Gossip – the sin we’re ok with?

I made the mistake of watching the “news” recently. As a rule I refuse to do this, but I was lured into watching the “news.” What I saw was a bunch of unfounded, unverified hearsay passed along in order to convince the viewer that they should be outraged about these same unfounded, unverified rumors. The Biblical term for such talk is “gossip.”

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. 

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ro 1:28–32.

Did you notice “gossips” appear in that list? I think most followers of Christ are really comfortable with calling most of those sins exactly what they are: sin. Yet it seems very comfortable for most people to be ok with gossip. And when the gossip is packaged and sold to us as “news” or “the real truth,” it becomes more palatable.

Still, if the message is intriguing or scandalous enough, we just might listen. And then we are happy to pass it on. Don’t believe me? Just look on Facebook, or Twitter, or any other social media platform. Americans love to “share” those shocking “articles” about politics, or some celebrity. We convince ourselves that others need to know this “truth,” but did we stop to check the validity of the claims? Have we actually done the research, or simply passed along what we were told?

We can rationalize it away, or try to find some reason to justify doing these things, but the Bible is very clear. Gossip is sin.

The most common area I encounter gossip is around actions that one deems inappropriate. Those actions may or may not in actuality be inappropriate, but the assumption of inappropriate behavior usually sparks gossip. From there the assumption is told to another, and then to another in hopes of building a consensus that this assumed inappropriate behavior is wrong. It gets even easier to do this sort of thing when dealing with a celebrity or politician. But acting this way is absolutely not acting like Jesus. I really like Bruce Waltke’s take on this.

“Now we come [to] ‘Do not bear false witness,’ in which we spare—we bestow on the other—the right to a reputation. We guard the other person’s reputation. We guard it against false testimony. I suspect all of us have violated this; we’ve gossiped about somebody. I think sometimes we hold court in living rooms, drinking cups of coffee. We talk evil of another person, with no due process at all. They’re not there to defend themselves. There may not even be witnesses, but they should not gossip about another person unless the other person is there to defend himself or herself. We’ve got to protect the other person’s reputation. Christians should never gossip.”

 Bruce K. Waltke, OT300 Old Testament Theology, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

How about we consider what Jesus suggests?

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Mt 18:15.

When it comes to friends, family, or other Christians, this should be fairly easy. You make it a point to go directly to the person.

Not to the minister. Not to the elders. Not to your friends.

You go directly to the person you have an issue with. You just might learn that an assumption on your part was incorrect, or it’s possible your concerns might be validated. If there actually is a legitimate problem, then the two of you can address it without everyone else getting involved. This is how Jesus tells us to handle this situation.

So the next time you’re a part of the conversation that steers toward talking about people who aren’t there, remember the wise words of a former First Lady.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Eleanor Roosevelt

What do you mean it’s an elephant?

There’s an old story of three blind men who are led to different parts of an elephant. One feels the tail and thinks it’s a paint brush. One feels the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One feels the ear and thinks it is a large leaf. By the information that each person had they made their best judgement. But when they got together and compared information they realized that none of them had the full picture. Then they worked together to find the head which clearly revealed that there was an elephant in the room.

This Sunday, we will begin a journey through the First Testament in our Bibles, exploring 14 different passages. There are common themes in these texts, and all of them are themes included in John’s Gospel (which we will spend the winter and spring studying). To put it another way, we are surveying the First Testament with an eye toward passages that inform our reading of John’s Gospel. Some of these texts will be familiar, others not so much. Some are confusing, some may seem irrelevant to our lives today, and some have been the point of much controversy, both inside and outside the Church.

One of the things I’ve noticed about some of these First Testament stories is that we learn them as children, such as VBS or Sunday School, and then never really consider them in depth as adults. When we think of the story of Moses and the burning bush (which isn’t actually burning…), our mind goes to the flannel graph images and summaries of our childhood Bible class teachers.

I am so thankful for the teachers that taught me to love the Bible! They taught very difficult, adult Bible stories in a way that my childhood brain could comprehend and appreciate. But when they taught me to love the Bible, they taught me to always study the Bible as well. And what I’ve discovered, especially with this portion of the Bible, is that we rarely spend the time studying these texts that we should. And when we do actually study them, or hear them taught at an adult level, there’s a certain shock involved. We remember the faithfulness of people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Miriam. We forget that they were also drunkards, liars, murderers, and extremely jealous. The stories are far more complex than our childhood memories convey. And when we only focus on the children’s story version of the text, we can miss the point of the story altogether.

The issue is not with the texts themselves, but how we read the texts. All of us come to Scripture with existing biases. I read Scripture through the eyes of a white, middle class, married father of three, recently moved to southwest Missouri from West Texas. That is my perspective. Someone who is middle eastern, impoverished, single, living in Europe will see things differently than I do simply because of their background and surroundings. They view the world differently than I do, and that’s a good thing! Just read the story of the prodigal son(s) with someone from an impoverished country. Most of us read that story not realizing that a famine plays an important role in the story, and in the repentance of the son. People who have suffered from famine pick up on that right away.

Proverbs reminds us that there is wisdom in having “many advisors.” If I am looking at something alone, I only see things from my point of view. But if I talk about it with others with different views, I can begin to see more of the picture.

Some have suggested that addressing controversial texts does no good. “It means what it says and says what it means, and that settles it!” But it doesn’t settle things, does it? The greatest clarity of Scripture I have ever found has come when discussing the text with people who have differing views. Though I may not agree with everything they see, I always walk away with a greater understanding of their view, my view, and most importantly the Word of God. Just this week, a new detail stood out to me in Genesis because I was talking to someone about the text. I’ve been on a mission to re-read Genesis 50 times. I’ve spent considerable time with this book, and I noticed something I had never considered before simply because I was willing to sit down and discuss the text with someone. Basically, I missed the point of the text and only discovered this by talking about it.

I have no doubt that God will do powerful things for us over the next 14 weeks, and through us as we study his word together. I also believe that all of us will discover things that we haven’t seen in these texts before. My prayer is we listen to the voices of “many advisors,” reexamine our view in light of others, but most importantly, we consider what the Scripture actually says, and grow in the grace and wisdom of the Lord. And when we do this cooperatively in community, maybe then we will better identify the elephant in the room.

See you Sunday!