Q: Is it wrong to gossip?

A little bird told me . . .

The colloquial saying goes: “If you can’t say something nice about people . . . come sit right here by me!” We all know the pulse-quickening feeling that comes when a friend pops by your cubicle and chortles: “Have you heard the latest about so-and-so? This time they’ve really done it!” We witness how cable news endlessly loops the same colorful YouTube clips, obsessing over trivia, and which public figure said or did something which was gossip-worthy – while important national issues and needs go ignored.

It’s perversely enjoyable to gossip about others and tear them down, and yet the Bible describes it as a sinful, destructive habit. King Solomon grew up in a palace where intrigue and gossip were the established order of the day; notice his inspired warnings in Proverbs. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret (11:13). A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends (16:28).

The fledgling Christian church struggled mightily with this temptation – and of course, Satan was very eager to destroy God’s family of believers with turmoil and dissension. Paul writes to his Christian friends in Corinth: I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be . . . I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder (12:20). He worries to his young friend Timothy about “tattlers and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” The newly baptized members in Ephesus had the same habits. Each of you must put off falsehood, Paul writes, and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (4:25-32).

When we gossip, we’re actually denying one of the most powerful realities of the Christian faith: that we are all equal before God, all equally in need of a Savior. Gossip is nearly always an emotional attempt to make ourselves feel better about our own goodness – at the expense of someone else. It becomes an enjoyable pastime because it reinforces our own status as above that certain fallen brother. Someone once quipped: “To hold a grudge is to have a purpose in life!” No wonder Solomon, despite his warnings, concedes the obvious: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts (Prov. 18:8).

In one of his clearest moments of teaching ministry, Jesus tells us exactly what we should do if we have some burning issue of resentment against someone else in our life. Instead of chattering to everyone on your block or posting an anonymous blog, do this instead. “If your brother sins against you,” he says in Matthew 18, “go and show HIM his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’ (Deut. 19:15). If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan.”

The SPCA notwithstanding, we clearly need to kill “the little bird” that resides within each of us.