There are people who believe you can say anything nasty about a person as long as you preface it with, “Bless her heart…” They feel this “blessing” makes it okay to speak ill of someone.
Earl Wilson, the late newspaper columnist (gossip columnist, actually) said, “Gossip is hearing something you like about someone you don’t.” Wilson made his living digging up and writing gossip about the rich and/or famous. With the political system as it is today he would have a field day if he were still writing.
We don’t need gossip columnists to do our dirty work for us. Many of us pass gossip around like soap bubbles, filling the air with tales best left untold. I remember hearing an old line that went, “You know I would never say anything about someone that wasn’t good…and this is really good!” For some people, the juicier the better, and too often the nastier the better.
Frank Clark said, “Gossip needn’t be false to be evil—there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around.” All too true. Whether what we say about someone is true or false matters less than how much it will hurt. We all have things in our past—or in our present—that we’d rather not have the world know. If we say what we say knowing it will cause pain to someone, we are doing that person an injustice.
Paul understood how speaking ill of someone can hurt. That’s the essence of his words to the church at Ephesus. He says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” That doesn’t leave much negative we can say about someone, does it? Notice that slander doesn’t get mentioned until well into his list. Even true words spoken in anger are to be avoided.
Why should we refrain from gossiping? Paul’s opening statement in this passage makes it clear: “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” We know gossip can be deadly dangerous in any community, but especially in a church. Remember, Paul is writing to the Ephesian church, not just to a bunch of townspeople. I remember overhearing my mother speak about two of the members of our church—a father and adult daughter—when I was a growing up. The father had a couple of habits that were in opposition to the discipline of the church, but his daughter was a gossip. Mom said, “His habits are not as harmful as her gossip.” She was right.
One thing to remember about gossip is that it flows both ways. An old Irish proverb says, “Who gossips with you will gossip about you.” We tend to forget that a gossip is a gossip is a gossip. Gossips get their kicks from spreading stories about people. If he’s spreading tales about other people to you, what is he saying about you behind your back? You may never know until it comes back to haunt you.
Paul’s admonition doesn’t end with the negative. He lists the kinds of conversation we are to avoid so that we will not grieve God’s Spirit, but he doesn’t stop there. He tells us what kinds of words we should put in their place. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Our conversation about people must be such as builds each other up, and builds up the body of Christ. When we say something negative about someone we are focusing on behavior of which we don’t approve. Instead, we are to forgive, and one step in forgiving is putting talk about that behavior to rest.
Someone once said, “The best thing to remember about gossip is to forget it.”