Pr. 16:28 warns us, “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” If dishonesty creates conflict and whispering (slandering or evil speaking) can come between friends, I certainly don’t want any part in either of them. I would much rather have speech that is “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6) and follow Paul’s advice for the Ephesians: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). That sounds pretty straightforward, right? Just speak positive things, and everything will be peachy!
Not so fast…
If we are only supposed to speak positive things, then what was Jesus doing inMat. 23:13-36? In this passage, Christ openly and firmly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their evil practices, even being so blunt as to say, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessnessv. 28). That sounds pretty negative to me!
What is the difference between Christ’s rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees and “slander” as mentioned in 1 Pet. 2:1, which reminds us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander”? Notice what is grouped with “slander” in this verse: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy. Were these the motives behind Jesus’ criticisms? Look in Mat. 23:3 as Jesus instructed His disciples about the scribes and Pharisees: “so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” He then firmly rebuked the hypocritical leaders.
Clearly, Christ’s rebuke was not out of malice toward the Pharisees; it was out of love for the people He was teaching! Jesus’ rebuke, harsh though it was, “fit the occasion” and was motivated by love, not spite. In 2 Tim. 4:14-15, Paul warned Timothy about Alexander the coppersmith, and John warned Gaius about Diotrophes in3 Jn. 9-11. These warnings had similar motives to Jesus’ rebuke: they were not out of malice, but genuine concern.
But if speaking about others is not always bad, and whispering and gossip are sinful, where is the line? There must be a difference between “gossiping” and “informing.” Here are some things to consider before passing along the news you heard today:
Are my motives pure? Are there any underlying emotions (e.g. anger) that are fueling my desire to say this?
In several passages, negative emotions (bitterness, anger, malice, etc.) are connected to evil speaking. Before you “vent” to your friend about what someone did to you, examine your motives. If your words are fueled by bitterness or spite, hold them back! Remember, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Pr. 17:27).
Will my words build up?
Before leaning closer to your friend and whispering, “Did you hear…,” consider whether or not your words will build up your hearer (Eph. 4:29), as well as whether or not they would hurt the person you are talking about.
Is this my business?
Paul warns us not to be “gossips and busybodies” (1 Tim. 5:13). The widows he speaks of in this passage neglected their work to spread around news of others’ concerns. Before you speak, make sure that you are not following in their footsteps; don’t spread to others what is not in your rights to tell.
Gossip is not limited to the clichéd stereotypes of teenage girls during late-night conversations and permed old ladies in beauty shops clicking their tongues and saying, “bless her heart.” Check all of your words for gossip, because it is far more damaging than these stereotypes would make it seem.
Do what Christ did: say what needs to be said, but keep your motives and your speech pure.
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.”