Q&A: Gossip

Gossip

Question

What is "gossip"? I am trying to understand the relationship between gossip and pride, and I think I am a little confused as of the difference between evaluating others and gossiping.

Secondly, I seem to be lukewarm and less sharp in terms of giving my objective evaluations, let say, on people that I watch. Apparently, I always feel hesitant to do this behind people's back. This might also relate to my humble personality, where pride is always my biggest concern when giving my comments. Is there any way I can change this attitude?

Answer

"Gossip" is not usually found in English translations of Scripture. There are several Hebrew words that the KJV translated "talebearer." So you could do a search or concordance study of those. There's also the concepts of slandering, murmuring, etc., that are relevant.

What it adds up to, I think, is that we should not speak disparagingly of someone else unless it is part of a means of helping the other person. When we believe someone has committed sin, and we can't keep it to ourselves ("love covers a multitude of sins"), then we should go to the person directly and follow the procedure outlines in Matt. 18. This is not usually necessary, I think, when a person's sins are already public. For example, Jesus calls Herod a fox, but he probably had not first said that to Herod's face (same with his calling the Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites). Paul quotes the saying about the Cretans being liars, without having raised the issue with every individual Cretan. But even in attacking public sins, some deference and reticence is in order, I think. (See my Hurting People's Feelings)

But as you say there are situations when I am called to evaluate somebody else without accusing them of sin. I am often asked, for example, to recommend someone for a pastoral or academic position. Usually such a reference is not a reflection on the person's character, but on his academic ability and accomplishment. I sometimes have to say some disparaging things about the person. But I don't think then that I have to raise the issue first with the person in question. All of us are qualified for some positions and unqualified for others. That's not a Matt. 18 situation.

Of course, whether we're talking about moral issues or other kinds of evaluation, our pride often leads to bad results. We need to guard against that. But that does not mean that we should be reluctant to evaluate someone when that evaluation is appropriate.


Answer by Dr. John M. Frame

Dr. John M. Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.