“The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps.”
Participation in many sins can be easily avoided. Just stay out of those places and situations where you would be tempted to participate in sin. This is simple enough. Avoiding the hearing of gossip, however, is close to impossible. You’re just minding your business when someone says, “Did you hear what _______ did?” Or “Someone told me that _____said…” You didn’t ask for the gossip. You didn’t go looking for it. You may have even been at a worship service thinking the good thoughts of Philippians 4:8, but gossip found you. So how should we respond to gossip when a reviler tries to include us in his or her sin? Most of the time we address the person who is gossiping, but I want to address the person listening to the gossip. There are several things to keep in mind when hearing gossip.
First of all, do not give attention to gossip. Proverbs 26:20-22 tells us, “Without wood a fire goes out, and without gossip a quarrel dies down…” Gossip causes strife and division. It’s best to not throw wood on the fire of gossip by listening to it. This principle has been very easy for me though it may be difficult for those who love to gossip and hear gossip (the two go usually go together—Pro. 18:8). Personally, I am the worst person to gossip to. I don’t enjoy it. I’d rather talk religion, history, sports, go to the dentist, etc. Typically, I am very uninterested, and don’t care to hear negative information about what someone did or said. And if someone gossips to me about second hand information, I almost never fully believe them. It’s not that I think the person isn’t truthful, I just understand that full truth is often lost in transmission from the person or event and the telling of what happened. This is a biblical attitude to have toward gossips. Proverbs 20:19 says, “Whoever goes around as a gossip tells secrets. Do not associate with a person whose mouth is always open.” Great, that was just the thing I wanted to do anyway!
Second of all, remember that there are two sides to a story. In fact, there may even be three or more sides to a story. Haven’t we all heard negative information about a person only to later find out from others that it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be? It’s good to get all the facts together before spreading rumors about things we have not personally witnessed. Deuteronomy 13:12-14 says, “If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you…then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. If it is true and the matter established…” Rather than taking off with rumors to share with others, get all the facts first from all the persons involved. Then, if you’re truly that concerned about the truthfulness of a rumor, confront the people involved with your information.
Thirdly, keep in mind that people often exaggerate. This is not an indictment against all people, but observation has proven throughout time that we exaggerate the facts. The clichés we use every day prove this. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” Someone who runs really fast is said to be “flying”. In regards to gossip, it is good to be a bit skeptical before accepting any rumor we hear as total truth.
Fourthly, people frequently misunderstand or misinterpret what is said and done. Let’s face it, how much effort do we really put into understanding what actually happened behind a rumor? Do we talk directly to the person involved first to find the matter out? (Pro. 25:9-10, Matt. 18:15-19). Truth is often missed in second and third hand stories. Information is passed along from uninvolved person to uninvolved person until the truth is so diluted that there is no telling what really happened. An old Jewish proverb is important to keep in mind here, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.”
Finally, and most powerfully, rebuke the gossiper. A wise older preacher told me when I first began in ministry, “People are going to come to you and talk badly about others. If they do, stop them immediately and say, ‘Don’t tell me anything else, lets first go talk to the person who did/said this together.’” He said that doing this will stop gossip in its tracks. People love to spread a rumor, but they don’t like to confront a rumor head on. Let’s stop gossip by refusing to hear it and rebuking the reviler if necessary (1 Tim. 5:20). This will discourage people from gossiping to us which would be a blessing to us and the gossiper. We won’t have to hear it and they won’t get to say it.
Hearing gossip will be unavoidable. But how we respond to gossip is our choice. Let’s choose not to fully believe every rumor we hear. Let’s choose not to listen to gossip. Let’s choose to go directly to the source to get the truth. And let’s stop gossip in its tracks by rebuking the gossiper.