You know the look of gossip. It’s the eyes looking around to make sure no one is listening. It’s the stifled laughter. It’s the slightly smug expression of being on the inside. You know the look – and you probably know the feeling, too. And it feels good.
What’s more, gossip feels like a victimless crime. In light of all the things you might be doing, this is comparatively innocent – just talking a bit about one person or another. And yet gossip is included, among other places, in Paul’s introductory chapter to the book of Romans. This is the same chapter in which he starts to lay out his argument about the universal nature of sin, when he argues that we all have denied God His glory and willingly given ourselves over to the pursuit of the flesh. When he comes to start fleshing out the specific ways that happens, “gossip” makes an appearance next to what we would consider much worse sins:
“They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful” (Rom. 1:29-31).
There it is. Our innocent little words right up next to murder, malice, and hating God. We might wonder why because, after all, it’s just a “little” sin. Right?
This is the way we treat our words in large part, failing many times to recognize either the life-giving or the destructive power they have. We consistently underestimate the power our words have either for good or for evil. What’s more, we fail to recognize the truth that our words are a reflection of our hearts, and therefore a misuse of our language is representative of something deeper going haywire inside of us. There are certain things that our desire to gossip reveals about us at a deeper level:
1. Our failure to display gospel fruit in relationships.
Love of God and love of others are inseparably linked in Scripture. As we grow in our love for God, becoming all the while of the extent of His love for us, one of the necessary outflows of that growth is a growing love for other people. Scripture goes so far as to say that if we claim to love God and yet hate our brother then we are a liar (1 John 4:20).
By its very nature gossip is the tearing down of another. If we have this desire in us, then it reveals that we are not showing the fruit of our own understanding of the gospel, for that understanding is displayed in the way we view other people.
2. Our lack of personal security in the gospel.
Why does gossip feel so good? It makes us feel good because we’re not the one being gossiped about. Even better, it makes us feel good because we are cool enough, popular enough, and accepted enough to be on the inside of the gossip rather than on the outside looking in. So when we desire this feeling, the feeling of being on the inside, and are willing to use other people in order to give us that feeling, it reveals that our true personal security is coming from somewhere else other than our acceptance in Christ. Our gossip is a signpost to our own insecurity.
3. Our overwhelming need to be entertained.
Our desire for gossip also betrays that we are an entertainment driven people. We want food, leisure activities, and yes, people, for our own enjoyment. We crave entertainment. We need entertainment. And as long as we are amused, it doesn’t matter if that entertainment comes at the expense of other people. So great is this compulsion that we rarely even consider who is being victimized as a result – as long as we have that momentary sense of pleasure.
4. Our misunderstanding of true community.
It’s ironic that gossip makes us feel good because it makes us feel like we are part of the inside of a club. In actuality, our need for gossip shows how deep our corruption of and misunderstanding of community really is. God has given us the gift of each other so that we might help each other in our citizenship of heaven; we have each other to help each other follow Jesus. So when we instead use that gift of community to pull each other down, we reveal just how deeply we truly need one another… and how far we have to go in understanding the nature of what friendship really is.
What can we do? We who have that longing to be on the inside? We who delight in the misfortune of others? We who are willing to use someone else for our own entertainment, even for a moment? We can fall on the gospel of Jesus again and again. And in that gospel message, we are reminded that Jesus died for us. He did not use us. He did not talk about us behind our backs. He gave His life for our own. And in remembering that, we can be renewed in our call to do the same for our brothers and sisters.