How we talk about others reveals our character and our hearts. Jesus said, “A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Luke 6:45) I’ve often heard that when people tell you and show you their true character, we need to believe them.
This takes us to the two proverbs I was taken to this morning: “Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a man with understanding keeps silent. A gossip goes around revealing a secret, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.” (Prov 11:12-13)
Solomon warned here against backbiting or insulting your neighbor. Wise men do not proudly despise others in their hearts or with words. They will hold back detracting or sneering words that fools or wicked men are often quick to say. They know all men are more similar than they are different, so contempt from one about another is not justified. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
If we look again at Prov 11:12-13, we see that these verses contextually build upon each other, as we see in the first line of each proverb. “Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense” (Prov 11:12a) and “A gossip goes around revealing a secret” (Prov 11:13a). A gossip isn’t wise in God’s eyes, but only in his own. And by revealing secrets, they show contempt for others. And make no mistake, if they will share gossip about others with you, they are talking about you when in the company of others.
Paul reveals the sinful nature and lawlessness of mankind, stating how God poured out His wrath on those who rejected His laws. Because they had turned away from God’s instruction and guidance, He gave them over to their sinful natures. The list of sins includes gossips and slanderers (Rom 1:29b-32). We see from this passage how serious the sin of gossip is and that it characterizes those who are under God’s wrath.
Alternatively, as we look at the second part of each of today’s verses, we see the character that the Lord wants to see in His people: “but a man with understanding keeps silent” (Prov 11:12b) and “but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence” (Prov 11:13b). When we are trustworthy, we have integrity that only the Holy Spirit can place in our hearts: “The one who lives with integrity lives securely, but whoever perverts his ways will be found out.” (Prov 10:9)
Many a friendship has been ruined over a misunderstanding that started with gossip. “A contrary man spreads conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Prov 16:28) Those who choose to gossip do nothing but stir up trouble and cause anger, bitterness, and pain among friends. Sadly, they thrive on this and look for opportunities to destroy others. And when confronted, they deny the allegations and answer with excuses and rationalizations.
Rather than admit wrongdoing, they blame someone else or attempt to minimize the seriousness of the sin. They’re the ones who say, “I’m sorry, but”, with the “but” completely negating the apology. I’ve learned the hard way that these people I can and do love from afar, but can’t spend time in their company because they have proven they aren’t trustworthy. “One who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets; Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” (Prov 20:19)
When I was growing up my mother often used the expression, “if you lie down with dogs you’ll get fleas”. That same advice goes along with spending time with gossips who show contempt of others. The more time you spend in the company of gossips, the more likely you will take on their character faults, or possibly even worse you will want to repay their evil. But Scripture tells us, “Never repay evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:17-18, 21)
Sometimes walking away for a time is the only way that we can be at peace with those who spread conflict. Those who guard their tongues keep themselves from calamity (Prov 21:23). So we must guard our tongues and refrain from the sinful act of gossip. If we surrender our natural desires to the Lord, He will help us to remain righteous. “Light shines in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, compassionate, and righteous.” (Ps 112:4)
May we all follow the Bible’s teaching on gossip by keeping our mouths shut unless it is necessary and appropriate to speak. Because God’s Word tells us how we are to act and to speak to one another: “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but if there is any good word for edification according to the need of the moment, say that, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” (Eph 4:29)