“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” ~Proverbs 11:13
“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” ~Proverbs 20:19
“For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down…The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” ~Proverbs 26:20, 22
I was taught as a child not to associate with strangers. Later, in my budding years as a Christian, I was told not to closely associate with false teachers and unrepentant sinners. But it was only after marrying a prudent woman of God that I was warned not to associate with gossips. For her wisdom I thank the Lord everyday.
Scripture says, after all, to love all but never to associate with all. The Scripture says to do good to all, but to walk closely with a select few. But this particular dissociation with the gossiper wasn’t always mentioned or stressed in the Christian circles of which I’ve been a part. Perhaps it was because gossip is sometimes difficult to identify. But perhaps, it’s also because gossip is naturally hard to both avoid or abstain from.
Before gossip can be avoided, it must be identified. And before it can be identified, it must be defined. Gossip is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Gossip is more than just speaking ill of others or revealing the most private of information. Proverbs 20:19 defines a gossip as one who habitually reveals information, period. There’s a difference between testifying truthfully about a situation or person and spreading information about a person in an unsolicited or unwarranted manner. Gossipers are those who inherently have very little – if any – respect for the privacy of people and their lives. To them, information gathered is information to be dispensed. There habitually spread the details of peoples lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the neutral – over the community like butter over bread, using the very butter knife of their tongue. While they are not always malicious (engaging in gossip does not always necessitate evil intent), they simply like to be in the know and make known. You know a gossiper by the sheer amount of time he or she spends talking to people about people. They have a natural instinct to expose, rather than protect, the details of the lives of the people around them.
Gossipers make an easy living in this world because people are naturally curious about people. It’s not surprising that tabloid magazines never go out of print, for the the human flesh naturally finds gossip delectable (Proverbs 18:8). You’d expect the circulation of such behavior in the world, but it’s more unfortunate when it is both present and cultivated in the church. I have personally been a part of church circles and church affinity groups in which gossip was simply the currency of the fellowship. Such behavior caused a considerable amount of pain and grief for both me and my wife, and we have since learned to be careful with the people with whom we choose to confide and spend time.
Thus, I’ve learned to identify the gossip given the definition above. They’re actually not difficult to spot, as they are often revealed by two things: 1) what they tell you about others 2) the kind of question they ask about you. A gossip will habitually tell me things about people that I have honestly no business knowing and that I didn’t ask about. The information they share about people are neither purposeful or encouraging. Gossips, without your inquiry, will tell you what Bruce likes to eat for dinner, the marriage problems and Mike and Shelly are experiencing, the after-school activities that Katie takes her kids to, how Aaron asked Amber out but was rejected, and how Wes is not going to Cornerstone Bible Church. Conversely, gossips will also ask you questions that are “probing.” – not because they themselves are trying to get to know you or learn from you, but because they need some currency to spend. I can identify a gossip when there is a disproportion between their level of closeness to me and the things that they inquire about me, my family, and my ministry. I find it particularly sad when close friends learn about the particulars of my life from individuals with whom I rarely interact, but it happens.
Once identified, the Scriptures are explicit: “Do not associate with a gossip” says Proverbs 20:19. Gossipers are not to be hated or mistreated or slandered. But they are not to be associated with. They are not spend considerable amount of time with. They are not to be confided in. They are not to be walked closely with. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about playing wisely. If you desire to navigate through this side of eternity skillfully in such a way that maximizes your involvement in the furtherance of the kingdom and your influence in the disciple-making process for the glory of Christ, the relational sphere in which you integrate yourself matters dearly. That means who you walk with and who you avoid are no minor issues. So stay away from those people who make a living by telling you about others and telling others about you. You life and ministry will be richly blessed should you do so.