Gossip: How to respond

We have considered the fact that gossip is evidence of a debased mind and have worked through some of the ways to overcome gossip in our own lives. But how should you respond when you are the victim of gossip?

If you have ever been gossiped about, you know the sting of betrayal (Psalm 55:12–14) and the sense of vulnerability that attends it. Perhaps you, like David, have felt the desire to run and hide to escape the shame of having your good name dragged through the mud (Psalm 55:4–8). A good reputation is a valuable thing (Proverbs 22:1) and it is not always easy to know how to respond as the victim of gossip. As always, there is help to be found in Scripture as we seek to respond faithfully and lovingly to gossip.

David offers some insight in Psalm 140 as to a faithful response to gossip. There, he writes of the slander he faced from those whose tongue was sharp and whose lips were poisonous (v. 3). When he was the victim of a sharp tongue and venomous lips, he took his prayer to the Lord (vv. 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 12). He did not respond in kind. He did not immediately complain to his friends that he was being slandered (though it is reasonable to assume that he may have confided in some close friends). He went to prayer. And observe how he prayed.

First, he prayed for deliverance (vv. 1–5). Never one to take matters into his own hands, he went to the Lord and pleaded for the Lord to deliver him from those who were slandering him. The gossip hurt and he did not stoically accept it and allow it to bounce off him. Instead, he pleaded with the Lord for deliverance.

Perhaps you are right now the victim of a sharp tongue and venomous lips. Have you prayed about it? Have you asked the Lord to deliver you from this affliction?

Second, he prayed for justice (vv. 9–11). Not content with mere deliverance, David recognised that the sin of those who were slandering him needed to be exposed so that they were shamed. He prayed for them to be caught in their own words (v. 9) and for coals of shame to be heaped on their heads (v. 10). Part of this, no doubt, was so that he would be vindicated, but more than that, he could not bear to see “the slanderer established in the land” (v. 11). He knew that he would not be the last victim of gossip and did not want the sharp-tongued and poison-lipped to be established so that they could harm more people.

If you are the victim of a sharp tongue and venomous lips, you should not take vengeance upon yourself. But it is absolutely right for you to plead with God to bring justice. If you respond like Jesus, you will not revile when you are reviled, nor will you threaten when you suffer, but you will commit yourself to God, who always judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21–23).

Third, David prayed with confidence (vv. 6–8, 12–13). He knew that God was able to deliver him from slanderers and to expose gossips. He was not hopeless but genuinely confident that God would honour his name and protect his people by bringing shame upon those who gossiped.

If you take the Scriptures seriously, you can be confident that God does not take lightly the sin of gossip. Particularly when it is the sin of professing believers, you can be sure that God wishes to expose the sharp tongue and the poisoned lips and so, as you pray for deliverance and justice, you can do so confidently, committing yourself to the one who judges righteously. You can confidently cast your cares of the God who sustains you, knowing that he does not want to see the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).

As you pray confidently, however, understand that God’s answers do not always arrive according to our timing. We want instant justice, but God’s timetable is not always the same as ours. It may take “a little while” but we can be confident that, in God’s time, “the wicked will be no more” while “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace” (Psalm 37:7–11).

Waiting is difficult. Confident as we might be in God’s promise to answer, what do we do while we wait for justice? The words of Jesus are relevant at this point: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44–45).

What does it look like to “love your enemies,” particularly when those “enemies” gossip about you? It may look different in different circumstances, but Scripture provides some broad counsel.

First, to love your enemies means to pray for them. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). The idea is not to pray vengeance on them but to pray in a God-like way: “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” How does our Father in heaven respond to those who hate him and speak evil of him? “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Do you pray for those who malign you? Do you pray for their good? Yes, you should want their sin exposed so that it will be stopped, but you should at the same time want God to bring them to repentance and faith. And you should pray accordingly.

Second, to love your enemies sometimes means to overlook their sin. “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offence” (Proverbs 19:11). Often—perhaps more often than not—there is value in overlooking the gossip’s offence. There will be times when that is impossible. The nature of some gossip demands confrontation but if the gossip is of a sort that you can absorb and let go, even if it hurts, there is often value to one-sided forgiveness.

Third, to love your enemies sometimes means to confront them. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Confrontation begins one on one, though it may develop to necessitate further intervention if the sinning brother will not repent (Matthew 18:15–20). Love is sometimes able to absorb and overlook an offence but it does not sweep sin under the carpet. When a relationship is severely harmed by gossip, love requires action in order to restore it.

It is helpful to approach confrontation with some questions in mind: Is there any truth to the story beign told? Is there some kernel of truth that requires repentance on my behalf? Is there something I should learn from the situation? Is it necessary to defend myself?

Fourth, to love your enemies means to repay evil with good. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Jesus prayed for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34). He died for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5:8). It may seem foolish to repay evil with good, but that is precisely the kind of folly to which the gospel calls us (1 Corinthians 4:10–13).

This is all far easier to write than it is to practice but, as we look to Jesus, we find strength to do what seems otherwise humanly impossible. Jesus endured far more slander and gossip than we ever will but he loved those who wronged him and calls us to do the same.

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