Many years ago, I participated in a large, sophisticated neighborhood babysitting co-op. We had officers, regular meetings, even occasional socials. Everyone was pleasant—everyone got along.
Then one day, our co-op changed. Someone hinted that a few members were misusing it—dropping off their feverish, green-snotted kids when they shouldn't have, taking advantage of others' availability without repaying in kind. Suddenly, factions formed. Innuendoes spread. Knots of neighbors gossiped in hushed tones while standing on driveways or sitting on decks. A once-friendly network found itself deeply, emotionally divided. Women who once were chums no longer stopped by and chatted or drove by and waved.
The apostle James calls the tongue "a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" (James 2:6). I saw firsthand how tongues inflamed and corrupted relationships within my suburban subdivision that year.
Thankfully, I was more bystander than perpetrator in this particular relational meltdown. But I haven't always been innocent when it comes to gossip.
One case stands out in my mind: While attending a two-day retreat with a friend, she and I shared a hotel room. That night, we started gabbing about ourselves, our jobs, our churches. Soon we were on a conversational roll, picking apart everyone we knew in common. Suddenly, I panicked: What if the person in the next room can hear our conversation? I was horrified, thinking someone could listen in on my unfiltered speech. But even more terrifying was remembering God hears my every word—not to mention knows my every thought.
Just the other day, I read Matthew 12, in which the Pharisees suggest Jesus' ability to cast out demons comes from Beelzebub, not God. In verses 33-37, Jesus says, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
For every careless word I've spoken.
How convicting! In an adaptation of the judgment at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11,12), I imagine every hypocritical comment I ever made or every catty remark I ever said, replayed on a giant movie screen in heaven for all to view. There will be no hiding then.
Recently I've had to work at censoring careless words about a relative's inflammatory tongue. That's because whenever I've recounted to my close friends the latest searing episode, I've relished it too much. I'm realizing my motivation's less about godly concern over the situation and more about making myself seem better by contrast. I've discovered I often disarmingly disguise my own fiery tongue. I need to confront and confess this propensity, and ask God for forgiveness.
No matter what kind of thrill we get from gossip's conspiratorial camaraderie, no matter what kind of secret power we feel or false sense of self-esteem we derive, gossip undermines our relationship to others—and, most important, to God. The timbre of our speech reveals the content of our hearts. And that truth is sobering indeed.
Do you struggle with gossip? Have you ever been the victim of gossip? How do you try to tame your tongue?
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