Taking stock of our lives and how we live day in and day out is especially pertinent during Lent. Our speech and how we use our tongues is of utmost importance to God. So, having a heightened realization of the words that come out of our mouths might just be the best place to begin in living the repentant life of Lent.
One of the leading temptations of people (in both the church and the world) is gossip.
Scripture speaks with clarity on the subject of gossip. Gossip is included on lists of evil behavior (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20). It is to speak against another person behind their back, without their knowledge. The New Testament word for gossip can literally be translated as “whisperings.” In other words, anything that needs to be whispered and not said out loud is likely to be something that should be kept to oneself. The Apostle James was straightforward in exhorting the church that “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, which is the place to find short pithy statements of experiential truth, we see the damage and destruction that our tongues can wreak through gossip. Here are just a few: “A gossip betrays a confidence….” “…a gossip separates close friends.” True repentance does not only identify and confess wrong speech, but adopts new patterns of speaking that kills gossip.
To avoid gossip we must: be trustworthy by being people who keep confidences (Proverbs 11:13); and, steer clear of people who talk too much (Proverbs 20:19).
We even get a glimpse in Scripture of why a gossip uses his/her tongue in such a way. The Apostle John found it difficult to minister in certain places because of Diotrephes’ wagging tongue. He maliciously gossiped about John because Diotrephes loved to be first (3 John 9-10). Indeed, much gossip comes from a feeling of superiority or power over another. Gossip inevitably, as in the case of Diotrephes, leads to a lack of hospitality and imitating evil behavior instead of loving words and actions.
We often grossly underestimate our ability to say unkind words of gossip to others.
If a person cannot go twenty-four hours without drinking liquor, we would say that person is addicted to alcohol. Likewise, if one cannot go twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others, then that person has lost control over the tongue and repentance is in order. There is absolutely no place for backbiting in the church; it is the one institution on earth that ought to be a gossip-free zone.
What destroys churches is not lack of members or funds, or government oppression or anything else; what kills congregations is gossip.
The way to overcome gossip is to talk with the person who slighted you, ignored you, or hurt you. There cannot be a healthy culture of encouragement, help, and forgiveness unless there is an equal commitment to avoiding gossip through speaking to the one who caused damage. Such persons are called peacemakers by Jesus. Listening to gossip is like eating a wormy rotten apple; it will always leave a bad taste. But having an environment free of gossip brings a feeling of health right down to the bones.
For gossip to dry up in the church there must be a shared value and commitment to do away with it.
Yes, Lent is a season of repentance. It is a time to realize sin and turn from it through embracing godly words and actions. If there is to be the joy of Easter and new life, there must be the hard work of repentance during Lent. There are no shortcuts.