There’s a fine line between a “prayer request” and “gossip.” You know what I’m talking about? It could happen in small group meetings, personal conversation, and after church in the lobby. It begins with oh-so-spiritual verbiage, but quickly degenerates into rank gossip. Here’s how.
Here’s a vocabulary word: spiritualize. My dictionary tells me that spiritualize means to “elevate to a spiritual level.” Partially true. I’m going to add something to that definition: To spiritualize is to “elevate to a spiritual level something that is not actually spiritual.” Like gossip. How do we spiritualize gossip? By saying it in the form of a prayer request.
It goes something like this, “Hey, I really would like to ask you to pray for Hank, the deacon.” Oh? “Well, I know that he’s just had some struggles, and we need to pray that he would do alright, so the Lord can really work with him.” Struggles? Really? Tell me more. “I think he and pastor are really at odds over some things. Then, I saw him–at least I think it was him–parked in front of a night club the other day. It definitely looked like his car.” Wow. That’s bad. “So we really need to lift him up before the Lord. So God can get a hold of his heart”
Somewhere amidst the pious-sounding “pray for Hank” and “lift him up before the Lord,” this prayer request has descended into gossip…into sin.
Gossip = Sin
Woah. Big claim here. Gossip equals sin? Sin? A bit strong, don’t you think?
If you call the Bible “strong,” than yes. It’s strong. But it’s true. This is not an intentional toe-stepping fest, but there are some applicable Bible verses that we need to remember. The Bible has every right to be in a discussion like this, so without further ado, consider several verses:
Romans 1:29-31 This verse places “gossip” right alongside other sins like murder and hating God: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
1 Timothy is a letter written to a young pastor. In it, Paul explains some potential problems and how to deal with them. In 1 Timothy 5:13 he describes people who are “gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” In case there is any question, a gossip is a person “saying what they should not.”
Proverbs tells us some important features about gossip. First, it “separates close friends” (16:28). I’ve seen this happen before. And, “without gossip a quarrel dies down” (26:22). Clearly, gossip is wrong, and having no gossip is good.
When Gossip Isn’t Gossip
Brief sidetrack for disclaimer. There are some times when sharing proprietary information from someone else just isn’t gossip. When your friend confides in you and says, “My husband is beating me,” that’s the time to take it to someone who can step in and make the situation better. That’s not the time to wonder about the ethics of sharing someone else’s confidential information. There are times where information should be shared with other people.
Gossip, like other sins, is so appealing. The Bible even admits this. Proverbs says, “the words of a gossip are like delicious morsels” (18:8; 26:22). You start to hear a bit, and you want to hear more. Talking about other people behind their backs–their faults, foibles, shortcomings, and funny stories–is enjoyable. But wrong. Take this approach to dealing with gossip.
- Confess your sin to God. If you have been gossiping, and gossiping is a sin, then it needs to be confessed. God will forgive you.
- Seek restitution with anyone whom you have harmed by gossip.
- Never say anything about anyone else that is not true, or is only suspicion or conjecture on your part.
- Never say anything about anyone else that you wouldn’t be willing to say to that person directly.
- If someone shares something confidential with you, do not share it with anyone else even if they haven’t explicitly told you that it is confidential. Don’t even share it as a prayer request.
- If you are unsure about whether or not you can share someone’s information with others, ask that person for permission before you say a word about him to anyone else.
Unfortunately, gossip has become one of those “acceptable” sins–the kind that is allowed to persist in church lobbies, among nursery workers, and in the Sunday School classes of our churches. But how much harm is gossip inflicting? What damage is it doing? We may never realize how harmful gossip is until we actually stamp it out of our lives, and see how God can move among a people who are not engaging in this sin.
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