The company gossip keeps in passages that mention it are things like slander, idleness, malice, inappropriate conversations and things like that. One way you might notice gossip is if you see some of those characters hanging around.
If you were to use Strong’s concordance to find a definition of the word, you will find “whispering” and “secret detraction”. Whispering we understand: (Pssst! Listen to this but don’t tell anyone…” It is a secret simply because you don’t tell it in the open. Face it, who gossips about Joe when Joe is right there with them? Detraction is something that takes away from a person, perhaps their character or reputation may be attacked OR the person gossiping tries to make them smaller in order to try and increase their own status.
Some definitions that people gave me which I think are good are as follows:
- The speech intended to hurt, discredit, or simply set up in a bad light.
- Repeating what you heard or thought you heard, sometimes adding your own spin
- The propagation of rumor or slander, whether factual or fictional
David Watson, who preaches for the Benchley church of Christ provided this definition : The sharing of personal or negative information, either true or false, about someone else without righteous intent. (Note: This doesn’t mean that you want your intent to be righteous. It either is or is not)
Which brings me to the 4 things that I think will, if we keep them in mind, help us avoid gossip.
#1. What is the content of the information?
The content of the information, in order to not be gossip, must be absolutely true without spin or exaggeration. Just because something is true does not mean that it is NOT gossip, but statements which are false, misleading, or slanted for effect or sensationalism will quickly fall into gossip, rumors, or slander.
#2. What is the motive for telling the information?
Is it needed for the good of the person to whom you tell OR is it good for the person whose information you are sharing? Sharing information with people who do not need the information to protect themselves is a lot closer to gossip than we generally acknowledge. Sharing information that does not help the person you are talking about is almost always going to fall into the category of idle speaking and gossip.
When dealing with first graders, who are notorious for tattling, a question I often asked them was this: “Are you telling me this because you want them to be in trouble or because they are in danger?” To get a fellow student in trouble (e.g. they are not walking in line) is tattling but if they are in danger (e.g. He has a lighter and is burning his shoe lace) it is acceptable information sharing.
#3. Are you open about your part in the sharing of the information?
Have you ever told someone something you thought they should know, perhaps even so they could do something about it and then added “But don’t tell them where you heard it.”? If this is not “whispering” I do not know what is. Again, by itself, this is not a full proof example of gossip. However, I would hope we can tell the difference between someone needing to be in a witness protection program and a neighbor, friend or acquaintance who might be settling a grudge, simply stirring the pot of conflict, or who wants to avoid being embarrassed if the target of their information ever found out who was the source.
#4. Are you sharing this with someone who can actually solve the problem?
Sharing your dissatisfaction with your company’s vacation policy with the janitor is not going to solve the problem. It will only serve to discourage the janitor who may think he/she is working for a great company. If you have a problem with the vacation policy, talk to HR or the Boss but don’t discuss with others. Even if a majority agreed with you, you run more of a risk of sedition (a close cousin to gossip and slander) than actually solving the problem.
Ok, So I promised to share with you why Chloe’s report to Paul and his rebuke to the Corinthian church did not fall into Gossip. Based on the above 4 criteria: It was true, It was done for the benefit of those with a divisive mentality as well as those who were affected by it, there was transparency as to where the information came from and Paul was indeed able to solve the problem.
So often, when we discuss other people, their lives, or their circumstances, we might meet one of these four criteria but not meet all four. In the end, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you requires us to take extra precautions to avoid slipping into Gossip.
When we talk about the use of the tongue, it makes sense to talk about gossip. We all have a vague idea that gossip involves telling others about things that we ought not to share. We understand gossip to involve things like whispering, rumors, slander, but sometimes we are a little unsure about when we cross the line into Gossip.
Is it not Gossip simply because the information is true? Is it not gossip if you share information so that your audience know how to pray better?
Many passages talk about gossip and its “sister”, slander which give us some good clues. If the passage does not say “gossip”, it will use the word “slander”. Read the following passages:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (Rom 1:29-30)
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish–that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 2Co 12:20)
Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (1Ti 3:11)
Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. (1Ti 5:13)
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (2Ti 3:2-3)
We can learn about Gossip from the company it keeps. These passages show that gossip associates with those who refuse to have God in their knowledge, it is accompanied by slander, malice, idleness, and inappropriate conversation. Who wants to associate with that? Birds of a feather, flock together and we should avoid this particular group of birds.
Of course, not every negative communication is gossip and that leads to some of the confusion. In the following passage, you clearly see negative information was communicated to someone else (Paul) when others were not present:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (1Co 1:10-11)
In the following posts, I will offer definitions of gossip, explain why the above passage is not an example of gossip, and mention some “not so hypothetical” situations of gossip. However, if you would like to hear a sermon about gossip, here is a link to one which you can listen to.
Question: What normal conversations have you heard that were actually gossip?
What would the sins of the tongue be? Do you think of lying, slander, gossip, or abusive language? Yes, most of us would think about these things, but what about silence? I think most of us would consider misuse of the tongue to be a sin of speech, but sometimes it is a sin of silence. You can listen to a sermon on this topic by clicking here. Yet, if you don’t have time to do that, you may read some highlights below.
1. We can help others by saying something.
The lepers in 2 Kings 7 found that the army afflicting the city had left suddenly without taking anything. They ate, they drank and then went and hid clothing, gold and silver. However, they soon came to their senses and realized that what they were doing in remaining silent was not a good thing, so they went and told the king.
Esther was warned that if she kept silent at the time her people needed her that God would deliver the Jews anyway but her house would not escape.
Sometimes fear causes us to not speak up. We fear people won’t understand, we fear they will not listen, sometimes (such as in the case of correcting sin in their life) we fear rebuke from them even as we try to help. Still, we need to help.
2. Our actions were not good ones.
When Adam sinned in the garden and afterward heard the Lord walking in the Garden, he did not speak, he hid. Only when God called out searching for him, did Adam speak. When the disciples were arguing on the journey about which of them was the greatest in the Kingdom of God (Mark 9), Jesus asked them what they were discussing, but they remained silent.
When our actions are not right, silence is the last thing we should keep. Adam should have ran to God for help. The disciples should have owned their petty conversation. We should confess those wrongs and look for forgiveness, whether from God or from a brother whom we have offended not remain silent as if it makes the wrong go away.
3. When your brother offends you.
One clear principle in Scripture deals with the times in which we are offended. Some have no problem letting a brother know that they have crossed a line (sometimes it is done too harshly) but most of us, seeking to avoid conflict fail to let a brother know when he has done so.
Silence in these cases can lead to grudges, strained relationships, and according to Leviticus 19:16-17 slander and gossip are not so far behind.
4. When God needs to be praised.
I would suggest that all of our words should praise God. Of all of God’s creations, mankind is the only one that does not praise its Creator all the time and in all ways. Jesus said that if his disciples did not speak out, the stones would have cried out praising Him as He entered Jerusalem. It is right and normal and natural for us to praise God.
We need to praise God and not be silent when people put down spiritual things; ridicule Christians, Jesus, or God; or try to intimidate us into silence by threats or fear. We should be as the Apostles were: Speaking out and praising God that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. (Acts 5)
Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there is a time to speak and a time to keep silent. May God grant you courage and wisdom to know when you should do each.
Question: What other times do we fail to speak up when we should?
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. (Jas 3:8-12)
Perhaps this should be a warning to us. I honestly have to ask if it the case that man cannot tame the tongue or chooses not to tame the tongue. It probably makes little difference in the long run; the fact is that we need to bring even the tongue under control and by doing so, we bring ourselves under control.
God’s word offers us many instructions on the proper use of the tongue. We, of course, have to be willing to put it into practice. Again, we see the need to have action in our walk of faith. We need to bring the “want to” into line with The Faith. “So speak and so act as those to be judged by a law of liberty.” (James 2:12)
That the tongue is full of poison and can cause lots of destruction was discussed in the last post. In this one, James gives us an example of the characteristics that the tongue has: Inconsistency, hypocrisy and even a lack of love.
Here James gives us an example of a great truth: You cannot Love God if you do not love your neighbor. This time he shows it by the improper use of the tongue. Who is your fellow man? A soul created in the image of God. In the case of those who are Christians, he is a saved soul and an heir of the promises of God (2:5), in the case of the unsaved; he is a lost soul in need of the Gospel (words of Good news-not curses).
James is astonished. All this comes from the same mouth: Blessings and Cursings? A question you might hear asked after a profanity laced tirade is “Do you kiss your wife with that mouth?” or something like it. James says these things “ought not” to be. “Ought” carries with it idea of moral requirements. Phrases like ‘speaking out of both sides of your mouth” or “forked tongue” all hold the idea of a tongue that says one thing one time and different the next time.
Even nature shows this principle. In Ashland, Oregon there is a park called Lithia. There are drinking fountains there that tap into the sulfur/mineral water at Lithia Park. When I lived there during my 3rd grade school year, I would go there for a drink (it was a novelty) and the water was always awful. Every time I tried it, it tasted the same-an awful mineral taste. It never changed. You couldn’t go one day and get sweet refreshing cool water and the next day rancid, sulfur tasting water.
After 20 years, I went back for a visit. I went to try the water (the inner child calling I suppose) and guess what? It was just as awful. It hadn’t changed. In the same manner, you don’t go out to the grape vines and pick figs, nor collect olives off of a fig tree.
What God has created has a purpose. The tongue was created by God and has a purpose too. When used for its purpose God receives Glory. Things that are good to do with the tongue are praise God, bless others, encourage others and speak words of grace seasoned with salt. Speaking truth in love is what we are supposed to do. We are to speak in the name of the Lord, speak forth the oracles of God.
When things are not used for the purpose God made them problem result. In the case of the tongue, we have corrupted it’s purpose. We ought not to turn what God has meant to be used for good into a tool for tearing people down: Gossips, slanders, curses, words that tear down and don’t build up. Paul tells us
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Col 3:8-9)
Question: Since James started out this chapter by talking about teachers, how does this section of tongue use apply to them?
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (Jas 3:5)
We all remember the song we learned or taught to kids in Sunday School. “oh be careful little hands what you do” and one of those verses says “Oh, be careful little mouth, what you say!” This verse may well have been inspired by this section in James!
So James has just explained how the small rudder or small bridle is able to control such force of strength in the horse or the wind, allowing the driver to go in the direction that he wants to go. I think it would be worth putting out the thought that we are all heading in some direction. It could be Heaven, it could be Hell or it could be ‘in circles’. (which is the same thing as NOT heading toward Heaven). James says the tongue is a big part of that direction.
It is small and, really, it is. While other parts of our body are easily seen, the tongue hides away. Unless one opens his mouth, it doesn’t say anything. However, it can say so many things and as James points out, it boasts of great things. I understand this use of the word ‘tongue’ to refer to what we say, how we speak, and really that all gets back to our heart because the mouth speaks what is in the heart. (Mt 15:18) James wants to warn them of the trouble you get into by boasting. Prov 21:23 says “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble”
Great boasters of the Bible would include Lamech (Gen 4), Goliath (I sam 17), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 6), Jezebel (I kings 19), Haman (Esther), Korah (Num 16) and who can forget the little horn of Daniel 7 or Rev 13? Indeed, we can point to sinners and rebellious ones who turn their backs on God, boasting in their own abilities but what about those other great boasters!
Peter (Mt 26:33), Samson (Judges 16:20), Jephthah (Judges 11:30), and Moses (Num 20:10) represent the other side of the equation, using their mouth to promise things or say things that they had no ability to fulfill. These, who would be followers of God and were men of faith, (all of them are mentioned in Hebrews 11-the faith all of fame) yet their tongue got them into trouble and brought misery into their life. Moses, in particular, was denied entrance into the promised land. Ouch!
“I am a great teacher” some may be tempted to say. Others boast in those who they follow. (I cor 1) Some boast in the future (James will talk about his later) saying “I will be profitable”. Some boasted that they had faith (James 2:18) All of these things are vanity and puffing up your own self.
Boasting in the things which you say you have, or which you say you can do, or will do, or even did do is truly a vanity. James has already said in Chapter one that the poor should boast in their exaltation (not that it is of themselves but of the Lord) and the rich should boast in their humiliation (because only the humble rich man will ever see Heaven. Knowing that your riches don’t count is a big step). And Paul exemplifies this principle of not boasting in vain things when he says that he forgets what is behind and presses forward, being too busy reaching the prize in Jesus to boast of his own accomplishments.
In applying this, we can once again go back to chapter one and this time, verse 19 “let a man be quick to hear and slow to speak…”
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. (Jas 3:2-4)
Have you ever just been walking along and suddenly you seem to have tripped over air? It can be embarrassing to say the least. You look around and hope no one saw, or if they did that they may have a courtesy to not say anything (i.e. laugh out loud). Slips like that will happen from time to time and we are often left wondering why it happened.
When it comes to the tongue, those trips “over air” can be a bit more damaging. While I am not a horse rider or a boat navigator, the analogy that James uses should be easy to understand: Horses and boats are both large and yet they are controlled by a driver. The strength of a horse, the strength of the winds which move the boat can be brought under control of the driver by use of a bridle or rudder. When brought under control, the horse or boat can be moved in the direction that the driver wishes to go.
The tongue of a man is a very small instrument too. Yet, it is able to drive a person in many different directions. Control of the tongue is always a good thing. In fact, even a fool who doesn’t speak will be thought to be wise, Solomon tells us. How many politicians have been brought low by the use of the tongue? A comment that was made which reveals the candidates heart will sometimes cost a campaign.
Jesus said that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. (Matthew 15:18) To me, this means that when a person makes jokes that are inappropriate, crude language, snide remarks, criticisms that are unkind, judgments that are unrighteous, what they are revealing is their heart. These are the things that defile a man.
To defile something is to make it unholy, stain it, reduce its value, or make it unclean. The last time we saw “defile” it was back at the end of chapter one. Again, the context was the tongue and a clear implication is that the unbridled tongue will not result in undefiled religion; rather it will reveal the defilements for all to see.
No wonder James doesn’t want many of us to be teachers!
Look at the charge that was given to Timothy. Paul says:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1Ti 1:3-7)
Notice how much the tongue is in use here. Some of it is for Timothy such as charging some not to teach a different doctrine. He will have to speak to tell them that. Most of the phrases that involve the togue are those that use it wongly: different doctrinces, vain discussions, confident assertions.
However, Timothy in his talking is aiming in a specific direction: Love. This implies to me that Timothy would have to have control over what he said, how he said it, and probably even when he said it in order to be sure that he arrived where he was supposed to be. As you read the letter to the young evangelist, you will see many opportunities for Timothy’s tongue to be used and need for its control.
As I said in a previous post we need to treat our tongues like a horse, bridle it!
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Even though we are looking at this book slowly, one verse or two at a time, the larger context cannot be forgotten. In the book of James, this is not the first time, nor that last, that he counsels on the speech of a Christian. Here, it is very definite, that he is taking seriously the connection between what a person says and the worth of his religion. A person can THINK that he is religious and still have that religion be worthless based on how he speaks.
In Matthew 6, Jesus said that the prayers (speaking) of the Pharisees were of no value in their relationship to God. In fact, one parable (Luke 18) in the NKJV the Pharisee is said to pray ‘thus with himself” and while the context means that he was standing off by himself, the joining of those words can leave the impression that he prayed by himself, to himself and not really to God. Worthless speech indeed. He also in Matthew 6 warns against empty phrases or vain repetitions which the Gentiles use.
James talks about an unbridled tongue and if you look back to the preceding verses we again might see some examples of when a tongue needs to be bridled:
- Asking of God, but in faith, according to His will v5
- Poor brothers who need to boast in exhalation v9
- Rich brothers who need to boast in humiliation v10
- During temptations-so that he doesn’t say “I am tempted by God” v13
- As he hears the word that can save his soul-so that he doesn’t erupt in anger v 19
In addition to the previous verses in which speech is indicated or implied, James will have much more to say on the use of the tongue starting in chapter 3.
We see then, that while James has illustrated in verses 22-25 that actions (hearing with the doing) are important, speech is equally so. We might not think of speech as important but it is also type of action. A person’s speech can invalidate his religion. Again, James says “do not be deceived” and isn’t that just the way with us. We fall so easily into a ‘that’s not so bad’ mentality.
This has to go beyond taking the Lord’s name in vain. Or, maybe we don’t understand what a vain use of God’s name is. We all recognize that profanity with the name of the Lord is wrong. However, I would suggest to you that calling out to God in an unserious way is just as bad. I refer, of course, to those who, in their excitement use ‘God’ as if it some expression of Joy.
While it could be an expression of joy (cf Jn. 20:28), it is not the meaning given when someone shouts out “Oh my–” or abbreviates it “OM-!” in a text message.
Bridling the tongue in both sad times and joyous times is still an essential part of the Christian life. While we DO things that let our faith shine forth, we also need to SPEAK in a way that lets our faith shine forth. Hebrews 11:14 says that there is a speech that let’s people know we belong to the world above. I would also suggest that “Lord willing” is a good phrase that should grace the Christian’s tongue quiet often.
Let us not speak lies or half-truths, let us be kind in our words and not cutting with clever phrases. Let there be no filthiness or foolish talking, or crude jokes, or innuendos but rather let there thanksgiving. (see Eph 5:1-6) I once had a roommate who, while professing to be a Christian (God knows if he was) insisted in using what he called ‘Man language’ (as opposed to the innocent language of boys). I reject that premise. I think James would too.
Cursing men and praising God with the same tongue? My brethren, these things ought not to be so.