Let the Fire Die

Gossip can tear through a church or a community like wildfire, leaving nothing but ashes and bitterness where there used to be close friendships and love, and so Solomon presents us with a word to the wise about this destructive sin. If there is nothing to burn, the fire will go out. If no one is feeding the flames of gossip with whispered rumors and slanders, the wildfire of quarreling and strife will dwindle and die.

What is gossip? Gossip is private (often negative) information shared more widely than is appropriate. Or, oversimplified: detrimental words spoken to the wrong people at the wrong time. The word “talebearer”, as the KJV has it, connects gossip with passing on stories, and the word “whisperer”, which the ESV uses, focuses on the secrecy or privacy that is violated by gossip. Gossip is not necessarily wrong information (that’s the sin of lying), or even knowing or learning private information; gossip occurs when the wrong people come to know personal matters, or when such matters are transmitted in the wrong way.

Gossip likes to hide, and it usually ducks behind some familiar faces: Gossip tries to sneak behind good intentions, or availability, or “the truth”. But gossip doesn’t stay within the bounds of your intentions. Well-intended gossip is still gossip. Information might be wrongfully available (stolen or hacked). Even if it is public, just because it’s available doesn’t mean that sharing it is loving. While the truth of your words might mean that you aren’t gossiping and lying at the same time, the sin of gossip lies in the how and to whom, not in the what. Not all truths are meant for all people.

So what does gossip do? In the metaphor of Proverbs 26, the fire that gossip brings is quarreling and strife, and Proverbs 16:28 fills out the picture by telling us that a whisperer, a talebearer, a gossip separates close friends. Gossip is essentially a relational sin, a sin that brings death to community. Peace and love are gossip’s first victims, and when gossip has done its work, friendships than have been forged over decades go up in smoke in just a few moments of careless conversation.

But here’s how the fire dies: gossip dies when you close your lips. Dump a bucket of cold water on your fiery pride that clamors for attention even at the expense of others. Don’t post that negative link. Don’t repeat that detrimental story. Don’t “raise awareness” of other people’s mistakes. If you wouldn’t say it in that person’s presence, don’t say it in their absence, either.

The fire of gossip dies when you close your ears. Proverbs 17:4 says “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.” Listening to gossip is also sinful, so don’t give ear to a mischievous tongue. Put to death the curiosity in your heart that moves you to click on that link, or to keep listening. Externally, you have two godly and loving options when a fire-breathing gossip comes your way: you can man the fire hose, or you can evacuate. Rebuke them to their face if you love them, and if they don’t repent, unfriend them and avoid their company.

The fire of gossip dies when you replace whispered rumors with bold words of love. Prov. 10:11 – “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” Prov. 15:4 – “A gentle tongue is a tree of life.” Prov. 16:24 – “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” And as James tells us, blessing and cursing aren’t supposed to come out of the same mouth. Don’t breathe fire. Use your tongue for building up, not burning down.

Use your tongue and hold your tongue like Jesus does. You have a friend in Jesus who never gossips, even though He has more dirt on you than you can even remember. He knows everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever thought, and yet He never breathes a word about any of it. There are no gossip-fires in God’s presence, which means that there are no broken relationships in heaven. The good news of the gospel is that the blood of Jesus puts out the fires that your tongue sets. Wisdom invites you to be like Jesus, and to let the fire die.

Posted on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 by CJ Bowen