Ephesians 4.29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Corrupt literally means decomposed. It is used of rotten fruit. Instead of the tongue becoming an agent which causes decomposition, it must be used for edification – to build and reinforce good and godly relationships. We must refresh with the tongue. We must become a clear, fresh-water spring. We must be this consistently. How do we do this? Matthew Mitchell’s book Resisting Gossip provides some excellent practical advice:
- Say nothing at all. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking. But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10.19). “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace” (Proverbs 17.28a). Sometimes the best thing to say, type, or text is nothing at all.
- Commend the commendable. Speak about people the way you want them to speak about you. Words are a powerfully destructive force, but they are powerfully constructive force as well. We are either wrecking balls or a builders. You can always find a good thing to say about another. If Paul found something good to say about the Corinthian believers, you can find something good to say about a brother or sister in Christ.
- Talk to people, not about them. If someone offended you at church, talk to that person not about that person. If someone you work with hurt your feelings during a meeting, go to her not other co-workers. If your parents ruined your plans, speak to them not to your friends about them. Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, had one rule to manage conflicts: “Never about, always to.”
- Offer words of grace. As Paul said in Ephesians 4.29, we must “impart grace to the hearers.” “The lips of the righteous feed many” (Proverbs 10.21). We should be merciful and gracious because our heavenly Father is merciful and gracious (Luke 6.36). Remember wicked living comes naturally; it’s easy to live a wicked life with a wicked tongue. Righteous living is much more difficult. It takes grace to speak grace.
- Talk to and about the Lord. Since the Bible commands us to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs …to always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our blessed Lord Jesus, then we must talk to and about Him.
We must also be careful about what we listen to. When a conversation turns to gossip, it is often difficult for us to know what to do. We know that “an evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.” (Proverbs 17:4) We also know some ears itch for dirty gossip. However, there is a form of listening that James commends: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
We must be quick to listen. Mitchell provides four biblical strategies along this line:
- Pray and weigh. When a conversation takes a turn toward gossip, begin praying simple prayers like, “Lord, please help me to be discerning here, to know what to do and say.” Pray without ceasing. You do not have because you do not ask (James 4.2). Pray and then weigh. “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer” (Proverbs 15.28). Don’t jump to conclusions.
- Avoid. “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.” (Proverbs 20:19) Stay away from people who gossip. Stay away from blogs and television shows that gossip. Stay away from Facebook posters who gossip. Avoid all forms of gossip. If you have unsaved family who are purveyors of gossip, don’t give them wood for the fire. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” (Proverbs 26:20)
- Cover. “He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends.” (Proverbs 17:9) The antithesis of gossip is covering. We don’t pretend it didn’t happen. We don’t sweep it under the rug. But if a person is not involved in the matter, he should overlook it. We cover it so that those who do not need to see it never do. Noah’s sons did when they walked backward and covered their father’s nakedness. We don’t excuse the sin of others, but neither do we expose it for people who need not see it.
- Go. This is what I tend to do personally. If someone tells me something unpleasant about another person, I tell them that I’m going to call that person and see if it’s true. I have found this pretty effective. People are pretty cautious about speaking unkindly about anyone when I’m around. I kind of like that. If a person has a problem with another, I’m always willing to go with them to iron things out. If that person won’t go with me, I can go alone. The goal is to let them know I heard something, and I’d like to get it straightened out. I think we all should do that.