Have you ever known someone who talks too much? They’re chatty. They tend to tell too much about themselves, their circumstances, and for that matter, they seem to share everyone else’s lives as well. We say of such people that they “they don’t have a filter.” But what we need to be asking is if they can be legitimately labeled as a “gossip?” The reason I raise this question, is due to the fact that these chatty folks are largely stereotyped as “gossips.” But is this a fair judgement? I would argue that it is a misjudgment for two reasons: first, it either denies or overlooks the reality of people’s natural dispositions – where with some they are the extrovert and with others, they are the introvert. The extrovert is your open book. They tend not to know a stranger. They’re very relational. Easy to get to know. And they are therefore wired to be naturally talkative. Whereas the introvert holds his cards close to the chest, as it were. They’re very private and typically have very few friends. They talk very little, though they’re silence doesn’t mean they’re not thinking. Nevertheless, in contrast to the extrovert, the introvert is a closed book. It is thus not hard to see how the extrovert could be more easily targeted as a gossip simply because he’s naturally bent to tell all. But is he really a gossip or just a natural born talker who loves relating to other people?
The second reason I believe it’s a misjudgment to stereotype those who are chatty as bona fide gossips, is because gossip as a sin has nothing to do with talking too much. As I labored to show in my previous post, gossip (defined by God’s Word) is “talking about other people laced with fabrications, hearsay, conjecture, and innuendo with the sole intent on ruining their reputation.” Essentially, gossip is slander. It is bearing false witness against another person (Exod. 20:16). It therefore has nothing to do with someone who is chatty, but with someone who has crafted what they say with the design to befoul a person’s credibility.
But can a person who is a natural born talker ever be guilty of gossip? The answer to this question is obviously “yes,” but with qualifications. Since the extrovert is wired to talk often and much about many things, they therefore have to be extra careful not to share information that could damage another person’s reputation. While it may not be their motive to hurt other people in this way, they can inadvertently reveal something about someone to the wrong person who could take that information and use it to their advantage to sully someone’s name. Those then whose aptitude is geared toward much conversation should remember the wisdom of God’s Word which says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19).
Nevertheless, I contend that it is an unfair judgment to automatically, without exception, label a talkative person as a gossip. So, who then can be legitimately classed as a gossip? Here, we turn back to Scripture and consider the word which the Holy Spirit has given us that helps us identify the true gossip. In Proverbs 26:20, we’re told, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” The term”whisperer” is the biblical word for a gossip. It is the translation of the Hebrew noun nirgan which has as its root meaning, “to roll to pieces,” and is understood as a person who is a slanderer or talebearer. This is your gossip. They are someone whose commodity is never in truth but lies. Hence, they are rumormongers. Their expertise is in the spreading of false reports, which God categorically condemns (see Exod. 23:1). Moreover, they live upon scandal for their own selfish reasons, making it their malicious business to carry about tales to defame someone’s character. And their aim in this endeavor is manifold.
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) said of the gossip or talebearer, that they do this to stir up and divide the best of friends, sowing discord in families, churches, and societies. Yet what is most devastating in the wake of the gossip’s false report, is that it works itself deep in the memory of those who hear it. This is why Proverbs 26:22 says of the gossip’s words, that “they are like delicious morsels, they go down deep into the inner parts of the body.” As one writer said in this regard, “Although we may try not to be influenced by what we’ve heard, it’s hard to put it out of our minds.” Tragically, this is how gossip retains its power to divide and conquer. Adding further layers to this fact, Charles Bridges (1794-1869) wrote: “We may seem to make light of the tale brought to our ears, and wholly to despise it. But the subtle poison has worked. [We muse to ourselves], ‘Suppose it should be true. Perhaps, though it may be exaggerated, there may be some ground for it.’ The thought indulged only for a moment brings suspicion, distrust, coldness; and often it ends in the separation of chief friends.”
But how can we, as God’s people, overturn the potential wreckage that the gossip spreads by way of false reports? Philip Graham Ryken, in his exposition of Exodus 23:1, answered such a question in very practical terms. He writes: “By not listening to unfounded rumors in the first place. If someone tries to tell us something that is none of our business, we shouldn’t even listen. If it is our business, then we should go back to the people involved and make sure that we have the story straight. We should be careful not to believe everything we hear, especially from someone who is angry or has an ax to grind. We should also be careful not to repeat everything we hear. We should only say what we certainly know to be true. Even then, we should only say it if it is our place to say it, if it is said out of true love for others, and if it will advance God’s work in the world. If our words are unable to pass these simple tests, it would be better for us not to say anything at all!”