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Q: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

A: The duties required in the ninth commandment are the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man and the good name of our neighbor, . . . loving, desiring and rejoicing in their good name; . . . a ready receiving of a good report and unwillingness to admit of an evil report concerning them.

So says the Westminster Larger Catechism. The Bible itself is so clear against gossip, probably because we are so inclined toward gossip:

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who does not take up a reproach against his friend. Psalm 15:1, 3

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him: . . .
one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16, 19

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. Leviticus 19:16, AV

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. James 4:11

Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
and do not reveal another’s secret. Proverbs 25:9

God gave them up to a debased mind . . . . They are gossips. Romans 1:28-29

There are many biblical passages confronting gossip. The witness of God against this sin is overwhelming.

What is gossip? It is not necessarily false information. Slander is false. Gossip might include true information, and maybe that’s why gossip doesn’t always feel sinful. What makes it sin is, first and foremost, that God says it’s sin. But gossip spreads what can include accurate information to diminish another person. That is not how people behave when they are living in the power of the grace of God.

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification. Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments. It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop. It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of. It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty. Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Adultery too is a serious sin, and one likely to be disciplined in a church. But I have never seen a church split over the sin of adultery. Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube. It erodes trust and destroys morale. It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere. It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation. It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial. It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against. It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers. It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness. It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves. It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”

What should we do when a conversation starts slipping into gossip? We should immediately challenge the sin: “Hey friend, sorry to interrupt, but this is gossip. So here’s the deal. This conversation is now on hold until you go get _____________, and then you can start over and say whatever you feel you must say right to his face. I am willing to be a witness to that conversation, but I will not participate in gossip. What do you choose to do?” Amy Carmichael established this rule at her mission station: “Never about, always to.”

“Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). Therefore, let’s always ask ourselves, “These words about to rise up out of my mouth or go out through my keyboard – do they build up? Am I being constructive? If the person I feel like discussing were here with me right now, how would his presence change what I feel like saying?”

“Do not be deceived: . . . revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11


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40 thoughts on “Gossip”

  1. Jennifer says:

    This post is so timely and helpful. It’s one thing not to spread gossip and quite another to stop someone else from spreading it. I know not to spread it. I didn’t know how to stop it.

    I ran into this very situation on Saturday and had no idea what to do. The person speaking to me was an older lady and someone who had been an authority figure in my life at one point. I stood there thinking, “This is wrong. What do I say? What should I do?” The situation has been gnawing at me. Next time, I’ll be equipped. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Dr. Laura used to say before you speak think:
    Is it true?
    is it kind?
    is it necessary?

    All three should be yes before you open your mouth.

    This is powerful, and very convicting. Thank you for reminding me I still need a Savior. I need to go to Him right now.

  3. Christopher Lake says:

    Thank you for this clear, convicting post, Dr. Ortlund. It is so important to think *Biblically* (and whenever possible, pray) before we speak. I know that I have failed (meaning, sinned against the Lord) in this area at times in the past. I thank Him for His mercy and the grace to repent.

  4. Curious says:

    This a good reminder to flee the sin of gossip and the sowing of discord in a community. However, I could use some more help understanding what gossip is and how to distinguish it from good instructions and a discerning judgment? “Nothing negative” seems too simplistic in light of the call to be discerning and make sound judgments and help others grow in the same wisdom. Is intent or motivation the only difference between a godly instruction about particular people and gossip? Thanks.

    1. Jerry Edmonds says:

      I define gossip in two parts. Gossip is:

      1) Talking about someone and not to them.
      2) Discussing something with someone who is not part of the problem or solution.

      If someone comes up to you to discuss something that sounds like gossip, as them three questions:

      1) What is your motive for talking to me about this?
      2) Have you discussed this with the person you have an issue with?
      3) After we talk, are you going to go talk to them immediately?

      These guidelines have helped myself and others avoid gossiping. I hope they serve you equally well.

  5. Ray Ortlund says:

    Thanks, Curious.

    A great place to begin on the tongue, both its duties and its sins, is the Westminster Larger Catechism on the ninth commandment. You’ll find it in questions 143-145. Its teaching is profound, detailed, brief.

    Another good resource is Richard Baxter, The Christian Directory, part 1, chapter 9, “Directions for the government of the tongue.”

    A question that might help, before we speak, is, “What purpose does this comment serve? What am I accomplishing by the words about to come out of my mouth?” Moment by moment, we are creating the real-life conditions we will have to live with five minutes from now. So, “Am I creating a five-minutes-from-now future better than the present, or am I creating something more difficult to live with, both for myself and for others?”

    Perhaps above all else, “Is my speech really a strategy of self-justification? Is the motive of my heart, ‘The worse he looks, the better I look’?” That sneaky impulse is always attractive and always destructive.

    If we will live, by faith, in the felt acceptance of God through Christ, our speech will be more mature, more responsible, more purposeful and, best of all, sweeter.

  6. Chris Wilson says:

    Ray,

    Thank you for bring such clarity to an issue that we frequently muddle in the hope we can redefine gossip to be all that talk that “they” do but not me.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Our church did discipline gossip — chronic, divisive gossip. The offending party seemed to be repentant for a time before letting loose with a torrent of gossip to members and visitors alike. When confrontation was attempted, the person hid, ran away, and the family left the church (taking others with them). The sin of gossip in this case was every bit as destructive to our small congregation as any other sin we had faced (and more than some!). I don’t know if this would always be the case, but in this instance the sin of gossip was very closely linked to a general rebellion toward authority — God and otherwise.

    Thanks for your instruction in this area.

  8. dan says:

    great post. i’ve alays wanted to preach on the sin of gossip and this article has provided me much information and clarity. thanks for writing this and for giving a Biblical evaluation of gossip. much appreciated.

  9. Anonymous says:

    It seems like gossip is often disguised as a quest for Godly advice. “What should I do about _____ who did this or says this _____ ?” Are there times where it isn’t really gossip if you’re seeking advice or help?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think anytime you hear gossip you should run head first into the closest solid object. After falling down and moaning, holding your head-the gossip will stop talking about other people. Also this will give them something else to gossip about and seriously-I don’t care what they are sayong about me.

  11. Ray Ortlund says:

    I like your style, Anonymous. Of course, you may not care, but God does. The Bible says he cares about every word that is spoken. So it isn’t about us. It’s about God.

    As for seeking advice, one way to avoid gossip is to omit names or specifics that could identify the situation.

  12. Curious says:

    Thanks for the guidance to Q. 145. The hard part is to know when to apply this portion: “The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, …concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others…”

    Since motivation is important, yet sometime difficult to discern in others, it would seem easier to label certain statements gossip than it is to show why, unless of course it easy to show it is false or has no redeeming purpose. I’ve seen a church split where leaders called it gossip and the thoughtful ‘discontents’ (including ordained leaders) called it a just cause. The truth was not in question, but the seriousness of the problems was.

    Baxter and others probably have some guidance that I’ve not been able to assess yet. Let me know if you have other thoughts on understanding this dilemma.

  13. Ray Ortlund says:

    Good point, Curious. Sometimes people disagree on what constitutes a case of gossip. But if we lash ourselves to the Bible — and it has so much guidance on this matter — we’ll stay closer on course.

    Too, we must beg the Lord to keep our sight undimmed by prejudice, always placing ourselves under the judgment of the Word of God. Not challenging ourselves biblically and honestly is a sure way to go astray.

    My observation has been that even blatant gossip is treated as acceptable behavior.

  14. kelvington says:

    Great post! Very convicting!

    I do have a question if anyone can help!….it is said, “If the person I feel like discussing were here with me right now, how would his presence change what I feel like saying?”

    So, If you would say the same thing to the actual person if they were there, then is it gossip to say it without them being present?

    For example, I have a conversation with my pastor about something he taught that was in error and then later on I explain the situation to my wife and I tell her about the conversation and what was said. Is that gossip?

    Thanks!
    Kevin

  15. Ray Ortlund says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I wonder if you are describing the kind of situation the Lord had in mind in Matthew 18:15ff.

  16. Anonymous says:

    This is great stuff, and desparately needed IN THE CHURCH. Having been victimised by leadership and other members in a church that took delight in tearing down individuals, I long ago adopted a policy very close to what you advocate: whenever someone would begin with “the news” about someone else, when it was evident it was at root gossip, I would ask them this question: have YOU brought this situation to that person yourself, and discussed it with them? NO? Well, then, you go and do that, and after, come back and we can talk more about it”. Citing the Lord’s specific commands laid out in Matt 18 tended to set a firm foundation for my request. Most times, it would end THAT “conversation”, and the offender would be wary of every doing same again, at least with me. I finally wearied of the continual use of the tongue to tear down others, particularly from the “leadership”. They wanted everyone “a little afraid of them” in what amounted to a power wielding sickness. Gossip as a tool in the hands of the powermongers destroyed that church’s effectiveness. NO growth in these past twelve years, only people wising up and leaving. I wonder how the last two will fare… no third party to be the hearer of “the news” about the second……

    The astounding thing is that gossip is almost never dealt with scripturally, even as it functions precisely as the scriptures say it will. Somehow it just hasn’t been taken seriously, in spite of James’ admonitions that the tongue contains the power of life and death.

    Lewsta

  17. Robert Audet says:

    Father God, please remove this cancer from me with the your gracious gospel scalpel.

  18. Steve240 says:

    I have seen groups where leaders used their definitions of what “gossip” and “slander” to silence any questioning etc. It was “gossip” or “slander” to question what a leader taught. One wasn’t able to discus their concerns with members.

    I have also leaders use these terms to keep regular members in the dark about their questionable actions. Very few people knew of questionable actions that leaders did since they were suppressed under the guise of it being “gossip” or “slander” to do this.

    One group that used these tactics recently had their leader C.J. Mahaney step down. He admitted that he had various problems for 5 years. This is one illustration of how teaching on gossip can go overborad and used used wrongly.

    Thus people need to be careful of taking the teaching too far.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      I wonder, Steve, if your comment might be out of order. It appears you have already arrived at conclusions, when C.J. and his brothers are still exploring the matter before the Lord. Why not hold back from assertions until the facts have been established? Even after agreed-upon facts have been established, insofar as that is possible, it is still brotherly and beautiful, unless you are directly and personally involved, to stay out of it, stay low, stay quiet, and keep ourselves from sin, insofar as we can. God bless you.

      1. facedown2000 says:

        I can see such an approach easily being abused to protect those who otherwise should be removed from ministry. Given that we’re all sinful, of course it makes sense that we’ll do everything within our power to cover up our wrongdoing and preserve our self image–even if it means trying to convince others that talking about our sin is bad.

        This is why Curious’ comments are so insightful, and why the Catechism mentions “undue silence in a just cause.” I’m not specifically referring to CJ here (I’ve read his blog, and his impossible to tell what specific sins he’s stepping down for), but there are lots of cases where negative information needed to be brought to light in order for justice to be served — Bill Clinton’s transgressions make a nice example here. Surely you don’t think that information shouldn’t have been withheld from the American people?

  19. Steve240 says:

    Ray

    Have you read what Mahaney wrote? In that letter Mahaney confessed to problems with himself and SGM. This included the wrong he did to Larry Tomczak in ousting him from the group. The letter though was certainly vague.

    You can read these letters at either:

    Have read the various allegations that have been brought up on these same blogs? With so many people from different groups bringing up similar concerns seems to indicate that real problems exist vs. possibly exist.

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Steve, I prefer not to get involved in an important conversation here in a comment thread. All I am saying is that C.J. is creating a space to seek the Lord, and we should respect that.

      In addition, when you say, “With so many people from different groups bringing up similar concerns . . .,” I ask you to reconsider that more cautiously. I have seen in the past how accusations can gain momentum not because they have facts behind them but because they are repeated and repeated and repeated. And the people doing this do not realize that they themselves are committing an injustice against a man who may or may not be guilty. Restraint is always wise.

    2. Ray Ortlund says:

      Steve, I have removed the links from your comment. I do not see Jesus in those websites.

      Please do not post those links again on my blog. Thank you for understanding. God bless you.

      1. Steve240 says:

        Ray

        It is your blog and thus your decision.

        Do you “see Jesus” in the actions of the SGM Leaders that lead to people writing on these blogs?

  20. Thanks Ray! A Powerful reminder! I will share it with my elders and
    family!

    1. Joe Flatt says:

      Thanks for the article, Ray. I also appreciate your brotherly and gracious spirit in responding to various comments. If nothing else, pause is always wise. I trust all is well.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Ray, thank you for this timely post. We cannot refute the clear teachings of scripture. I am grateful to God that a friend told me about this.

    Steve, I think anyone in or out of SGM would benefit from Ray’s comments; if only to review what Scripture has to say about our speech. If the bloggers will allow it, perhaps you could pass the link along to those you were referring to? While I agree that pastors can do what church members like me can also do — which is seek to hide or minimize their sin — the Bible is clear on how Christians should share corrective thoughts with each other and resolve disagreements.

    While I don’t always like to hear what the Bible has to say, I can’t argue with its truth. May God help me and all of us to obey God when it comes to these issues and treat other sinners with the same mercy and patience we have received from Him.

  22. Pingback: Gossip | poikilos
  23. LeeAnne says:

    I really enjoyed your blog and referenced a link to it for further reading on my blog. I didn’t use any of your words but wanted others to see your article for themselves. Very well written and backed by scriptural. Thanks for sharing.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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