on the relational dynamics.

  11. Esther says:

    >>Shema, assumption one to question: that the authority was valid in view of Scripture. Assumption two: that dialogue would be a one-time (or minimally-recurring) event prior to leaving.

    Often by the time people leave, they’re driven to it after years of attempting to discuss and being rebuffed or punished for the attempts.<>Perhaps your experience is a “shake the dust off your feet” experience?<<

    Was. And we did. It was just sad, and heartbreaking. And I worried about my friends: lost most of them, from lack of time spent together at church. Most of the members I was in contact with were rather geographically scattered, so there was not a lot of interaction after that.

    I find that now, after that experience plus the one I just went through (gossip and lack of biblical obedience to the act of reconciliation were the issues there), my job is to somehow figure out how to change my feelings to reflect the forgiveness that I have determined to extend toward those who offended, and to allow us to continue in obedience to God in attending church (hopefully a less dysfunctional one, this time) without fearing similar treatment.

    God have mercy on us all.

    Thanks for talking with me about it! Even though I came to many of the same conclusions, hopefully it will help any who read here to think through their own situations as far as those "freakishly tricky" bits of biblical discipline and reconciliation as well as any sin of gossip in their own lives.

  12. Esther says:

    The former response removed a rather large portion of my answer! I tried to preview it, but it wouldn’t let me.

    Basically, it gave the information that we did try for a short time to deal with the matter in a biblical way. Others were having similar issues. Every time we spoke to those giving the offense, our words were twisted and used against us.

    Eventually the deciding factor was when the leadership engaged in a public display of a lack of biblical ethics and moral integrity, breaking a contract. After that it wasn’t a question of whether we should leave or if we had done enough.

  13. Truth says:

    I’m just checking in because nobody asked about me but just assumed I was in the room.

    The counselor in charge of this website assumed that the woman possessed truth and that the church did not.

    What if the woman was in fact at fault and stopped going because her feelings were hurt. She did not want to talk to the leadership about her transgressions and was very eager to share that with others. That is not constructive and is very destructive–in terms of truth.

    Now, truly, a church and its leadership can be controlling and pull the leadership card that calls its members to be submissive. But even if that was the case, members are to be submissive to the governing authorities. And there are ways to talk through the issues to get to the truth; and when truth has been obtained that reconciliation is procured.

    This woman speaks piously but may not be telling the whole truth.

    On behalf of the other side of the story, consider that the woman might be the offender–and truth be told, the Bible is very clear about not giving divisive people the time of day.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Truth

  14. MS says:

    “The counselor in charge of this website assumed that the woman possessed truth and that the church did not.”

    As a point of fact, I’ve assumed no such thing.

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