Jan Varney photo

A vast mountain towers thousands of feet above the village. It’s most often hidden in a mass of dark, raging storm clouds and only rarely does the misty shroud part to reveal the hulking monster of rock and ice. The sight is so terrible it makes people look away and hope for the quick closure of the covering clouds.

This is like gossip. Most often the manipulative masters of the art keep their works shrouded in a cloud of smiles and pretense and seldom does their true face show. Yet when it does, the ugliness and the vastness of their evil makes decent people want to turn away — but what does it do to God?

“There are six things which the LORD hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:

Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

These sins describe each of the facets of gossip and they show us how deeply God hates this secretive sin.

Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

Those who choose to practice the abomination of gossip have no hiding place from judgment for though they do their works in secret (the Greek word for gossip means “to whisper”), the result is the suffering of countless innocent, often sincere and admirable, people.

Grapes or thorns? Figs or thistles?

Have you ever felt the reluctance in a handshake or a hug? Have you ever seen the cold stares from others? Have you felt the deep pain of suddenly being left out, uninvited or made unwelcome to places you once enjoyed by those who once called you “friend”? Have you ever been asked pointed and even rude questions by others about something you had only shared with one other person?

If you have, then you have seen the parting of the clouds upon the vast mountain and you have felt both the pain and the power of gossip.

Gossip is loose talk about people who are not there to defend themselves against what is being said. Gossipers form a kangaroo-court where they confidently play judge, jury and executioner. They revel in painting their victims in the worst possible light and in passing a merciless sentence, as if they were sinless and would never stand before a judge themselves. Yet Jesus said “in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you!” (Matthew 7:2).

Gossipers seal their own fate with every evil plan and every merciless action. It is a terrifying thought to know they will be judged by the same cruel, unloving standard they have so long used against their victims. Far from their base behavior Jesus commands, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

No one would want to be treated the way gossipers treat people, but Christian practitioners of gossip boldly choose gossip over Christ’s command.

Gossip is information that is not confirmed as true with the person being gossiped about, but gossipers happily accept it as 100% true and spread it quickly to “the gossip network.” They want it to be true. They want to twist it into the worst possible reading. Then they can sell it more easily and more dramatically to others. Then they can separate brothers and friends. Then they can feel truly powerful. They are the puppet masters behind the curtains and watch how they make everyone dance — but what a terrible price they will pay for practicing the abominations God hates.

On the other hand, Jesus commands all Christians: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private” (Matthew 18:15). This is how Jesus wants his people to treat troubling, secondhand information. Secondhand information cannot be trusted and if it troubles us we must obey Jesus’ wonderful command — it puts together the people who need to be talking, quickly and in private. Matters can be cleared up and relationships can be preserved using Christ’s way of love, but gossip stirs up strife. It does an injustice to a brother or sister and it separates even the truest souls. Christians who practice gossip have rejected Christ’s way of love in dealing with their brothers. They don’t want to find out what really happened or what was really said, they love to fan the flames. Like the pyromaniac, the gossiper lives to start the fire burning.

Gossip is virtually always malicious, negative or sensational in nature and it is meant to hurt and isolate the person being targeted by the attacks of the gossipers. In fact, modern psychologists even call the victim “the gossip target.”

How could sincere Christians treat others in this manner when God himself says, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial … but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people.… You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:15-18).

In order for professing Christians to engage in gossip and treat others in this manner, it has to be a deep desire of their hearts. Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles” (Matthew 7:16). The pathological gossiper has boldly embraced the seven abominations God hates.

And, what is more, it is not enough for them to commit those abominations alone. 

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Jan Varney, 57, lives in La Grande. He has studied history and theology extensively and has written and spoken on both subjects numerous times. Retired from a career in manufacturing, he now works as a transit driver mainly for seniors and those with mobility challenges in Union County. This is the first part of an ongoing series.

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