Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows that when the book of Proverbs uses the word “gossip,” it does so in the noun form, not the verb form. In other words, the Bible is concerned less with the words that are spoken and more with the heart and mouth that generate such destruction. Words matter, but they are simply the overflow of the heart. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.
Here, drawn from Mitchell’s book, is a gallery of gossips, five different gossiping people you will meet in life.
Gossip #1: The Spy
The first kind of gossip, and I know you’ve run across this person before, is The Spy. Solomon describes him in Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” The Spy is an informer, a person who gathers secrets so he can use them to his personal advantage. This is the person who is always listening for rumors and who always seems to know everyone else’s business. His ear is always to the ground. The Spy’s main motivation is power. It may be the thrill of knowing something before everyone else, or it may be the power that comes when threatening others by revealing their secrets. He uses information to elevate himself and to destroy others.
Gossip #2: The Grumbler
The second gossip is The Grumbler and we find him in Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” The Grumbler complains and criticizes. She criticizes other people and complains about them behind their backs. She spreads all their secrets, describes exactly how she feels about them, and then excuses it all by saying, “I just needed to vent for a while.” Because she is miserable, and because misery loves company, she drags other people into her grumbling. Her motive is often jealously or envy. She wants what another person has and grumbles because she does not have it herself.
Gossip #3: The Backstabber
We all know The Backstabber, don’t we? The Backstabber is a complainer, but he is more than that. He is also angry and malicious and is out destroy others. He may bring full-out lies in order to bring down another person, or he may engage in a smear campaign. He looks for something, anything, everything wrong with his enemies and makes sure everyone knows about those things; if he can’t find them, he makes them up. The Backstabber is often motivated by revenge for some deep offense, some opportunity lost, or some hardship gained. This offense or perceived offense has led to bitterness which has taken root and motivated this desire for revenge. Today, many of these people begin web sites and do their work as loudly and publicly as possible.
Gossip #4: The Chameleon
The Chameleon is the person who uses gossip to fit in with the crowd at work or school or church or even in the family. She is desperate to blend in and to be accepted. Since everyone else gossips, she gossips too, so that she can join in the conversation. Since respect comes through sharing juicy facts about others, she finds and then shares that kind of information. Her motivation is fear—the fear of man. She is afraid of what others will think of her, and especially afraid of being excluded from the crowd. Prov 29:25 describes her well: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”
Gossip #5: The Busybody
The final kind of gossip is The Busybody. The Busybody is the person who is idle, and his idleness leads to meddling and gossip. Proverbs 26:17 speaks to him: “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” We meet The Busybody man in both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and we meet The Busybody woman in his first letter to Timothy. The Busybody loves the titillation that comes through gossip and loves living vicariously through other people’s stories. The Busybody loves to be online where he can troll celebrity gossip sites in the name of amusement and Christian celebrity gossip sites in the name of discernment.
Most of us have met these people. Most of us have been these people. Each of us is in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and God’s sanctifying grace.