WHAT IS GOSSIP?
Updated January 7, 2002 (first published June 5, 1999) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org) - Gossip is a great evil, and because of the corruption of the fallen human heart, it is a constant problem among men. The old Adamic nature delights in hearing and spreading gossip. Gossip is not something that is confined to old women. In fact, it is a great problem among independent Baptist preachers! I have often been amazed at the gossip that is spread by pastors and evangelists, and I must admit before the Lord that I have done some gossiping myself through the years.
Recently the rumor was spread around that a pastor friend of mine was getting a divorce. It was a total fabrication. Some years ago the rumor was spread among some preachers that a prominent fundamental Baptist pastor had murdered a man and had hid him in a bus barn. It was a total fabrication. I have heard many different rumors spread even about me. It is widely rumored that I am a Baptist Brider, for example, which is absolute nonsense. Other rumors have gone abroad that I correct the King James Bible, which also is absolute nonsense. Others have said that I believe the English Bible has replaced the Greek and Hebrew and that it is wrong to use lexicons or to do word studies, which is absolute nonsense. While we were attending a certain Baptist church, several preachers told me that the pastor at this church is a divorced man, yet it is not true. I could give many other examples of unfounded and hurtful gossip among fundamental Baptist preachers.
Though the word “gossip” does not appear in the Bible, the concept does. Gossip is described by the biblical words “backbiting,” “busybody,” “evil speaking,” “slander,” “talebearer,” and “tattler.” God’s people must guard themselves vigilantly against these sins. Gossip is extremely damaging. In fact, gossip can destroy a preacher’s effectiveness and can ruin an entire church.
WHAT GOSSIP IS NOT
It is very important, though, not to confuse gossip with legitimate Christian endeavors.
SPEAKING TRUTH TO PROPER PARTIES FOR A GODLY PURPOSE IS NOT GOSSIP. It is not wrong to share truthful things with those who have a right to such information.
For example, it was not gossip for the household of Chloe to tell Paul about the problems in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11). As the founder of that church, Paul had a right to know about those problems. It is not talebearing to talk to a pastor or Sunday School teacher or deacon about matters in church members’ lives that they should know about. It is not talebearing to talk to a father or mother about matters affecting their children.
It was not gossip or slander for Paul to remind Timothy that the Cretians had a poor national character which he described in such harsh-sounding terms as “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies” (Titus 1:12). What Paul said about the Cretians (quoting one of their own poets) was true, and his motive was not to hurt them but to help them (“that they may be sound in the faith” verse 13) and to further the work of Christ in Crete. It is not gossip or slander to speak the truth in love, regardless of how harsh the truth might sound.
It is not wrong for a Christian to warn another person about a serious problem in a church or organization, so long as the information is true and the motive is not to hurt but to help and warn. Often times I have warned people about serious problems with certain churches that I have known about. That is not gossip and it is not slander. Speaking the truth in love is not gossip.
QUESTIONING A PREACHER’S TEACHING IS NOT GOSSIP. It is also not wrong to question a pastor in a humble and godly manner and to test his teaching by the Scriptures. In fact, we have a responsibility before God to do that. That is not gossip and it is not wrong. Of course, we always must guard our spirits that we don’t become bitter and that we don’t develop a bad attitude and then try to hurt the pastor by spreading things around the church membership or community. We must also use wisdom about such matters. For example, it is not usually wise and proper to question a pastor publicly about some perceived error or problem. It is best handled in private, at least at first. That being said, the bottom line is that it is not wrong to question a pastor’s teaching. Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; and 1 Cor. 14:29 settle that. Pastors have much authority, but they are not popes and they are not to be followed blindly. Their authority is the Word of God, and if they veer from that they have no authority whatsoever and should be corrected. And yet many godly Christians have been branded as gossips and troublemakers when they have attempted to question something the preacher taught. All too many pastors have wrongly defined “gossip” in order to manipulate the church members and to make them fear to question anything he does. This is not right and does not create a wholesome New Testament church atmosphere. The pastor must remember that he not to lord it over God’s people. “Neither as being lords over Gods heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). According to this passage, the pastor needs to be more concerned about providing a godly example to the flock than lording it over them. This does not mean, of course, that the pastor does not have more authority than others in church. He does have authority (Heb. 13:7,17). What we are referring to here is the abuse of that authority. Even the Apostle Paul, who had greater authority than any pastor today, said, “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand” (2 Cor. 1:24).
WARNING OF SIN AND ERROR IS NOT GOSSIP. Marking false teachers and warning about compromisers is not gossip or slander. Paul warned of false teachers and compromisers by name no less than ten times in 1 and 2 Timothy alone. If a church leader publicly teaches error or commits a serious sin that would disqualify him or otherwise does something that people should be warned about, it is not gossip or slander for men of God to describe the problem publicly. I have often been charged with being a slanderer or a busybody when I have named men such as Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell or James Dobson and have warned about their errors. This is not slander, though. I have the right and responsibility as a preacher to mark those who depart from the Word of God. I do not have to get their permission to do so, and I do not have to approach them first. If their error is public and persistent, my responsibility is to warn of them publicly, just as Paul did in regard to Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17), Demas (2 Tim. 4:10), and Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14-15). Slander is spreading ill founded, untrue things about others with the intent to injure them.
ADMONISHING ONE ANOTHER IS NOT GOSSIP. Romans 15:14 says, “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” Christians have an obligation to admonish one another to serve the Lord. This involves watching over one another and exhorting one another about things that would hinder our walk with Christ (Heb. 3:13; 10:24,25). This ministry should not be confused with gossip. In some churches, though, this is exactly what happens. If a mature church member attempts to admonish and correct other church members, he or she can be labeled as a gossip and a troublemaker and a busybody in other men’s affairs. Admonishing others requires maturity and godliness (Rom. 15:14), but it is a legitimate duty of mature church members. It is not something that is to be left strictly to the pastor. Titus 2:3-5 describes how older women in the church are to teach and admonish younger women. I have known of churches, though, in which older women have gotten into trouble for attempting to exercise this ministry in a godly and scriptural manner. They were told that it was strictly up to the pastor to correct and disciple younger women about their personal lives and homes, but that is certainly not what the Bible says. There is a ministry of correction that is to be exercised by church members. I recall a situation in a church in which a young man was admonished by some mature church members to quit his job at a wicked movie theater for the sake of his own spiritual wellbeing and for the sake of other young people in the church who were watching his example. When he refused to follow this counsel and quit the church in a huff, those who admonished him from the Word of God were branded by some as the troublemakers. In fact, they were exercising the legitimate biblical ministry of admonition among church members. This example illustrates that it is crucial to make a distinction between the ministry of admonition and gossip.
WHAT GOSSIP IS
Gossip is TALEBEARING (Lev. 19:16; Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20-22) and BACKBITING (Psa. 15:3), which is talking to others about the intimate details of people’s lives for injurious purposes.
Gossip is SLANDER (Num. 14:36,37; 2 Sam. 19:27; Prov. 10:18; Jer. 9:4-6; Rom. 3:8), which is stating things about people that are false with the intent to harm them. For something to be slanderous, it must involve deceit and falsehood and an injurious motive. To tell someone that a certain pastor is divorced is not gossip if indeed that information is true, but to say that a certain pastor is divorced when it is not true is gossip. To spread rumors about someone in an attempt to hurt that person is wicked gossip. We must be extremely careful about passing along things that we hear. If there is any question whatsoever about the truthfulness of something, it is essential to verify it from someone who is in a position to know the matter.
Gossip is being a BUSYBODY (2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:15), which is meddling into the affairs of others when I have no legitimate reason to be involved.