Those for whom Christ died are precious to Him. He has offered His own life for their redemption and has given them the promise of sharing in His glorious resurrection on the Day of His coming. So when division and strife are found unchecked in the local church, it is not just a sad day in the life of a people, it is an occasion that Christ hates. Thankfully, He has given His people all they need to be free of divided hearts and the grace to be reconciled if they ever find themselves in such a place.
Of all the sins that could plague the local assembly, none are more heinous than gossip. Gossip means ‘whisper’, in the Greek the word ψιθυρισμός, [Gal 2:20] even sounds sinister. Pronounced “psithurismos”, it is also used to describe the subtle murmuring and chants of a snake charmer. It denotes silent slander or private accusation toward someone and it is found in scripture to be listed among some of the vilest sins, even to the point that those who practice such have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God. While lying is certainly a form of gossip, what about speaking what is true? What happens if we “think” something is going on with someone else, is it gossip when we get counsel? What other instances are considered gossip in the church? Let’s consider a few of them.
These are the small and subtle thoughts that plague the mind and end up on the tongue, text, private meetings, phone call,s etc. Even when prayer is the central motivation, the details and names of people are off the table. Yes, prayer meetings are often the largest gossip session in the church. There are discussions about someone else without them being present. When the subject of any sin, rebuke, or testimony is not the first and only to be informed, the one speaking on the matter is doing the work of Satan. Talking ‘around’ the subject of a conversation, concern or critique is one of the largest attacks that the enemy uses to destroy the intimacy of the church. If the local body would adhere to the word of God, they would find that anyone who participates in such practices in either the capacity of the voice or the ear, should be brought publicly to the church immediately. Public warning of division, which includes quiet murmurs, is found in many New Testament epistles. The general prescription is that if they do it after the second warning, they should be excommunicated from the church. Bear in mind that oftentimes, this type of gossip is first done in ignorance with good intentions, but it needs to be corrected so that the church is protected from the deceit of the enemy.
These could look much like the above practices but with the intention of making problems or sin known to others. Secret attacks against another sibling in Christ are actually an attack on Jesus directly. It is birthed from a desire to make sure everyone “knows” about the sinner among us, or worse, that there is someone that is not living as they “say” they are living. It only takes a few days for this type of thing to get out of control and cause serious damage to the unity of the church. Not only is it demonic, but it is also intended to do damage. This is often seen in the local church when someone doesn’t feel right about something and begins to keep tabs, make judgments, and then spread such things. For example, they see a sister always coming in late to service, leaving quickly afterward, and not engaging. They will begin to watch this person intently, each week, and make notes of her actions. Then they will assume that the sister is in sin because she is not setting the example of timeliness and in their judgment have decided that such should be dealt with, after all, this person teaches a bible study on Thursdays. So they begin to call, talk, pray for and make it known that this teacher should be called out for her lack of holiness. What the person doesn’t know, is that the devil has snared them. How? First, the devil has made them notice this, not God the Spirit. Second, their judgment is evidence of their heart: they have a problem, not a solution. Third, their intention is not even for the joy of their sister, but for her pain and correction. Fourth, they fail to know that their judgment is bearing false witness because they don’t even know the truth of this person’s medical condition, schedule, or the fact that she prays with the leaders before and after church. And quite frankly, it is none of their business. Busybodies are also murderers in the church. That’s another post.
The causes of these offenses in the heart of a believer are difficult to discern but there are some things that actually are the seed of the sin of gossip. An immature believer who isn’t living in subjection to the word of God is typically very conflicted and oftentimes tossed around like a leaf in the wind, not knowing what to do or how to do it. They usually pray for God to give them hope and guidance, but they rarely obey the basics of the new life: such as being committed to the body in gathering, prayer, and learning of the Word. This type of Christian easily finds fault with others. They misunderstand that love covers a multitude of sins and they feel slighted if they find sin in the lives of others. By harping on such things, they become snared as stated above, and it becomes one of their greatest hangups. In reality, they forget the forest of logs in their own eyes and succumb to being spiritual police rather than spiritual siblings in need of Grace. This type of person doesn’t always gossip, but if they are left in this state, they will tell someone why they feel burdened: this is gossip. They forget that they don’t have the role or authority to deal with the sin in others’ lives because they have plenty of their own. This is the prescription, sin must be dealt with in one’s own life before he or she can move on to someone else. Even then, there is a clear prescription to only deal with sin that is directed toward them. Jesus says, “When someone sins AGAINST YOU.” Observing failings and sins that do not lead to death are to be prayed about, quietly and with all fear lest the temptation grabs the observer. (1 John 5) The full reality of such things is a self-righteous heart. Let’s be reminded of the fact that this is a sign of spiritual ignorance. But it cannot remain.
Generally, these types of matters go unnoticed among the congregants of the church for decades. And while it causes division in small pockets and between families, an unbiblical church doesn’t deal with it and in a matter of time, the subject of such evil will be the pastors of the church. Satan has a wide chest of tools. Some of the most deadly are those who discuss the pastor in secret. 1 Timothy 5:19 says that accusations against a pastor should be done only with two or three witnesses. It may also be wise to yield to the structure of the letter in that it was written to an elder, thus any accusations brought public for an elder should really be through the plurality of elders. This is to guard the church against continued attempts of the devil to destroy the life and ministry of the pastor. It is good to remember also that general life matters and personal offenses fall under the mandate of Matthew 18:15-20, and a pastor is treated as a brother. Anyone who speaks of a problem with the pastor and anyone who receives a complaint before the pastor is aware of it has fallen into the sin of gossip and should be brought under correction. When a pastor is confronted and does not repent, the church should be told and just like any other member, if he repents, everyone rejoices, if he doesn’t, then he is removed from the church through ex-communication. A pastor should not be confronted about every little thing unless it is absolutely obvious that he is living in continued, unrepentant sin.
Log Blocked Pet Peeves
In life, there are many things that bother us. There is certainly a list of things that cause grief, anger, frustration, etc. but these things are not necessarily sinful. For instance, we can get annoyed at someone’s personality, but it doesn’t make that person guilty of sin. When gossip is dissected, often it can be found to be over a pet peeve, not a sin. That makes it all the more egregious, that one would spread whispers and discord on something that is not even worth discussing. We have to take a very close look at what we see (and remember that we are not to peer into each other’s lives to find problems) and discern if that person is committing sin generally or sinning against us. If others are sinning generally, it is a wise and loving thing to inquire and be an encourager with hopes to bring joy into their lives, not hurting them and making them act the way we feel they should. What would it feel like if every time we missed church we were called and rebuked because it is a sin? What if every time we asked for prayer because we were fearful, those around us rebuked us and called out our unbelief? What if every time our children didn’t pay attention in church the elders brought us in to discuss our failed parenting? What about being asked daily if we prayed? What about service to others? What about submission to our husbands, loving our wives, laboring for our neighbors, and keeping our minds and lives pure? What would happen if with every soda we drank someone reminded us of the body being the temple? What about our love for pagan holidays, or nice clothes, etc. that continually brought spiritual FBI enforcement to our door? Who is the measure of modesty? After all, the word means to draw attention. Sometimes the greatest of jewelry is immodest. Get the point? One’s own view of holiness that is not prescribed in scripture is never to be pushed on someone else. And the failure of others to live the way we feel we should in our convictions is not sinful before the Lord. These are personal preferences and pet peeves that have no place in the gracious economy of the church. Love does not keep a record of wrong, it forgives and when it sees the same thing a little later, it calls it the first offense. There are many people looking for a body that looks just like they do, and in the end, they are miserable because, in their attempt to make everyone righteous in their own eyes, they have become alone and isolated. So when small annoyances are there, even small failings and sins, we are to leave them be, not always be on the prowl to make sure everyone gets the specks from their eyes. It should also be said that someone “stumbling” has nothing to do with their views on things, but rather the fact that it causes sinful lusts or desires against a conviction. We give up liberties for the sake of our weaker siblings, but at the same time, we teach them to grow up and mature in Christ, because there is always a long line of devilish carrots hanging before the lives of men.
Gossips breed the fruit of all things unholy and suffer the church greatly. Here are just a few things that gossip causes.
When the church hears what they’ve never heard relating to someone else, the devil uses this information to cause distress and suspicion against people. It causes fear that something must be done and causes animosity with those who don’t see things in the same light. Suspicion multiplies like cancer among the whole of the church and then people are pitted against each other and families against themselves. Truth should be open, kind, humble, and often. Not hidden behind assumptions and whispers until the “time is right.”
Proverbs 6:9 reveals that a false witness is one who lies and also one who sows discord. The spirit of even calling out true sin as found in Matthew 18, is never to do harm or to expel one’s self from the ‘wickedness’ but to bring encouragement, life, and liberty from the offense. The motives are usually fleshly when things do not go as prescribed in scripture.
Hebrews 13:17 says, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (ESV) A pastor that is continually trying to live up to a life that even the greatest of Christians cannot obtain is a pastor that is dead in his spirit and grieved, unable to have joy. It is also not profitable for a church member who gossips or receives gossip because their heart is bent against obeying what is taught, thus they live in dishonorable rebellion against God because they feel they cannot sit under a man’s teaching who isn’t perfect.
Long after the gossip has gone and resolved their problems, they leave a scarred remnant who has never gotten through it. They leave the dried seeds of Satan to be watered down the line to give birth to more dissension, bitterness, suspicion, and harm. This church is all but dead and nothing will revive it again except discipline through the word of God. Often times a congregation has to just flush all members and start the process over so that only those willing to yield to Christ with evidence of humility and submission are allowed to stay. Let’s leave gossip at home, let’s not be spiritual police, and let’s realize what is a sin and what is a life of sin.
Rest well beloved,