Dale Johnson: I am so excited to invite Caroline Newheiser to the podcast. She is an ACBC certified member, she just completed a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling at RTS in Charlotte, and she is the beloved wife of one of our board members, Jim Newheiser.
We are going to talk about the issue of gossip. In the world in which we live right now with both television and social media, we have so many opportunities to fall into this temptation, and even at church, as we talk to people, we find ourselves struggling with this particular issue of gossip. Before we deal with it, one of the things we have to say is, “What in the world is gossip, and how do we recognize it when we see it?”
Caroline Newheiser: Gossip has a negative tone. It is repeating information meant to slander, put someone in a bad light, or defame their character. One definition is, “The sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.”
Dale Johnson: As we talk about gossip, we certainly see this as an issue throughout the Scriptures, and there are several biblical examples. What are some of those biblical examples about gossip?
Caroline Newheiser: I found in the book of Genesis the story of Noah and his sons. After Noah left the ark, he built a vineyard and became drunk. One of his sons tattled on him, reported what happened to the other brothers, but the two covered his sin. That is an example of negative gossip, but also how to respond to gossip: covering it.
Dale Johnson: What are some of the effects when we find ourselves participating in gossip, when we engage in this activity that the Scripture tells us not to? I must confess, it’s something that for us as humans who are especially extroverted, we enjoy talking. We like to fellowship with one another. It is something that in our culture, we find ourselves more tempted to do or slipping into more often than some other sins.
Caroline Newheiser: That’s right. A good question to ask oneself is, “Would I say this if that person were standing right here? Would I be talking like this?”
Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s right. Sometimes we have conversations, and we feel free to say things about someone that we’re not 100 percent certain of. We’re not sure if this were true about them, and it’s certainly something that we wouldn’t say if they were standing right there with us.
Let’s talk Scripturally about some of the things that God calls us to relative to the way that we talk. We know from Scripture, especially as biblical counselors, that there are certain ways that we try to fight against sins. It’s not just saying, “Well, I shouldn’t talk bad about people,” or, “Well, I shouldn’t spread gossip.” We know that God calls us to obey certain things. What are some of those things in the Scripture that God calls us to obey that can help prevent us from engaging in the sin of gossip?
Caroline Newheiser: Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him.” We need to recognize that there are two sides to a problem. This is important in counseling because you may hear one side of the case and that person wants to convince you that they are right, and yet, you need to be aware to help others by listening to the other side. We also want to realize that with many words, transgression is unavoidable. Like you already mentioned, it is a sin that comes out of a heart of looking at the negative side of someone. So to protect our hearts, we want to move into, “Lord, change my heart so that I can not have to control myself so much with my words, it’ll come out naturally positive speech.” Like Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is for edification building up others according to the need of the moment.”
Dale Johnson: You know those awkward moments when you’re engaged in conversation with someone and you can tell this is going in a direction where a gossip is right on the cusp and they’re beginning to go down that road to gossip? What do you do in situations like that? What are ways that we, in normal, informal fellowship with other people, can stop this process of gossip?
Caroline Newheiser: That’s a great question. I like it because we want to talk about what to do practically. One thing you could say is, “I don’t really need to hear about this,” or, “Let’s talk about something else; I don’t need to know that,” or, “You’re really speaking negatively about someone, so have you spoken with them about it?” which is the Matthew 18, you go and talk to your brother first before you tell others.
Dale Johnson: Most of the time when we speak negatively about someone else, it’s often because that’s a disposition of our heart. That’s the way we’re looking at other people. One of the ways that we can help to change even our own hearts and the hearts of those that we work with is, instead of being negative about all the things that they see, begin to think about things from a positive perspective. Begin to look at what God has done that is good in that person or what God has done that is helpful from that person. What are some Scriptures that tell us to think about people in that way?
Caroline Newheiser: First Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love hopes all things.” I take that to mean you put the best spin on what they are saying or their motives. Gossip is talking a lot about motives. We think we know why somebody did something, and yet, the Lord says to speak truth to one another; He is truth.
Dale Johnson: One of the things that you’re saying there is, when we gossip, we’re actually acting as though we’re the judge of all the earth; we have made this judgment call on what we believe to be true about that person in that particular moment. We know the truth about who God is, and that’s His role. Talk for a second about His role as the judge in matters just like this.
Caroline Newheiser: That’s a good term. “Judge not lest you will be judged in the same manner.” That’s Matthew 7. We are not to stand in judgment, and that’s why we love gossip. We love to judge people, and that puts us above everyone else around us. That’s one reason it’s such a temptation.
Dale Johnson: Let’s take this to the counseling room. You have a lady, and it’s probably some other issue that’s brought her into the counseling room with you, and let’s say you can tell she’s dealing with this issue of gossip. She believes the most negative thing about people and she likes to share that, oftentimes, to excuse her own desires and things that she wants to do. What are some helpful things that you try to walk her through to overcome this issue of gossip?
Caroline Newheiser: We want to begin with Scripture, and there are plenty of Scriptures that talk about how negative gossip is. It’s one of the six things that God hates. On the positive side, Psalm 19:14 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God.” We’re giving her tools to help her fight this sin by thinking God’s thoughts, and God is truth.
Dale Johnson: That’s right. Now, let’s flip this around and look at it from the other direction. I know we’ve talked, in brief, about women who are afraid that they might gossip, so they don’t tell things that are actually true. There are true things that they may need to tell someone else. How does a woman know what is gossip and what is not, and when she’s not gossiping, when she’s telling something that’s true, that maybe is happening in her home that’s not righteous, good, or helpful?
Caroline Newheiser: That’s a good question because our conference is about abuse, and a lot of women are afraid to tell what’s happening because they don’t want to speak badly about their husbands. A counselor should assure her that the only people who will know are the people who can help, so some abuse needs to be mentioned so that leadership in the church or a counselor can help her work through it, and it’s for the purpose of restoration like Galatians 6:1. I’ve emphasized that you want to restore your husband, you know he’s not walking with Christ. This is a way we can do it. We will help you.
Dale Johnson: Sometimes we’re the ones who are being gossiped about and man’s words can be really tough to deal with, especially words that we know are untrue. It can affect us emotionally in the way that we think about others, and the way that we respond. How do we deal with situations when other people may be gossiping about us? What hope do we have there?
Caroline Newheiser: When a woman comes to me with this situation, I bring her to Psalm 26:1 where David says, “Vindicate me O Lord for I have walked in my integrity and I’ve trusted in the Lord without wavering.” I pointed to the fact that God knows. God knows her heart and if she is accused falsely, then the Lord knows, and that’s the most important aspect anyway. Because we lose sight of God in all of this when we get involved as people. Also, Jesus Himself was slandered. He was accused of wanting to take down the temple in three days and rebuild it, and cannibalism because people did not understand, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” He also endured, and we can follow His example. Jesus did not defend Himself before the Pharisees. He just stated truth and He died for sins of gossip, which we need to realize how heinous the sin is.
Dale Johnson: That’s a great point. This is a sin that is easy for people to commit, it’s a sin that is common for all of humanity, but it’s still a sin that God viewed it enough to place it on Christ, demonstrating His wrath against sin. We’re not dealing with something that we should make common.
Caroline Newheiser: That’s right. I think that’s an important point to make, because gossip is so destructive. It ruins families, it ruins churches, and it affects the biblical counseling to some extent. We have all faced false accusations.