Grudges, Gossips, and Slander

Photo by Keira Burton

I honestly believe more people will go to hell for the sin of gossip than all the other sins combined. Gossip must be guarded against zealously because it is such a delicious sin. Proverbs says:

      The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body (Proverbs 18:8; see also 26:22).

It’s no wonder why Peter concludes his Spiritual Weight Loss program telling us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). What gives slander and gossip their enticing flavor? Everyone loves a secret. It makes us feel powerful, “in the know.” That is why the supermarket gossip sheets sell so well. We all want to know the rest of the story. But, strangely, gossip also makes us feel better about ourselves. If the other person isn’t so great, we must be a little bit better. The standard isn’t quite so high.

The early Christian Hermas gives this sage advice:

“First, speak evil of no one, and do not enjoy listening to someone who does. Otherwise you, the listener, will be responsible for the sin of the one speaking evil, if you believe the slander which you have heard, for by believing it you yourself will hold a grudge against your brother. In this way you will become responsible for the sin of the one who speaks the evil. Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace but always at home with dissension. So avoid it, and you will always have success with everyone.” [1]

Unfortunately, you can hear otherwise good Christians slandering other Christians. In hushed voices tinged with concern, they begin:

“I love brother Smith dearly, but….”
“If they were my children….”
“You know the trouble with ….”
“It’s so sad. I really want to help….”
“If I were in his shoes….”

One of my favorite authors, William Barclay, describes:

“The word that James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to speak evil of, is the verb katalalein. Usually this verb means to speak evil of someone else in that person’s absence, to criticize, to insult, to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself. This sin of slander and of insult and of evil-speaking is condemned all through the Bible…In the Pauline letters katalalia, the noun, is translated back-biting.… Katalalia is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential tidbits of whispered information which destroy the reputation and good name of those who are not there to defend themselves.… People are slow to realize that there are few sins which the Bible so unsparingly condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.”

No sin is so universally condemned! God condemns it, “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5). Paul condemns it (2 Corinthians 12:20), Peter condemns it (1 Peter 2:1), and James condemns it (James 4:11-12).

How can we guard against gossip? By asking yourself three questions before you open your mouth:

1. Is it true?
2. Is it kind?
3. Is it necessary?

But before I close today’s devotional, did you hear about ….

[1] The Shepherd of Hermas, II, 2 in Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 377). Baker Books.

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