Even if a person is saved, they still sin. The Apostle John taught this biblical truth when he wrote 1 John 1:8 (NASB95):
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Unfortunately, Satan preys on the sin nature of a believer, and one way he does this is through gossip in the church. What is “gossip” according to the Bible?
WHAT IS “GOSSIP” ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE?
The easiest way to learn about gossip is to check out an exhaustive concordance. After consulting a NASB95 exhaustive concordance[i], I discovered six passages in the New Testament that contain the English words “gossip” or “gossips.” These usages are below.
In 2 Corinthians 12:20 (NASB95), Paul listed a number of bad actions including “gossip:”
20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;
The NASB95 translates the Greek noun psithyrismoi as “gossip.” According to one popular Greek-English lexicon[ii] it means:
providing harmful information about a person, often spoken in whispers or in low voice, with the implication that such information is not widely known and therefore should presumably be kept secret.
Paul characterized those engaged in depraved sexual conduct as “gossips” when he wrote Romans 1:26–32 (NASB95):
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
In v. 29, the NASB95 translates the Greek noun psithyristēs as “gossips.” Louw et al.[iii] defines psithyristēs to mean “one who habitually engages in gossip—‘gossiper.'”
In 1 Timothy 3:11 (NASB95), Paul admonished women not to be “malicious gossips:”
11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.
The NASB95 translates the Greek noun diabolus as “malicious gossips.” It means, “one who engages in slander—‘slanderer.’”[iv]
1 Timothy 5:11–16 (NASB95) for younger widows:
11 But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, 12 thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. 13 At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. 14 Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; 15 for some have already turned aside to follow Satan. 16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
The NASB95 translates the Greek noun phiyarus as “gossips.” According to Louw et al.[v], it means, “to talk nonsense,’ … one who talks nonsense, gossipy.’.”
Paul counseled Timothy about the last days when he wrote 2 Timothy 3:1–9 (NASB95):
1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
The expression “malicious gossips” is a part of a list of terrible characteristics. In v. 3, Paul used diabolus, which the NASB95 translates as “malicious gossips. Paul used diabolus in 1 Timothy 3:11.
In discussing older women, Paul again used diabolus (which the NASB95 translates as “malicious gossips”) in cautioning against gossip when he wrote Titus 2:3 (NASB95):
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,
One interesting point that emerges from this study is that the word diabolus is used thirty-seven times in the New Testament. The NASB95 translates most of those usages as “devil.” Three times the NASB95 translates diabolus as “malicious gossips.”
In an article “What is Gossip?”, John Piper defines “gossip” as follows[vi]:
So there is a negative spirit that is not helpful or loving or kind. There is an excessive interest in the busybody affairs of others. And then there is this pride. So here is the way I would define it, and I get part of this right out of the dictionary of the Greek term for this:
Derogatory information about someone that you have that is shared with others in a tone of confidentiality, that is not motivated by doing good to them, and that you are enjoying in a way that shows your heart is not humble.
Overall, it is a bad attribute if a person is any one of a psithyrismoi, a psithyristēs, a diabolus, or a phiyarus.
COMMON FORMS OF GOSSIP IN THE CHURCH
I’m confident we can think of many forms of gossip in the church. Let me highlight two common forms. First, the “prayer request” form is to say with a reverent voice, “please pray for brother so-and-so; I saw him coming out of the liquor store.” While praying for a believer with an alcohol issue is noble, is that the purpose of this request? Is coming out of a liquor store a sin? Possibly, coming out of a liquor store does not equate to becoming drunk. Is it possible that “brother so-and-so” purchased something for cooking purposes where all of the alcohol evaporates out of the food? Or, did “brother so-and-so” come out of the liquor store after dropping off a stack of Bibles for the store to distribute for free? Hmmm.
The “I’m concerned about the church” form is a popular way to gossip. Typically it comprises a meal of “roast elder” or “boiled Pastor” at Sunday lunch or a get together by a clique of “super saints” in the church. They wonder, “why did the so-and-so family leave the church? What did the elders do to make them mad?” Or the question, “so-and-so, gets on my nerves, how about you? Do they treat you the same terrible way?”
Usually, one common thread between these kinds of gossip is a lack of knowledge of all the relevant facts. However, it is amazing how knowing all of the relevant facts can defuse a situation.
GOSSIP IS DESTRUCTIVE
Gossip is gigantically destructive to a church body. Gossip causes schisms in the church body. Obviously, schisms are contrary to the concept of unity as taught by God’s Word. For example, Ephesians 4:1–6 (NASB95) teaches unity:
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT GENUINE CONCERNS IN THE CHURCH
In reality, there are situations in which one believer feels offended by another believer in the church. So, what is a person to do?
In the following article entitled “Rather Than Gossip, Follow Matthew 18:15-17,” we will look at the procedure in Matthew 18:15-17.
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[i] See Thomas, R. L., The Lockman Foundation. (1998). New American Standard exhaustive concordance of the Bible: updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.
[ii] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 434). New York: United Bible Societies.
[iii] Louw et al., supra at 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 434.
[iv] Louw et al., supra at 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 433.
[v] Louw et al., supra at 2nd edition, Vol. 1, p. 431.