[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hose who have been in ministry any length of time at all recognize the danger gossip is to unity. Nothing is more divisive and damaging in a church. Frankly, it is not limited to church. Families, work places, school classes; basically any human association can be negatively affected by gossip.
Most pastors endure gossip; a few deal with it. All wish it would go away.
Matt Mitchell is pastor at Lanse Evangelical Free Church in Lanse, Pennsylvania. He’s recently written Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of Wagging the Tongue. It is an honor to interview Matt today.
KITM: Matt, what is Resisting Gossip about? What is its essential message?
Matt: Thanks, Marty, for a chance to talk about my book! The message of Resisting Gossip is that because of the gospel of Jesus Christ believers can and should (1) recognize sinful gossip for what it is, (2) resist the temptation to swallow it or pass it along, and (3) respond in faith and love when targeted by the gossip of others. That’s Resisting Gossip in a nutshell.
KITM: Why did you write a book on gossip?
Matt: The chief reason was to answer the question: “What is the biblical definition of gossip?” I didn’t know the answer myself even though it seemed really important. I knew that gossip was bad and harmful to others, but I wasn’t certain what exactly qualified as sinful gossip. Even though the Bible consistently condemns gossip, it doesn’t state a definition in one particular verse. To get to a biblical definition, someone needed to study gossip throughout the Scriptures and then add up what they found. That started me on a long research project that eventually led to this book.
KITM: So what did you discover? What is a biblical definition of gossip?
Matt: Here is my way of putting it: the sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart. Obviously, this definition has three parts: 1. Bad News–Gossip is taking in and passing along shameful stories about others (whether true or false). 2. Behind Someone’s Back–Gossip is intentionally clandestine, shared when the subject is not present. 3. Out of a Bad Heart–the sinful motivation of the gossiping person is the most important part of what makes gossip wrong. In the book, I explain where I got the definition and then apply it to everyday life.
KITM: What was the hardest part of writing Resisting Gossip?
Matt: The hardest part was collecting good stories to illustrate the truths contained in the book. It turns out that most people don’t like to tell stories of when they got caught up in gossip. Too shameful, I think. Many folks could tell me about a time when they were gossiped about, but few had their own gossip story to tell. But, in time, some folks like “Lynette” (a school teacher who got addicted to gossip in the teachers’ lounge) shared their stories with me, and I think they really help readers to get a good picture of what’s being taught. I tell some of my own stories in there, as well.
KITM: Why do we gossip?
Matt: Gossip comes out of the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). It’s really a worship disorder–we want the wrong things or we want good things in the wrong way or to the wrong degree. In the book, I identify at least five sinful motivations for gossip, and I’m sure that we could come up with a lot more if we tried. The good news is that the gospel is so great that it overshadows any and all of those corrupted motivations and offers something better.
KITM: How do we escape when we find ourselves in these tempting gossip situations?
Matt: We look for the way out. We appropriate gospel promises like 1 Corinthians 10:13–“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” We know that “the way out” is there–we just have to look for it and take it! (Notice, however, that even as we escape, we may still have to “stand up under” the temptation to gossip.) The good news is that followers of Christ do not have to give in!
KITM: What is your message for those who have been gossiped about?
Matt: It hurts, doesn’t it? It’s no fun to be the target of a whisper campaign, and one of the worst parts is that most of the time you don’t know that it’s happening to you. I’ve got two chapters in Resisting Gossip for those who are hurt by others’ gossip. One chapter, drawn from Psalm 140, is on trusting God with your reputation and the other is about loving your enemies to receive a great reward. I sometimes wish there were an easier way, but I know God’s way is best.
I’m very appreciative of Matt’s time today. He will be hanging around in the comment section (here, not Facebook) so feel free to engage him. A Disqus account is not necessary. You can buy Resisting Gossip below.