Proverbs 12:13-22 (NIV)
13 Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk,
and so the innocent escape trouble.
14 From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things,
and the work of their hands brings them reward.
15 The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.
16 Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.
17 An honest witness tells the truth,
but a false witness tells lies.
18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19 Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
20 Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil,
but those who promote peace have joy.
21 No harm overtakes the righteous,
but the wicked have their fill of trouble.
22 The Lord detests lying lips,
but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
Ask anyone to define the word gossip and most will mention the spreading of rumors about others. That is correct, but it’s not the whole truth. Gossip includes any idle or malicious talk that harms someone else. In other words, damaging speech is a universal sin, one that we all are guilty of at different times in our lives.
For example, did you ever comment negatively on how a person was dressed? Or suggest to a friend that someone you both know is in the wrong job or involved in unsuitable hobbies? Or tell an acquaintance about another man or woman’s personal life? Let me ask you a final question: Did you feel a check in your spirit while you were speaking? All of these can be examples of gossip, which are words that do damage and hurt others despite sounding innocent.
Idle comments are often delivered in a way that makes them seem unlike the traditional definition of gossip. People mask gossip in several ways, such as speaking in jest, offering others’ personal details “as an example,” and disguising the spread of information as a prayer request. Of course, not every tease or illustration is gossip. And the body of Christ is certainly called upon to pray for those facing hard times. Therefore we must be able to distinguish between worthless chatter and wise speech.
What matters is the heart’s motivation. We see this clearly in the book of Psalms:
Psalm 19:14 (NIV)
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
When the intention is to mar a reputation or create instant camaraderie with another person, lips tend to move loosely. This often happens while discussing someone else’s misfortune. But a desire to please God and reflect His grace should prompt us to speak only that which builds others up.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
The next time we find ourselves talking about another person, we need to ask ourselves what our true intentions are. Are we building them up or tearing them down. Would God approve of what we are saying? If not, maybe we should consider not saying anything at all.