Defeating a Bad Habit

     Life is composed of a series of ebbs and flows. It is one change after another. The force and influence of evil is also cyclical. Things get worse and, thankfully, they get better. We are always praying for things to get better. The blessing of being in Christ is that through all the changes of life we can enjoy spiritual stability.

     Unless, that is, we give in to some bad habits we pick up from the world around us. The bad habits I have in mind can damage and if left uncorrected, destroy us spiritually. God has seen fit to warn us about these dangerous habits in His Word. We are without excuse.

     One such bad habit is the practice of gossip. Gossip is the use of our God-given ability of speech for sinful purposes. James said, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:5-6 NKJV).

     Note the language James uses. The word “tongue” stands for our language skills. No other creature of God can communicate like us. Yet with this great ability comes great responsibility, a responsibility we often neglect. James stressed that the tongue is in the unique position to say things that result in the body doing things. These things are sometimes good and sometimes bad. Just a few carelessly chosen words can create a fire that can eat up friends, family and even churches.

     Why do we continue to struggle with gossip given that we all know the trouble it causes? Part of the reason seems to be that people love to be thought of as “in the know.” In more than one conversation with great gossips we’ve heard the person say, “Well, I don’t know why people are always telling me these things?” as if that statement excused them from being involved in this dangerous practice. The reason a person hears gossip is because they will listen to it! Gossip makes the gossip feel important; a feeling is all it is. If you really do not want to be a gossip, do not listen to gossip.

     Another important fact associated with gossip is that very frequently the information being circulated is untrue. Colossians 3:9 says, “Do not lie to one another.” I know that gossips claim that they never say anything that is not true but experience indicates the opposite is true. Most of what gossips tell is hearsay or created out of whole cloth in order to accomplish an unspoken agenda. Thus most gossips are liars. They may not set out to be but they are. The gossip’s go to excuse is this: “Well, so and so told me; I’m just repeating what they said.” Once you repeat something it is yours and if it is not true then you’ve repeated a lie.

     Along these lines I remember something a great old friend of mine would ask from time to time: “What do you know for certain?” If a situation arises in which we come to know something “for certain” and it happens to be negative then our responsibility is to go to the people involved and try to help. There is no justification to repeat negative information about someone.

     When folks bring me something about another person I ask this question about their information: “How do you know?” If the response is one of reliance on a gossip chain I then tell the person talking to me that I will follow that chain by calling or going to see their “source.” Many times people will ask that I do not do that because they might be embarrassed or that they might not know if what they’ve said is true after all. Obviously such things should never be repeated.

    Let’s remember that the “tongue is a fire” and that gossip is not a harmless activity. It is manifestation of self-centeredness and is a sin that can lead to spiritual destruction. We sometimes say, “Well, everybody does it.” Well, most folks probably do, but sin is sin, gossip is sin, and therefore we ought to reject it.