There’s a Proverb for That: Gossipy Gossips and the Gossip They Gossip
Gossip may seem harmless, but it is actually something strongly condemned in the Bible. Can we overcome gossip? Yes, and there’s a proverb for that.
To deal with a problem as old as gossip, we are going to need writings that have been around almost as long as gossip itself. This is just another area in which the book of Proverbs provides us wise insights to identify a common human weakness and helps us improve our communication and social interactions.
“I’ve got a secret I won’t tell … Well … okay … did you hear about …?”
Have you ever said something about somebody to someone else that you would never say to that person’s face?
Of course you have—and so have I. Sometimes we may immediately feel guilty, knowing we really should go to the person and deal with a problem or just not talk about it. But if we demonstrate a pattern of talking about others behind their backs, and not feeling the least bit guilty about it, then we may be a “gossip.”
The Bible sets the highest standard for Christians: We are not to speak evil of others (Titus 3:2; James 4:11). Gossip is usually not a discussion of positive actions and character traits! It usually involves “saying things which [we] ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Gossip is a universal human problem. Thankfully, there’s a proverb for that.
Proverbs and implications
1. Proverbs 17:9: “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.”
No doubt, some problems have to be dealt with. But in these situations, we should discuss them with the person—or someone who can legitimately help—not everyone else. The sad reality is that sometimes we repeat bad things about others to feel better about ourselves.
Does gossiping negative information to others ever draw people closer together? The reality is that it always separates people by causing doubts and negativity (Proverbs 16:28). Friendships are damaged, not strengthened, by talking bad about people behind their backs, revealing embarrassing information or just making fun of them for some weakness or mistake.
Implications: When we’re tempted to talk about someone negatively, we can try imagining that person standing right next to us, listening intently to what we are saying. We should always assume that whatever we say will eventually reach the person being discussed, whether by a “little bird” (Ecclesiastes 10:20) or through the people we are gossiping to, who probably gossip themselves.
2. Proverbs 18:8: “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.”
We humans seem to really enjoy hearing and talking about other people’s problems—often because it makes us feel better about ourselves. This is why gossip is so alluring, and why we have to fight the tendency toward it in ourselves.
We humans seem to really enjoy hearing and talking about other people’s problems—often because it makes us feel better about ourselves. These “tasty trifles” only cease when the talebearer is shut down and when the fire of gossip goes out due to lack of wood (Proverbs 26:20).
Implications: We should change the subject—or leave the conversation completely, saying nothing or explaining directly that we don’t like talking about people behind their back. We should do whatever is possible, short of putting our hand over the talebearer’s mouth (unless we are the gossip, in which case this is strongly encouraged!). If gossip is fueled by interest and agreement, it spreads very much like a fire. If it is discouraged and shut down, at least in that moment it goes no further and settles down.
3. Proverbs 20:19: “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.”
When we fall into the trap of gossip, and when we associate with those who relish it, we are using our mouths to tear down others. Another proverb connects this with hypocrisy (Proverbs 11:9). So, we have to beware of those who deceitfully disguise hate with their lips, even when they speak kindly (Proverbs 26:24-26). There should be something disturbing to us about joyfully attacking people who are not in the room to defend themselves.
Implications: Strife. Hypocrisy. Hate. Deceit. Flattery. Welcome to the world of gossip.
Stay away from that world! Think about how you would feel if your most embarrassing sins, deepest insecurities or even just your physical attributes were being chuckled over or criticized privately by people you considered friends or at least acquaintances. Keep this thought in mind when the opportunity arises to gossip about someone else.
Plenty more where those came from
As stated in other blog posts in this series, the book of Proverbs has much to say about communication and social interaction. The book provides a common theme on these issues: healthy interpersonal relationships are built on trust, compassion and respect—all virtues that are the opposite of gossip. When someone is gleefully telling us embarrassing personal information about someone else, or when we just can’t help talking down about that annoying person we work with, remember, there’s a proverb for that.
For more insight on this topic, read “Taming the Tongue: What the Bible Says About Gossip” and “Understanding and Preventing Gossip.”