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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






01 August 2005

Gossip


Q: What does the Bible say about gossips, especially when they have no idea about the truth?

A: The Bible equates gossips with slanderers. Proverbs 11:12-13 says, “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the Commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” by going beyond perjury and even lying: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” This recognizes the fact that most gossips have a very good idea about the truth and either ignore it or use it as a weapon.

GossipThus, even the truth should not be spoken unless the benefits far outweigh the pain it might cause. Bringing up an old sin of another just to hurt that person is every bit as bad as making up lies about that person, unless the truth will somehow bring great benefit to that person and to others.

People sometimes assume a self-righteous mind-set that thinks it is for another’s benefit that painful truths must be told. Yet Luther says in the Large Catechism, “If we gossip about another in all corners, and stir the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished, as a warning to others. If you were acting for your neighbor’s reformation or from love of the truth, you would not sneak about secretly nor shun the day and the light.”

True or false, gossip is harmful always should be avoided. According to Scripture, our parents were right when they told us, “If you can’t say something good about someone, then don’t say anything at all.” If this were not so, then the Epistle of James would be a lot shorter; the whole third chapter and much from other chapters wouldn’t have been written. None of us is perfect — and James noted that if our speech were perfect, then we would be:

We all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (3:2-10)

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

ADDENDUM: See also the subsequent post, Rotten Fruit from Gossip’s Vine.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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