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Gossip and Appropriate Speech

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.


Why are one’s conversation and personal speech considered so important by Bible-believing Christians? Does the church really believe gossip is a sin?

Speech and conversation tell a great deal about one’s character. "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). We learn much about our Heavenly Father and His only begotten Son Jesus, by reading how Jesus conversed with the Father in prayer (Luke 22:41,42). The profanity and obscene talk of ungodly people reveal the nature of their hearts.

Spoken words have unbelievable power. Words are described as weapons, as swords and arrows (Psa. 57:4; 64:3; Jer. 9:8). James describes the power of the tongue and its words as the rudder of a ship or a spark that sets a forest on fire (James 3:2-12). Christians observe the power of the spoken word today in political propaganda and media news.

The Assemblies of God agrees with the Bible that gossip is sinful. The Bible clearly and frequently condemns all talebearing and idle talk. "Do not go about spreading slander among your people" (Lev. 19:16). "If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26). Jesus said "Men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36,37). In every context, gossip is related to words, ideas, and behaviors entirely incompatible with Christian, Spirit-filled living.

The horror of gossip turns language or words, our best gift and most powerful tool, into a cruel weapon. Idle talk mangles truth and exchanges wisdom for foolishness (James 3). Gossip is the opposite of love (1 Cor. 13:6; Gal. 5:14,15). Instead of helpfulness it brings hurt. Instead of peace it brings anger and strife (Prov. 16:28; 2 Cor. 12:20). Where there should be trust it brings betrayal (Prov. 20:19).

Why is there gossip among Christians? Paul preaching to the Ephesians, and James passionately describing the power of the tongue, both say gossip is giving the devil a foothold. It is like fire out of hell (Eph. 4:25-32; James 3:6). A major reason for gossip in Christian churches, then, is failure to understand how serious it is, and how it is used by the devil.

There are other reasons for gossip. For some, sadly, it is a form of entertainment. But gossip is typically unfulfilling. It only temporarily satisfies one with the communication and relationship needs that God has designed to be met in edifying ways. Though sharing gossip can make people feel accepted and part of a group, it abuses persons outside the group. On occasion gossip is a projection of anger. Sometimes people "let off steam" by talking about something or someone other than the issue or person with whom they are angry. All of these reasons show that gossip does not belong in the life of a person whose confidence and strength is in the Lord, and whose joy comes from loving Christian service.

Telling truths can be wrong. Paul says that because something is lawful, or permissible, it is not always expedient or beneficial. We should not let any compulsion or habit master us, or bring us under its power (1 Cor. 6:12). What is basically true may not be constructive, uplifting, or kind to others. We should not act according to our impulses, but do that which is right for others (1 Cor. 10:23). Relating another’s private matters in a thoughtless way shows lack of self-control. It is a mark of spiritual maturity to refrain from any words that might embarrass, hurt, or offend (James 3:2).

What can we do about gossip? (1) Do not risk beginning a rumor by talking about others. Even in making prayer requests, be careful to say only what is necessary to explain the need. Do not ask suggestive questions, nor pry into the affairs of others. (2) Do not betray a confidence (Prov. 11:13). If you feel you must share a confidence to help someone, speak only to a pastor, or a parent who is in a position to act appropriately. (3) Do not listen to gossip. Express your intention not to listen. (4) Be a peacemaker. Be the one to put out fires (Prov. 26:20).

Our Vocabulary does matter. An often overlooked area of speech is the use of thoughtless expressions and minced oaths. Without using outright profanity, some Christians use words like "gee," "darn," and "gosh" without thinking of what they might be saying. Studies of the origins of words have demonstrated that these are senseless substitutions for "Jesus," "damn," and "God." Other seemingly innocent words with unknown origins are unwittingly used in the personal vocabulary of many Christians today. All believers would do well to evaluate the words they use in expressing themselves. A Christian’s speech should reflect God’s grace and give subtle testimony to the fact God is alive and at work in the life of the believer.

CONCERNS:

We sometimes wonder why there are so many tensions and disagreements in the Body of Christ, and especially in a local church. Most often the difficulty can be traced to a careless word spoken in haste and without thinking how others would understand or receive it. It may not be Scripture, but the old adage is in keeping with the command that we love one another and work toward the unity of the church: "Think before you speak." And while one is thinking, the Holy Spirit will have opportunity to speak first and cause the speaking to edify and unify believers.

Furthermore, the Spirit-filled believer should be concerned about prayers addressed to God, not to avoid offending God, but to use words that reflect an all-consuming love for our Lord. The baptism in the Holy Spirit, with the prayer language that comes with the infilling, provides a beautiful way of expressing love and praise for God when human expression seems so inadequate. The more we have intimate communion with God through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the less hold the temptation to gossip will have on us. Paul’s word to the Ephesian church is good for us today, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Eph. 4:29).


The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.