Discerning between gossip and problem-solving

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“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

We’ve all done it. We’ve found ourselves caught up in conversations that we weren’t proud of, and someone else got hurt. Whether they knew it or not, their reputation had taken a hit, and the damage was done. Trying to undo that damage would be like trying to recover a basket of feathers thrown to the wind. If you’re like me, you may have found yourself asking, “Where does problem-solving end and gossip begin?” Or “How do I do life with ANYONE if I can’t discuss the problems at hand?” How do we discern the difference between problem-solving and gossip?  Here are some questions to ask yourself before talking negatively about someone:

Is what you are about to say true? Have you checked your “facts”? Is it possible that you might just think it’s true? Exodus 20:16 says, “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.” Remember, things are not always as they seem. Perception does not always equal facts. Unless we bring in the supposed offender being discussed to clarify facts, we may in fact be spreading lies about someone.

The second thing to consider before talking about someone is “What is my attitude toward the person I’m about to talk negatively about? Am I viewing him/her from a humble, loving attitude with a heart to restore? Or is my attitude one of pride, condescension, criticism, self-righteousness and division? If it’s the latter, repentance is called for before we go any further.

Another question to ask before saying something something negative about another person: “What effect will the information have upon the relationship between the person you are talking to and the one being discussed?” Will it damage that relationship? Will the information cause the person you are talking to think less of him/her? Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Sometimes issues still need to be discussed in order to bring resolution, but HOW we approach the issue is key.

The fourth question to ask yourself before speaking: “Is the person you are talking to part of the problem and/or part of the solution?” If restoration is our goal, we need to be strategic in who is brought into the discussion. If the person being brought into the equation is likely to just criticize or stir up dissension rather than facilitate a solution, it’s better not to speak.

Another question to ask yourself before speaking is:  “Am I accusing a Pastor or an elder? If so, caution is called for, and should only be done when there are two or three witnesses. 1 Timothy 5:19 says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.” If we are having secret meetings or conversations about our Pastor that we would be ashamed to have them hear, it’s a red flag.

The next question to ask yourself before talking about someone is: “Am I following the Biblical model for solving problems? Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony or two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen you them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Going to the offender as a practice also presses us to consider whether or not we are dealing with a real offense or not. Sometimes what we are feeling offended about is not legitimate. Sometimes it is. Following the Biblical model for problem solving also means that if we are going to discuss an issue, we discuss it with the person involved rather than everyone but him or her. Leviticus 19:17 says, “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.”

Another question to ask yourself before speaking is, “Would my silence result in someone else being exposed to unnecessary harm? An example of this would be found in 2 Timothy 4:4, where Paul warns his fellow believers about someone that could potentially harmful to them, “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.”

The next question to ask yourself before speaking is, “What is my motive?” Gossip and slander are often rooted in unforgiveness and revenge. Search your heart. If you have not forgiven the offender, go back to your prayer closet. Get rid of all anger and desire for revenge. THEN pray about what to do about the situation. If your motive is not reconciliation and restoration, you’re better off holding your tongue.

Another question to ask yourself before talking negatively about someone is: “Am I betraying anyone’s confidence?” Proverbs 25:9 says, “If you argue your case with a neighbor, do not betray another man’s confidence, or he who hears it may shame you and you will never lose your bad reputation.”  If we are trying to fortify our accusations against someone else by quoting others, there are a number of things to consider. It’s wise to slow down and really think about what we’re doing. It’s easy to think that we need the clout of a group of people who agree with us before addressing an issue. This mob-mentality is unnecessary at best. If an offense is legitimate, one person’s calling it out is the best place to consider starting. In the case of a Pastor or an Elder where two or three witnesses are needed, permission should be obtained before quoting anyone.

Things to consider when someone is gossiping to you:

You are responsible for your response. Proverbs 17:4 says, “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.” You have a choice to make: either cooperate with gossip or stand against it. If you are in a relationship with someone who has an on-going pattern of gossip, try to address the sin in a loving way with the truth in God’s word. Show them their sin with scripture. If they repent, awesome! You have won your brother over. If, however, they choose to continue on in the sin, continue on with the Biblical model for correction. Do what you need to do in order to discontinue partaking in the gossip. If he/she willfully continues in gossiping, scripture says, “A gossip betrays a confidence, so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Proverbs 20:19)

Another thing to consider when someone is gossiping to you is that listening to gossip will injure you. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Much the way we are affected for good or bad by the quality of food we put into our stomachs, we are also impacted by the quality of words we digest in our conversations. Proverbs 18:20 says, “From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.” It’s possible for us to come down with verbal “food poisoning.” What does that look like?

Verbal food poisoning looks like insecurity in the relationship. Everyone involved is exposed to it; they speaker, the listener and the person being gossiped about. Both the listener and the speaker sub-consciously reason, “if he/she will gossip about so-and-so, will they also gossip about me?

Verbal food-poisoning also looks like betrayal. Both parties are entering into a violation of the trust and confidence of the one(s) being discussed; because the person being gossiped about isn’t there to defend themselves, they are easy prey.

Verbal food-poisoning also looks like rejection and judgment. Both listener and speaker have presumed to displace God on the seat of judgment and have critically found the one being discussed unacceptable; guilty without a trial. James 4:11 says, “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” The key difference between simply discerning wrongdoing by another and judging in the way discussed here is when it is done from a condemning, self-righteous, critical vantage point.

Another thing to consider when someone attempts to share gossip with you is that gossip and slander DO NOT fix problems or heal painful memories. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Much like wood thrown into a fire causes the fire to grow, gossip causes conflicts to increase, not decrease. Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

Listening to gossip is often engaging in a conflict that is not yours to fight, and you’re likely to get bit. Proverbs 26:17 says, “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passerby who meddles in a quarrel not his own.”

Gossip and slander are not the harmless, acceptable sins that they are often seen as. Slander is listed among those sins that we as believers have been washed of when it says in 1 Corinthians 6, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral,…nor slanderers…will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.” Satan’s fingerprints are all over gossip. As a matter of fact, he is called the accuser of the brethren. It’s sobering to note that the root English word for “devil” can also be translated “malicious gossip. (see 1 Timothy 3:11 – Strong’s Exhaustive: #1228: Diablos)

If you have been the target of gossip and slander, you know how devastating that can feel. It can take time to heal from it, and it can be difficult to know just how to find that healing. If that’s you, consider these steps toward healing:

Acknowledge the pain. Being slandered does a lot of damage personally and in relationships. Proverbs 25:18 likens it to being beaten up: “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.”

Seek God for protection from slander. Psalm 64:2-4 says, “Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.”

Depend upon God to be your Defender. Scripture says that our honor depends on God. (Psalm 62:7). We’re not in this alone. God promises to help us when we call out to Him. Isaiah 19:20 says, “When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender and he will rescue them.” The key is remembering to ask God for help.

Ask God to heal your heart of any brokenheartedness or injury that came as a result of gossip. Restoration of our minds and emotions was one of the main reasons that Jesus went to the cross for us. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Another way to heal from the pain of gossip and live free is through forgiveness. Leviticus 19:17 says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” Forgiveness keeps us in right standing with God.

Let’s face it, a lot of the pain of gossip comes in the form of “friendly fire.” It comes not from the world, but from those in our families and in the church who should be protecting us. We’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another. The good news is that the blood of Jesus is enough for us when we sincerely repent. God will help us to disengage from gossip when we ask Him to.  Let’s press on to love one another well, being mindful of what comes out of our mouths, because our words matter. May the words of our mouths be pleasing in God’s sight…

 

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