Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
What is Gossip?
Updated March 4, 2015 (first published June 5, 1999)
Gossip is a great evil, and because of the corruption of the fallen human heart, it is a great problem. 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.
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 things, such as the following:
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 strong 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 Jesus Christ in Crete.
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 in certain churches. I have done it privately and publicly. That is not gossip and it is not slander.
Speaking the truth for the sake of God’s glory is not gossip.
QUESTIONING A PREACHER’S TEACHING IS NOT GOSSIP.
It is also not wrong to test his teaching by the Scriptures and to question a pastor in a humble and godly manner. In fact, we have a responsibility before God to do this. That is not gossip and it is not wrong. Of course, I must always guard my spirit that I don’t become bitter and that I don’t develop a bad attitude and then try to hurt the pastor by spreading things around the church membership or community.
And I 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.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Th. 5:21).
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Cor. 14:29).
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 and should be corrected.
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 misused the term “gossip” to manipulate the church members and make them hesitate 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, it is not gossip or slander for men of God to warn about the issue 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 error. This is not slander. 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). Paul did this in epistles that were intended for distribution to all of the churches.
Slander is spreading ill-founded, untrue things about others with the intent to injure them.
ADMONISHING ONE ANOTHER IS NOT GOSSIP.
“But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Christians have an obligation to admonish one another. This involves watching over one another and exhorting one another about things that would hinder our walk with Christ. 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 a gossip and troublemaker.
Admonishing others requires maturity and godliness.
“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” (Rom. 15:14).
But admonition is a legitimate ministry 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 godly older women have gotten into trouble for exercising this ministry in a spiritual and scriptural manner. They were told that it is solely for to the pastor to correct and disciple younger women, but that is 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 being influenced by 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 as the troublemakers. In fact, they were exercising the legitimate biblical ministry of admonition.
We must be careful to make a distinction between the sin of gossip and the ministry of admonition.
WHAT GOSSIP IS
Gossip is TALEBEARING (Lev. 19:16; Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20-22).
Gossip is 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 saying things about people that are false with the intent to harm them. For something to be slanderous, it must involve 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 and evil speaking. 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 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 The. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:15), which is meddling in the affairs of others when I have no legitimate reason to be involved.