THE UGLINESS OF GOSSIP
One of the most frustrating things I have been challenged to deal with in the past year is people who have engaged in slander and gossip about me. In the past year, I have encountered a few situations where people have said untruthful things said about me in my absence. Some were people I hardly knew so I really did not care. Then I started to care when it became social media bullying. Then I lost it when it was people I knew.
Earlier this year a certain lady with a fake Facebook account maligned my name by stating I had sent her nudes of myself. I was understandably shocked and upset. I confronted her online and challenged her to publicly produce the nudes and justify her pitiful exposé. What followed was a succession of deleting accounts on her end and creating new ones to try to corroborate a false story. This was followed with a fake Twitter account under my name which I reported and I began to wonder why anyone would devote such energy to such a low pursuit.
All this seemed pretty okay to deal with until I began to face the matter of slander with people I knew. At the onset, I was livid and confronted some of these people and the results were not pretty. It brought to memory the absolute worst encounter that I had with a former school mate. This fellow told my Bible study group that the reason he broke up with his girlfriend is that I had slept with her. He also added that I was secretly sleeping with all the girlfriends of the men in the group. If being a casanova was a notorious behaviour in my past, the story may have been more credible; the slander was declared dead on arrival. Nevertheless, I confronted the matter. It was here that I understood that a gossiper’s worst nightmare is the light. I received tirades of insults from the fellow and we have never spoken since.
There is always the temptation to take legal action but much thought brings me to consider the wasted energy invested to catch a slippery person whose joy is derived from seeing you miserable. Some, I intentionally did not confront because my wife asked me to let God fight the battles. I thank God for her because she knew before I did that it would get ugly before you could say mazematics. The Bible says in Proverbs 16:28 “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (NIV). It was gossip that drove God to his ire when Miriam and Aaron slandered their brother, Moses in Numbers 12.
Numbers 12:1-2 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. (NKJV)
Oftentimes, gossip starts as factual conversation but then quickly descends into a slur of words against people who are not present to defend themselves. Miriam and Aaron, the elder siblings of Moses, started a factual conversation about their little brother’s new Ethiopian wife. It then flipped to a slander on Moses’s ministry. One outstanding mark of gossip is that the people indulging in it feel justified to critically analyse the life of another without seeking clarification. Of course this is often unnoticed because it is easier to talk about people than to talk to them.
I’ve come to be convinced that God abhors gossip for two reasons. One, because it is a dialect of the native language of the Devil- lying (John 8:44). Secondly, because people are made in the image of God. If you dishonour people, you dishonour God. Gossip seeks to poison people against other people. And the proof of it is that the conversation would experience sudden death if the person walked in.
The antidote for gossip is to remember that the people we slander are made in the image of the God of Heaven. Secondly, that we often don’t have the full picture of a situation we have only heard about. We must also see the severity of punishment in Numbers 12 when the older siblings gossiped about Moses. It could be that the people we attack in secret with our words could be walking faithfully with God and living a pure life. And if they are close to God, our gossip gets personal with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
This reminds me of a teaching I did at a Nairobi Baptist Church camp in 2016. In the camp, we carried out an exposition on Numbers 12 and came up with the following directives concerning gossip. This could be a good accountability list to send to your close friends and family:
If you have a problem with me, come and see me privately. I’ll do the same for you.
If someone else has a problem with me and comes to you, send them to me. I’ll do the same.
If someone won’t come to me, say, ‘Let’s go see him together concerning this matter.’ I’ll do the same for you.
Gossip hurts deeply when the people saying lies about you claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. And it hurts more when the people who listen to it, entertain it and believe it also claim to be Christians. The Bible is also keen on pointing out the evil of believing a one-sided story (Proverbs 18:17). This often occurs because of personal confirmation bias. Ultimately, gossip cannot be contained if the gossiper is unrepentant, no matter how much you confront them. If you are slandered, then the best solution to a pack of lies is to develop a Christlike character. Remember our saviour in 1 Peter 2:21-24:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (RSV)
From this I learned the following lessons:
- Know that you will suffer because Christ suffered
- Watch your own mouth
- Give up the right to retaliate
- Do not threaten or punish; trust God
Know that you will suffer because Christ suffered
1 Peter 2:21 “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”(RSV)
Jesus Christ did not suffer only so that the Christian would not suffer but also and moreover that WHEN the Christian suffers, he or she would overcome. He not only picked the cross for us; he also showed us how to pick up ours. Christ is not only the Hero that saves us from pain; He is also the exemplar of how to handle pain that is sure to come.
Watch your own mouth
1 Peter 2:22 “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips.” (RSV)
No other time are our mouths more dangerous than when we suffer. In the height of human suffering, Christ Jesus kept his mouth shut. Matthew 12:36 says that on the day of judgement men will account for every careless word they spoke on earth. Proverbs 18:21 says death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruits. Unprocessed words will only cause more hurt. Hurt people end up hurting people. I have personally found it necessary to retreat in prayer when I am hurt and angry. And even when I don’t see the solution after prayer, the LORD has often prompted me to extend grace to those that hurt me just as he did for me on that cross.
Give up the right to retaliate
1 Peter 2:23 “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (RSV)
Christ set the bar. You are not justified to sin simply because you have been sinned against. Revenge is the ultimate mark of a lack of Christlikeness. At the heart of Christianity is a perfect God who forgave sinful men. At the heart of revenge is an attitude that counters God’s work on the cross. I like that Jesus tells us that if we don’t forgive those who’ve hurt us, neither will God forgive us (Matthew 6:15). Beloved, forgiveness is to take the keys and open the prison gates only to discover that the prisoner was you. That is why lack of forgiveness does not ultimately and eternally hurt the offender but rather the offended.
Do not threaten or punish; trust God instead
1 Peter 2:23b “When he suffered, he did not threaten but he trusted to him who judges justly.” (RSV)
Finally, leave the matter to God. I soon became aware that if I confronted every gossiper, then I would have to set up a full-time fire fighting career. Let those who want to believe it do so. Let God be your vindication and judge. Christ left vengeance to God, who judges justly. You ought to do the same.