Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Power of Words, Day 4

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth tells us about a pastor’s recommendation to his church about gossip.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: He suggested that when someone approaches you and begins to say something about someone else that is not kind or edifying, you should say as loudly as you can, “I don’t want to hear it!”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 101, for Friday, June 23.

Satan is sometimes called “the accuser.” When we accuse others, we are acting just like him. Find out more as Nancy continues in the series, "The Power of Words." She'll describe some evil twins: gossip and slander.

Nancy: We have been talking about the tongue and how our tongues have power to wound or to heal. We have been looking at Proverbs 18:21, and I have encouraged you to memorize at least the first part of this verse. Post it in different places where you will see it throughout the daythe phrase that says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

We have been looking at many different aspects taught in Proverbs. There is a lot all throughout Scripture about the tongue. But we have been focusing specifically on what Proverbs has to say about the tongue.

If you have not been with us in the previous sessions, I encourage you do your own study of the book of Proverbs and read through the book, verse by verse. Write out every verse you see that has anything to do with the tongue, mouth, or lips. There are also other verses that have to do with quarreling, angry words, contentious words, and gracious words.

Do what I have done with those versesput them into two categories: areas where we please the Lord with our tongues and areas where we dishonor, wound, or even bring death with our tongues.

We come today to the subject of gossip, which is prominently referenced in the book of Proverbs. I am reminded of an I Love Lucy episode where Lucy was on the phone with a friend and talking about Betty. When Lucy got off the phone, Ricky said to her:

“Lucy, gossiping is wrong.”

Lucy said, “Who? Me? Gossiping?”

Ricky said, “What do you call what you were doing on the phone?”

Lucy said, “Well, it wasn’t gossiping. I prefer to think of it as a mutual exchange of vital information. Anyway, she was gossiping. I was just listening, and that isn't gossip.”

Scripture has a lot to say about this thing called gossip. One of the characteristics in Proverbs is that gossip is not harmless. In fact, it can be deadly. Gossiping words can wound and destroy. We will see that the mouth of foolishthe mouth of the wicked personis a mouth that speaks words of gossip.

Slander is closely related to gossip, but there is a bit of a difference between them. Joe Stowell has a wonderful book called The Weight of Your Words. In it he suggests that slander is: “the open, intentional sharing of damaging information” where one person shares with another person information about an absent third person.

Usually, you wouldn’t say these types of words if the third person were in the room. It is information that is damaging to that person’s character or reputation. So it's the open, intentional sharing of damaging informationthat’s slander.

Dr. Stowell says that gossip, on the other hand, is “often done in the context of idle or careless chatter.”1 Both gossip and slander are very damaging and dangerous. We can easily fall into gossip when we are just not thinking. It may not be intentional—just a group of women talking. We get together and start talking about things we have heard, seen, experienced, or heard from others.

In the context of careless chatter, we can end up sinning with our lips. Now the word slander means “to blemish, to fault, or to speak against.” It is interesting. The original language of the New Testament was Greek. The word that is often translated slander in the New Testament is also the word from which we get the English words “devilish” and “diabolic.”

You say, “What is the connection—slander, devilish, and diabolic?” There is a real close connection. Who is the original slanderer? Satan. He is the accuser of the brethren. (Revelation 12:10, paraphrased) In the King James translation, the word diabolic or diabolos is translated slander. If you have a New International Version, it is translated malicious talkers. It means the same thing as saying malicious things about another person.

We learn in 1 Timothy chapter 3 that one of the qualifications for a deacon’s wifea deacon is a spiritual leader or spiritual servant in the church—is that she is not to engage in slanderous, literally diabolic, or malicious speech (v. 11).

Did you know that if you are a slanderer, you disqualify your husband from having a place of spiritual leadership in the church? As a wife you can sin with your lips that your husband is not free to serve God in ways that he may be otherwise qualified to do.

Not only is it true that deacons' wives should not speak slanderously or maliciously, but it is true of all of usmarried or single, male or femaleWhen we slander, we are really using the weapons, instruments, and methods of the devil himself.

Proverbs says in chapter 10, verse 18, “Whoever spreads slander is a fool.” I like meditating on verses in order to pick them apart, develop them, and expand on what they mean. But that verse just speaks for itselfdoesn’t it?

“Whoever spreads slander is a fool.” As I read that verse, I have to ask myself the question: “Am I a fool? Have I been foolish?” I know the answer is, “Yes.” At many points, I have been foolish in things that I have said about another person that either is not true, or is true, but is malicious and designed to pull down that person’s reputationdestructive words.

Proverbs 16:27 tells us, “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.” He digs up evil; he is receptive to evil things he has heard about other people and those things are on his lips like a burning fire. He has to get rid of them; he has to share them with others.

Another word to describe that kind of ungodly man is scoundrel. Slander is an ugly way to use our tongues. This person’s words are incendiary; they burn like fire and blaze out of control.

As I meditated on these verses, I thought back to a few occasions when I had been a victim of someone saying things that weren't true. It hurt so deeply at the time and the memory of it is still painful.

Someone who carelessly—and I don’t think there was an intent to be malicious in this case—came to conclusions that were not true and shared them with others. It hurt my reputation; it hurt my pride. God used that instance in a way that was sanctifying in my life, and I can look back on it and thank the Lord for what He taught me through it.

But now I am instructed as I think back on that occasion and a few others. I have to trust my own reputation to God, but I think, What have I done to the reputation of others?

I was in a meeting not too long ago where we were talking about some various ministries and Christian workers. Someone’s name came up, a person that I actually respect very highly, who is a great servant of the Lord. But there are some aspects of that person’s view of Scripture where I have a different understanding of the Scripture.

For some reason I felt compelled in that setting, and it was not necessary, to say what I knew. I realized, as I got out of that meeting, that I had put this other servant of the Lord in a bad light. I had not helped their reputation. It was not a situation in which speaking what I knew would enhance the cause of Christ or that it needed to be said. I was simply saying something that I knew, but didn’t need to be said.

When I got out of the meeting, I was so convicted about slandering that person’s reputation, that I got on my cell phone before I left town and got a hold of the first person I could who had been in that meeting. I said, “I was so wrong. I should not have given a negative report of another servant of the Lord. Their works can speak for themselves, but I didn’t need to point it out. Would you please forgive me?”

I couldn’t get a hold of the others at the moment, but I felt like I needed to address it. When I got home, I wrote a letter to the others who had been in that meeting and again sought forgiveness for having slandered the reputation of that servant of the Lord.

If you deal with these issues as they surface, you will find that it puts a restraint on your tongue. I don’t want to write those kinds of letters very often, or make those kinds of calls very often. I have had to make them more often than I would like to admit. If you humbly deal with issues as God convicts you, then you will find that God uses them to bring your tongue under control.

We need to be asking before we speak, “Is this a good report of this person?” Philippians says that we should be thinking about things that are pure, good, true, lovely, and of a good report (4:8, paraphrased). Is this a good report? Is it true? Have I verified the facts? Is what I am saying true? Even if it is true, is it kind and necessary? Do I need to say this, or am I just filling space with my words?

Some of us have a hard time with silence, and we always have to jump in to say something. We often want to make ourselves look better, or we know something that others don’t, so we jump in and end up saying things that are unnecessary.

Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it a good report? I think this is one of the sins that is most prevalent among us, as women; one of the ones we most need to confess to the Lord. It is one of the most damaging ways we use our tongue in our families, in our churches, and in our communities. We can wreak incredible havoc with the sin of gossip.

A gossip, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a person who "chatters or repeats idle talk or rumors, especially about the private affairs of others."

As we get into the Proverbs, you will notice that there are several related words. The word gossip is often found in the New International Version. If you go back to the King James or the New King James Version, you will see the word talebearer, which is the same word that is translated gossip in the NIV. The dictionary says "a talebearer is a person who spreads scandal or tells secrets, a gossip."

Whisperer is another word you will see used in some translations. That is synonymous with a talebearer or a gossip—a whisperer. It is interesting that in the Greek, the word for whisper actually starts with the sound Psst—whispering. It is often true that gossiping is done—we wouldn’t be broadcasting it—behind the scenes, behind backs. “Psst, did you hear . . . ? Did you know . . . ? Can you believe . . . ?” Secret slander is really what we are talking about here—gossiping.

Backbiting is another word used in some of your translations—to speak maliciously about a person who is not there. It is secret whispering or a secret slander. Proverbs has a lot to say about a gossip, talebearer, or whisperer. Let’s look at some of those verses together.

Proverbs 11:13 says, “A talebearer [or a gossip] reveals secrets,” he betrays confidence, “but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” A gossip is not trustworthy; they can’t keep a secret; they share confidential information. But, you say, “Well, the person who told me didn’t say it was confidential.” Do you think the person who told you would be comfortable with knowing you were repeating it? Has the person who told you given you freedom to share it?

It may be that you don’t think the information is damaging, but ask yourself, “If I were that person, would I be comfortable with this information being passed along to someone else?” A talebearer reveals secrets.

Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer [a slanderer, a gossip] separates the best of friends.” We can actually break up relationships and friendships by sowing seeds of distrust or doubt.

Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.”  “He who covers a transgression seeks love.” The way of love is the way of overlooking offenses.

Do you overlook offenses or do you feel compelled to magnify them and repeat them to others? In case your mind isn’t thinking at the moment about how this might apply to you, let me ask about when your husband offends you.

It happened yesterday to someone who came to the session yesterday. She shared that before she arrived at the session yesterday, her husband said something that was hurtful to her. Then she talked about the conflict that ensued. Thankfully, by the time she was telling it, she was expressing her responsibility in the matter.

Think about when your husband sins against you or wounds you. Do you go pick up the phone and call someone else? Do you call your mother and repeat to her all that happened—at the risk of creating a wedge between her and your husband—coloring her view of your husband? You should want her to think well of your husband. That doesn’t mean he is sinless—he is not. We all know that; it doesn’t mean he doesn't have issues.

But if the person that you are sharing this information with is not part of the problem or part of the solution, don’t share. It doesn’t have to be said. Love covers over a multitude of offenses (1 Peter 4:8, paraphrased).

Our words can promote love, unity, and oneness in a relationship, or they can be divisive and break up a relationship. Proverbs 18 tells us, “The words of a talebearer [or a gossip] are like tasty trifles,” or like the New International Version says, “choice morsels.” “And they go down into the inmost [part of the] body” (verse 8).

Hearing gossip or passing on gossip sometimes is like—this is a very vivid word picture here—it's like having a delicacy. You know something others don’t know, and you want to pass it on. It is something special; something that not everyone else has heard. It is like food being digested. It goes down into the innermost parts of the body.

You share the information with someone else—just in passing. You are saying it quickly without thinking about it. But it goes down into that person’s mind and into their thoughts, and it stays there. They digest it; they assimilate it into their being; they remember it.

Proverbs 20 tells us, “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.” That was verse 19. Do you realize what that says? It means that gossips or talebearers are to be avoided.

If you are the kind of person that people feel comfortable dumping gossip on, that may tell you something about your own character. Proverbs teaches that if you are wise, you will avoid gossips and you will do what you can to shut it down graciously, kindly, and lovingly.

Do not be a part of destroying the Body of Christ, for which He gave His life. When we speak words of gossip or slander, we sin against ourselves and we sin against the Lord. When we sin against our own body in this way, we also sin against our own family, or the Body of Christ.

So if I say something to others that is destructive about you, I’m sinning against my body. I am wounding myself; I am wounding the Body of Christ. We are all part of one another. If I say something that tears two people apart, then I am destroying the Body of Christ.

Paul tells us in the New Testament that if we destroy the Body of Christ, God will destroy us. We will tear ourselves down; we will self-destruct, if we destroy the Body of Christ with our tongues.

Proverbs 17:4 mentions listening to gossip again, “An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful [or destructive] tongue” (NKJV). The sin is not just in passing on the gossip; the sin is in listening to the gossip and when we do, our ears become garbage cans.

Even as I am saying this, I feel like I am little rough. Maybe as I have been working this through, I am seeing how careless I am about some of these issues in my own life and how important this is to the Lord. This is no small matter to Him. Oh, that we would not use our lips to tear down the Body of Christ!

I heard one preacher talk about how to deal with hearing gossip. He suggested—he was preaching on this subject—that when someone approaches you and begins to say something about someone else that is not kind or edifying, you should say as loudly as you can, “I don’t want to hear it!”

Then he told about how after the service on the far end of the parking lot you could hear this little old lady say, “I don’t want to hear it!” Everybody knew what had happened: Someone said something that they probably would never say to that woman again.

Charles Swindoll talks about how he handles this kind of thing. He says,

Perhaps like me you’ve received a phone call from someone who says, “I want to tell you about so-and-so.” [He says to that person], “Wait a minute. May I quote you?” There’s usually a long pause. And then they’ll say, “Well, I’m not sure that would be a good idea.”

Invariably my answer would be, “Then I’m not interested in hearing what you have to say. If you’re not interested in putting your name on it, if you’re not interested in being there when we confront the individual, I’m not interested in listening to what you’ve got to say.” 2

The mouth of the foolish spreads gossip, and the heart of the foolish listens to and receives gossip.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is not done with us yet. She will be right back to help us apply today’s message. Nancy’s current series called, "The Power of Words."

Do you ever finding yourself gossiping about your husband? A woman named Anne was struck by how many wives do this. She was in the middle of a challenge offered by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth to watch her words for thirty days.

Anne: It actually showed me how disrespectful as a whole we are in our society toward our husbands and toward men—in the church and out of the church.

Right during the time we were doing it [the challenge], it was during softball season. I would sit on the bleachers with those other wives and listen to the way they talked to their husbands. I just heard some really cruel things coming out of women's mouths. Then all the women would laugh. I just thought, That is the world that has permeated the church.

I really felt that this challenge brought me back to not only want to be more respectful of my husband, but also to inspire and challenge other women to be respectful of their husbands.

Nancy: I’m so encouraged Anne has been learning new habits and speaking words that bring life to her husband and those around her. You have a unique opportunity to work on developing that kind of habit. On July 1, we’d like to send you one email a day for thirty days. Each email will include a devotional from me or my friend Mary Kassian about using our words wisely.

To make this challenge even more meaningful, I encourage you to sign up with a small group or a friend or maybe your whole family so you can discuss what you’re learning together and encourage each other. To start this challenge with us, you need to sign up at ReviveOurHearts.com by June 30. That way we can start together on July 1 and do this throughout the month of July—as we challenge each other to glorify God with the way we use our words.

Nancy will tackle the fine art of listening next time. Today she has been talking with us about gossip. If you need a change in this area, would you pray with her? Here is Nancy.

Nancy: Oh Lord, how we need Your cleansing and Your forgiveness. Thank you for grace that can take slanderers and gossips and can cleanse us, change us, and give us speech that is pure, wholesome, and edifying. I pray that You would do that work in our hearts. Even as we leave this place today, that the words we speak would minister life and grace. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

It's not gossiping to tell you that Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.

1Joseph M. Stowell. The Weight of Your Words. Moody: Chicago, IL, 1998. 40.
2CharlesR. Swindoll. The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. Word: Nashville, 1998. 575.

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