Everyone will surely have witnessed the problems that gossip can cause. Relationships can be damaged, sometimes badly, by unkind words spoken about people behind their backs. And sadly, there is plenty of this that goes on among Christians too.
Rumors that are untrue
Worst of all is when the rumors that are spread are not even true. Satan and his demonic followers are the masters of deception, and at times we have all doubtless fallen into the trap of believing that someone has acted badly, only to find out later that they were innocent all along. Some of us will also probably be able to think of times when we mistakenly passed on false information about people.
Fueling the gossip engine
Even if there is no doubt that a bad report about someone is true, great harm can still be caused by those who hear about it and fuel the gossip engine by passing on what they hear. If Christians learn that a person has acted badly, far too often they just tell others without considering whether that is the right thing to do.
Times when we need to speak negatively
It is true that there are times when we do need to speak negatively about people when they are not present. For example, there are occasions when a Christian acts badly in some way, and others in their church really do need to know. Or maybe a person might have hurt us by something they have said, and we feel that it would be helpful to tell someone.
But unless there is a good a reason for passing on the negative information, then we shouldn’t.
Close relationships are no excuse
Even if we have a close relationship to someone, that doesn’t make it right to pass on gossip to them. Just because someone is meeting a close friend doesn’t mean it is acceptable to tell them the bad report about a person that they have heard. Or just because someone is married doesn’t make it right for them to pass on gossip to their husband or wife.
In my own life, so as to try to avoid saying anything inappropriate about anyone, I have set myself a little rule. This is never to say anything negative about someone who is not present unless I can think of at least one specific reason why I believe God would want me to. If I can’t come up with a reason, then I won’t say anything. At least, this is my intention, even if perhaps I don’t succeed in following this rule all the time.
The Christian life, of course, is not about keeping lots of rules, but is about living in the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, living in the Spirit does not conflict with occasionally making ourselves a rule or two to try to live by, and this is one that I find helpful.
Acting in love
In our interactions with people, the top priority is always to love everyone. And this includes those who have acted badly and those who are the subject of gossip, whether that gossip is based on something true or untrue. Love will not speak negatively about a person unless there is a good reason for doing so.
Importantly too, there is obviously a sense in which people who are not there when others are talking about them are vulnerable. They can’t defend themselves. And Jesus certainly wants us to be careful to treat vulnerable people well.
Let us all strive, then, to avoid spreading rumors and gossip about people. So much damage to relationships could be avoided if every Christian made the effort to do this.