Something interesting happens in the latter half of Romans 1. Paul describes mankind’s casual disregard of his Creator and his consequent descent into sin. “…although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (vv. 22-23).
As a result, “God gave them up to a debased mind” (v. 28). Paul then lists some of the characteristics of a debased mind.
What sort of person do you imagine when you think of a debased mind? A brutal serial killer? A dangerous psychopathic stalker? A pedophile? Fascist dictators torturing and executing Christians?
Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, imagines someone like us.
“…full of envy…gossips…disobedient to parents…heartless…” Characteristics we might consider relatively harmless, Paul considers the product of a debased mind.
Gossip is probably one of the most accepted sins in the church. Charles Spurgeon was blunt in his sermon on Psalm 15 regarding the sin of gossip:
“Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.” He is a fool if not a knave who picks up stolen goods and harbours them; in slander as well as robbery, the receiver is as bad as the thief. If there were not gratified hearers of ill reports, there would be an end of the trade of spreading them. Trapp says, that “the tale-bearer carrieth the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear.” The original may be translated, “endureth;” implying that it is a sin to endure or tolerate tale-bearers. “Show that man out!” we should say of a drunkard, yet it is very questionable if his unmanly behaviour will do us so much mischief as the tale-bearers insinuating story. “Call for a policeman!” we say if we see a thief at his business; ought we to feel no indignation when we hear a gossip at her work? Mad dog! Mad dog!! is a terrible hue and cry, but there are few curs whose bite is so dangerous as a busybody’s tongue. Fire! fire!! is an alarming note, but the tale-bearer’s tongue is set on fire of hell, and those who indulge it had better mend their manners, or they may find that there is fire in hell for unbridled tongues. Our Lord spake evil of no man, but breathed a prayer for his foes; we must be like him, or we shall never be with him. (HT Ray Van Neste)
That is a fairly stinging rebuke. Not only is gossip a sin, Spurgeon says, but so is tolerating it. Have I ever been guilty of either spreading gossip or tolerating it? I’m afraid so.
Some questions are in order.
What exactly is gossip? When is talking about someone gossip, and when is it not? There are many instances in Scripture when Paul says something critical about either an individual or a group of people. Is that gossip? Why or why not?
How common is gossip in the church? What should be done about it?
I’m not sure I know the answers to all of those questions. I welcome your comments.