The Lord Jesus taught us that all of the words we speak, good and bad, flow up and out from the abundance of good or evil stored in our hearts (Matthew 12:33–37). The same is true for why we want to listen to gossip. Like calls to like. We are attracted to evil because of evil already inside of us (Proverbs 17:4, Matthew 15:18–19).
ou don’t want to be a gossip. There is no upside to being one. Gossips hurt neighbors, divide friends, and damage reputations and relationships. The Bible labels gossips as untrustworthy and meddlesome (Proverbs 11:13; 20:19; 26:20; 1 Timothy 5:13) — and even as worthy of death (Romans 1:29, 32). At your best in Christ, you don’t want to be one.
All too often, however, you and I do want to gossip. Gossiping can be fun and addictive and provide a short burst of guilty pleasure. The book of Proverbs likens the words of a gossip to “delicious morsels,” a tasty treat that promises delight to those who indulge (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22). We get bored and want to entertain ourselves by snacking on the shameful stories of other people’s lives. Or we get proud that we know something that someone else doesn’t and want to show off our inside scoop. Or we get mad and crave the satisfaction of character assassination from afar, sniping at our enemies when they don’t even know they’re in danger. Gossip can be hard to resist.
But gossip isn’t just hard to resist; it’s hard to define. We don’t always know when we’re being a gossip. It slips into our conversations, and its definition slips by us. So, what exactly makes gossip gossip? We need some handholds.
What Is Gossip?
The Scriptures do not provide a definition of gossip in one location. Instead, they describe gossip in action and intimately tie it to the character of the people participating in this tantalizing sin. The Bible often uses the word gossip to describe a kind of person more than just a pattern of communication.
My way of summarizing the Bible’s teaching on this topic is to say that the sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart. This functional definition considers the action itself, the content of the corrupt communication, the situation in which it occurs, and perhaps most importantly, the motivations of the people involved.
Bearing Bad News
Gossip is the opposite of the gospel. In the mouth and the ear of a gossip is a morsel of bad news, not the good news. This bad news — a story of someone else’s sin or shame — can be bad in at least two ways.
Bad information. The story may be false, and if you know that beforehand, then spreading it is not just gossip but slander (Leviticus 19:16; Psalm 15:3; Proverbs 19:5). Or you might only think the story is true (perhaps without good reason), but it turns out to be wrong — hearsay, a rumor, a half-truth (Proverbs 18:13, 17).
Bad news about someone. You might have been taught that “if it’s true, it’s not gossip.” But needlessly sharing shameful truth about someone else can be gossip. One biblical phrase for this kind of speech is “a bad report,” such as what Joseph brought against his brothers (Genesis 37:2). Just because someone actually did something wrong does not mean that we need to, or get to, talk about it with others.
Other times, we might spread a wicked story of what might soon happen to someone else. One time when King David was sick, his enemies acted concerned when they visited him but then secretly celebrated his projected downfall and spread the story that he was about to die (Psalm 41:5–8). That was gossip too.
So, in the back of your mind, when any conversation begins to steer toward the topic of other people, you can ask yourself, “Is this story true? How do I know?” “Is this story mine to tell? Is it his to tell me?” “Is this story bad news?”