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Gossip: The Dragon Among Us (Texts: Matthew 12:34-37; James 3:3-10)
A deadly dragon lives among us. The dragon slithers along telephone lines and breeds in magazine racks. Hissing and chattering, it ignites fires with its breath and leaps upon its victims when they least suspect danger. Do you know its name? Even its name hisses. The dragon's name is Gossip.
We joke about gossip. "I'm not a gossip, I'm a news analyst." "I don't repeat gossip -- so listen closely the first time." "There are no idle rumors. Rumors are always busy." Some people seem to have the motto: "If you can't say something good about a person, let's hear it."
I. Breath of the Dragon
We joke about it but a dragon is deadly. The dragon of gossip is a killer.
Gossip kills reputations. Gossip can forever smudge the reputations of people. Others may never know whether the rumors were true or not, but the taint is never forgotten.
Gossip also kills relationships. Consider the young teenager who tells her mother about a boy she likes, and the following day she overhears her mother on the telephone poking fun at her adolescent crush. With trust mortally wounded, the girl thereafter tells her mother little about her personal life.
Gossip can even kill people. G. Franklin Allee relates a story of a small-town family filled with happiness and love in spite of the young mother's poor health since the second child's birth. The village gossip one day started an untrue rumor about the husband being unfaithful to his wife. One day the young wife heard the story. Sick and in despair because she believed the gossip, she took the lives of her two children and then her own. When her husband came home that evening, he found the three of them hanging from a basement beam.
Like a nuclear-armed missile thundering up from its silo, gossip once unleashed can never be recalled. Like radioactive fallout scattered to the winds, lethal words of gossip spread everywhere.
In one small farming community a woman spread a slanderous story about her pastor and soon the whole community heard it. Some time later she repented and confessed the story was false. She went to the pastor wanting forgiveness. The old pastor said, "Of course I will gladly pardon you if you will comply with a wish of mine. Go home, kill a chicken, pluck the feathers, put the feathers in a basket, and bring them here."
In half an hour she was back. The pastor said, "Now go through the village and at each street corner scatter a few of these feathers, the remaining ones take to the top of the bell tower and scatter them to the winds, and then return." She did so. "Now go through the village and gather the feathers again, and see that not one is missing."
The woman looked at the pastor in astonishment and said, "Why that is impossible! The wind has scattered them over the fields everywhere!"
"And so," he said, "while I forgive you gladly, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done."
No wonder James 3:6-8 says: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.... No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Romans 1:29-30 lists gossip with such sins as murder, strife, greed, deceit, and hatred of God. If a church member were an atheist, an embezzler, or a mass murderer, the congregation would be horrified. Yet in churches everywhere, gossips flourish. Indeed, nearly everyone is sometimes guilty of verbal murder.
II. Heart of the Dragon
Why do we so love the dragon of gossip? Why are publishers of supermarket scandal sheets rich? Why do we love to hear sordid stories about our neighbors?
The answer lies in the heart of gossip. Gossip is the unnecessary passing on of facts, rumors, or inside information of personal, sensational, or intimate nature.
Talking about other people is not always gossip, because sometimes we legitimately need information to find a good used-car dealer or to help someone in need. Lying is not usually a part of gossip because rumors are believed to be true even though they may actually be false or distorted.
The key separating gossip from legitimate information sharing seems to be motive. Gossip's motive is helping oneself at the expense of others. Grocery-store gossip magazines lie and expose dirty linen to make money. Ordinary lay-gossips pull down other people's characters to make themselves feel or look better. We look clean and white when others are spattered with mud. In order to seem taller we verbally stab people in the back and stand on their corpses.
The motive can be subtle. We can talk about fellow brothers and sisters in Christ under the pretense of "being concerned" or "sharing the burden" while deep inside we feel smug about their scandal. If we were more like Christ, more filled with true love and compassion, hearing gossip would always bring sadness and tears, not a feeling of glee.
Gossip is sin. In black characters on white onionskin paper, gossip is starkly labeled and judged (e.g., Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 16:28; Proverbs 20:19; Proverbs 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:6-8. King James reads "whisperers" and "talebearers"). Christians should know this, yet churches are among the most gossip-soaked arenas anywhere.
In one church the pastor preached a hard-hitting sermon describing the evils of gossip. That sermon was effective -- for about half an hour. During the fellowship meal after the service, one woman paused, asked another, "Do you think this is gossip?' and then plunged headlong into it anyway.
III. Slaying the Dragon
How then can we slay the dragon? We may be unable to slay other people's dragons, but we are responsible for slaying our own.
Let us consider the consequences. Is the story true and helpful and necessary? How would you feel if that person discovered you told the story? Is it going to damage a reputation or relationship? What would Jesus tell me about my careless words?
In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus said, "I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words will you be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Let us consider extenuating circumstances. Have we got the whole picture? In one episode of the television series "MASH," Charles Winchester received a box of expensive candy from home. The people in the camp criticized him for not sharing any of it with them. Later Klinger discovered that Winchester secretly gave the candy to a local Korean orphanage. An old family Christmas tradition kept Winchester from telling anyone about his good deed. We may never know all the facts of the story. Remember the Sioux Indians' prayer: "Great Spirit, help me to never judge another until I have walked two weeks in his moccasins."
Let us consider our motives. Before we cast the first verbal stone, we must look deep into our own deceitful hearts and ask ourselves: "Why do I want to tell this rumor? Do I want to help lift those people out of trouble, or push them deeper into the mud?"
Let us avoid gossip. Ann Landers wrote: "Superior people talk about ideas; mediocre people talk about other people." T.N. Tiemeyer said, "When tempted to gossip, breathe through your nose." When in a gossiping group, change the topic or leave.
Let us replace gossip with positive thoughts and words. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." We need to fill our hearts, minds, and mouths with good things instead of bad. Instead of thinking about gossip, as Philippians 4:8 admonishes, let us think about things which are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise.
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