Don’t you just love a good bit of gossip? There is nothing quite like it, though perhaps a good comparison is to a juicy and succulent bit of food. The last mouthful of steak perhaps. You put it in your mouth. You let it sit there for a few moments. You celebrate the flavor. You savor it. You chew it slowly. You enjoy it to the very last chew. Then you swallow it and go your way, content and satisfied.
Gossip is like that. Gossip is every bit as enjoyable, at least in the immediate. It is only later you find that gossip bites back in feelings hurt, relationships wrecked, churches undermined.
Gossip has always been a problem (didn’t that serpent in the garden gossip about God?) so it is no surprise that the Bible has a lot to say about it. Solomon warned against it, James compared it to a raging forest fire, Paul admonished those who engage in it. Today we face all kinds of new ways to encounter and to spread gossip. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and endless electronic media simply add to the many ways we can speak wisely or speak foolishly, the ways we can relate to others in love or in spite.
Gossip is the subject of Matthew Mitchell’s new book Resisting Gossip. It is a subject that has been begging a book and Mitchell covers the subject well. He says, “This book is an attempt to arm followers of Christ with the biblical weapons we need to resist gossip in all its forms.” Yes, all its forms. Gossip is a wider and trickier problem than we may suspect as indicated by the definition he provides: “the sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” A bad heart takes bad news and spreads it behind another person’s back: it is a familiar story, isn’t it?
The author goes about his task in a helpful way. After a chapter explaining why we are so drawn to gossip, he lays out five different types of gossip and gossip-er, each of which stems from a slightly different sinful heart desire. Over three chapters he offers Bible-based strategies for resisting gossip, overcoming the desire to gossip, and replacing it with something so much better. As the book works toward its conclusion, he offers help on how to respond when you have been the victim of gossip and how to respond when you have been the offender and have sinfully gossiped about someone else. An excellent appendix suggests ten ways pastors can cultivate gossip-resistance in the local church.
Through it all he remains firmly grounded in Scripture and rigidly opposed to easy or moralistic or legalistic solutions. The fact is that gossip has no easy solution–it took the death and resurrection of Jesus to forgive it and it takes continually returning to the death and resurrection of Jesus to overcome it.
I do not consider myself particularly prone to gossip. At least, I didn’t. But this book showed me that I may be more susceptible than I like to think. I tend to be comfortably legalistic by keeping my definitions so narrow that they exclude me. But by widening the definition of gossip–and doing so biblically, I believe–Mitchell showed me that I may be more of a gossip than I care to admit. And isn’t it interesting that I kept trying to rewrite that sentence to keep from labelling myself a gossip. I will own being drawn to it or prone to it, but I resist owning it.
I enjoyed Resisting Gossip in the most lasting sense, because there were several areas in which it challenged and criticized me and then offered me hope. I was sorry to have to come face-to-face with my proneness to gossip, but in the end, grateful for the rebuke. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”