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I suspect that one of the most “acceptable” sins of our day is the character-deforming, reputation-defaming, relationship-destroying sin of gossip. Gossip provides a foothold for the evil one and his evil army of demons. In its diabolical wake, gossip produces grief, which is sometimes unbearable  apart from the grace of God.

I’ve lived long enough, been a church member long enough, and pastored long enough to have been guilty of gossip. I am grateful that I have experienced God’s grace to both forgive me and to guard me from further gossip. I have also experienced grief as the victim of gossip. God’s grace has sustained me amid the heart-wrenching damage.

In these especially trying days of lockdown, frustration, and tension, perhaps the sin of gossip is more prevalent. If so, let’s look to God for his grace to overcome gossip, its guilt, and its grief.

Many years ago I heard counsellor Jay Adams define gossip as “unnecessary talk.” That is helpful. Gossip is not merely an utterance of an untruth. What is said may be factually correct. But if in “sharing” (we’re masters at “sanctifying” folly by renaming it) there is no honourable or helpful (read: holy) reason to repeat something, such talk is unnecessary; it is gossip.

For example, recently someone mentioned an individual in a positive light. I have information that is not favourable. I nodded, affirmed what I could, and kept my unfavourable facts to myself. To have done otherwise would have been unnecessary and inappropriate. It would have been gossip. Such sinful speech would have made me guilty of gossip and perhaps could have caused unnecessary grief. Keeping my mouth shut was God’s grace to me. I need more of this grace. You probably do as well.

Of course, untruthful talk is also gossip—slanderous gossip. The Greek term translated “devil” (diabolos) means “false accuser” or “slanderer.” We do well to remember this when tempted to perpetuate an evil suspicion about someone. When feeling compelled to “share our insight” about a person, let’s consider who we might be aligning with: God’s archenemy, the “accuser of the brethren” (see Revelation 12:7–10). Consider the satanic destruction potentially unleashed when tempted to “share for prayer” our suspicious concern.

The Bible is clear that love seeks to cover the shortcomings of others, sometimes even their sins (Proverbs 10:12; 17:9; 1 Peter 4:8). One of the outstanding examples of this was when Saul, David’s self-declared enemy, was killed in battle.

Saul brought his demise upon himself when his ungodly jealousy turned into murderous bitterness. His boulder of envy rolled back and crushed him. Yet when Saul died, rather than exposing him, David pleaded for silence. As he bewailed his death (and that of his friend Jonathan) he pleaded, “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult” (2 Samuel 1:19–20). That is a counterintuitive way to speak of the death of someone who was hell-bent on killing you. What an instructive example of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. What a humbling example of refusing to engage in “unnecessary talk.” What an example of refusing to add further grief. What an example of grace!

David exercised wisdom by calling for silence. His concern for the glory of God and the good of his kingdom was of greater concern than self-justification and self-vindication. Therefore, he kept his mouth shut.

My dad often admonished, “Doug, if you can’t say something nice about someone, then say nothing at all.” Too often, I have forgotten that wise exhortation. But if I, and you, think carefully—if we think charitably—we will avoid speaking unnecessarily.

Brothers and sisters, motivated by love for God and love for our neighbour, let each commit to guarding our hearts and our mouths. May our conversations be graciously seasoned, and helpfully edifying rather than hellishly destructive (Colossians 4:6; James 3:5–10). I am aware this is easier said than done. Yet, by the grace of God, I aim to guard against gossip and the grief it brings.

May God help us all,