Proverbs Series: "Puka Pockets: All the Good Things About Gossip"
August 15, 1999
A Bible Sermon by The Reverend Dr. Dan Chun
Proverbs 20:19 He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.Proverbs 24:28 Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause; and deceive not with thy lips. Proverbs 22:1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. Proverbs 25:9 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another; Proverbs 25:10 Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Proverbs 26:6 He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage. Proverbs 26:22 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Proverbs 30:6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. You saw my sermon title in the newspapers and in your bulletin. The question is asked, "What are all the good things about gossip?" And the answer is, "Nothing!" I can't think of one thing that is good about gossip. And neither does the Bible. Well, that dispenses with that. End of sermon. Ha! ha! In my last church I was in charge of the singles department and I told them that the following week my talk would be, "What does worship have to do with dating?" The word went out. "Wow! Dan is going to speak about how worship will help my dating. Coool. 'Gotta be there to improve my dating life." 400 people showed up for that talk. And like today my first sentence was a question. "What does worship have to do with dating?" And the answer was, "Nothing. But now that I have your attention and presence, let's talk about the real meaning of worship as seen in Revelation, chapter 5." There were hoots and hollers and booing but they still loved me... I think. The dictionary defines gossip as idle talk, or rumor especially about the personal or private affairs of others. Interestingly, my 1973 edition of the Random House College Dictionary defines gossiper as, "a woman given to tattling or idle talk." However, in my experience gossip applies equally to men and women. Gossip is an equal opportunity employer of sin. Look in a thesaurus and you'll find synonyms for gossip in the words, "newsmonger, tattle." I think we have all been guilty of gossip at one time or another. Some time ago, Princeton University professor, Dr. Albert Cantril, conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how quickly rumors spread. He called six students into his office and in strict confidence informed them that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were planning to attend a certain University dance. Within a week, this completely fictitious story had spread to every student on campus. Town officials called the University complaining and demanding why they weren't informed of this. Newspapers were calling for details. Dr. Cantril observed, "That was a pleasant rumor - a slanderous one travels even faster." (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, edited by Michael Green, p. 174, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989.) The Bible is extremely harsh on the sin of gossip - which is a form of slander and lying. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus said, For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: Gossip. or slander. Why is gossip so bad and sinful? 1. Gossip is often a form of lying. And I already spoke on that last week - how lying is like walking into a circus funhouse where the mirrors distort people. Gossip distorts the reality of people. It puts people in a bad light. And here is the horrifying truth: Gossip is always meant to hurt someone - sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously. It always tears down a person. It never builds a person up. Gossip poisons the family system. It is a disease that eats away at the healthy cells of good conversation. One of our policies emblazoned in gold among all our church ministry teams is that there are no "parking lot politics." It is not unusual in other settings for people in a committee meeting to really disagree with what is going on and yet they say nothing. And then out in the parking lot they say, "I can't believe she said that. How could we have come up with such a dumb decision? What was that guy's reasoning?" Here at our church that is verboten - it is forbidden. We have to put everything on the table in the meeting where all sides will be heard. And if the vote should go against my wishes, then I as a team member should take the mature position that I was heard. Yes, they disagreed but I will fully support the team decision because I am part of the team. And no one can say later on the church lanai, "Well, you know, I wasn't for that decision." We do it as a team. And there is to be no slander of people in the decision making process. Now disagreement is not gossip. But if we put a spin on it to tear down someone with an unnecessary allegation, "Well, you know so and so said that because this is what is happening in his family," then that would be gossip. Fortunately, this church is pretty gossip free. Know this, we are tempted to gossip when we want to tear someone else down. It can be so subtle and we might not even realize it ourselves at the time, but just one comment or putting a different spin on the facts can be unfair harsh criticism and begin the dissemination of mistruths. 2. Often times gossip can be done under the guise of wanting to appear helpful. Sometimes this is called, "Christian Gossip." It can be preceded by, "We need to pray about someone because you know her husband is thinking about leaving her and gee, this is really bad because you know her son is on drugs..." "What? You didn't know that? "Oh yeah, he got on drugs after he got his girlfriend pregnant... just after he cheated on his exam." "What you didn't know that? Well, you can see we really need to pray for that family." That's four pieces of gossip right there! Under the auspices of wanting to help, gossip ran amuck. Now I am exaggerating in this case a little bit but it is not too far away from the truth. I was once visiting a church and they were having open prayer requests. Anyone in the congregation could stand up and ask for prayer and one woman got up and said, "I am a friend of so and so," and she mentioned a celebrity's name, "and we need to pray for her because she is having a nervous breakdown right now." And I thought, "Boy, I don't need friends like that." Stay away from me. Proverbs 20:19 He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips. You know when someone comes up to you and says, "Hey, don't tell anyone but so and so said" know right at that moment, that person could do the same with you with any confidence you might share with him or her. Just know that you are seeing the person's true colors. I try to surround myself with people who know how to keep confidences. It is really the determining factor on whether I open up or not. The higher the degree of confidentiality a person shows me, the more I tend to trust them. And I think you are probably the same way. 3. Now when is sharing info about someone not gossip? I think maybe the litmus paper test is when in sharing we put our lives on the line and are directly and immediately involved in the situation. That is, if we reveal information which involves us helping another. A very good example of this would be if we seek the help of a health professional. If someone goes to a family physician and says, "You know I need your help. I think my son may be on drugs"... I don't think that's gossip. You are going to a professional who has the tools to step in and help. Not only that, but we involve ourselves in the situation to help and we have something at stake personally. Professionals are generally good about keeping confidences, too. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest for 28 years. But then he became disenchanted with Catholicism. He left the church, married a nun, preached and wrote against the Catholic church and everyone and everything in it - but he never never told a single thing he had heard in confession. (Paul Tan's Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Assurance Publishers, Rockville, MD, 1979, p. 526). He had boundaries and knew the danger of gossip and the importance of keeping confidences. Gossipers share information because they delight in talking about other people's misfortune, without really trying to help them. True friends intentionally and with determination try to help another friend get better. They don't gossip at the expense of a friend. And often that means getting professionals involved and that's a major difference. Why do we gossip? 4. I think gossipers tend to be insecure. They have this subtle desire to not build up people, but to tear them down... and maybe it is because of a lack of self-esteem. We don't feel good about ourselves so let us pull someone down to our level, if not lower. All sorts of horrible subtle emotions are sometimes the prelude to gossip such as envy, jealousy, competition, resentment with others. And therefore, for those reasons, we love to gossip. It is like a vulture picking away at someone who is down. The author of proverbs says it this way in Proverbs 26:22, "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. " We take those tales or whispers of, "Don't tell anyone this but...," and we swallow them and chew on them over and over and digest them - but it is poison. Gossip is stealth sin. We think we are flying under the radar and under the pretense of help, but we are really trying to hurt and no one will see our true intention because we disguise it under wanting to help or being concerned with another person. But even the Stealth makers will tell you that no Stealth plane is 100% hidden from radar and people will pick it up. Your true motives will always be seen on the radar someday. What we think is hidden will always be made known... no matter how many precautions we take. Recently, Pam and I were talking to the man who helped design the B-2 Stealth Bomber. He said that when the B-2 was unveiled for the first time to dignitaries, the military didn't permit any public photos of the plane. They rightfully didn't want our enemies to know too much about it too soon. So on the day that the plane was pulled out of the hanger out in the open for the dignitaries to see it, the viewing stands were strategically positioned at a certain level and angle so you would only see the plane from straight on and therefore couldn't see its unusual wing design, the crowning design feature to deflect enemy radar. The military even made sure the enemy satellites were not flying over at that hour in that region of the country so that no spy photos would be taken. There were armed guards all around with high security at the gates. There were guard dogs, and guards on the rooftops... all of that preparation to keep things secret. And then the moment of truth came and the bomber plane was pulled out for all of the senators and representatives and other political and military leaders to see. Suddenly, a tiny private Piper cub airplane flew over just as the plane came out and lo and behold, inside was a photographer from the Los Angeles Times who took a picture that landed on the front page of the newspaper the next morning showing the complete wing span of the plane. And so ended the mystery of the Stealth Bomber which looks like a plane that Batman would fly. And we can think we are hiding our gossip, deflecting people's radar but most of us can pick it up when someone, as we say here in Hawaii, is talking stink about someone. The gossiper always gets detected. Let me give you some easy practical principles so that you will never be a gossip... to keep our church a gossip free zone... and a way to keep your gossip radar up when someone is flying into your theater of operations. You might want to take some notes in your Bible. This will help you never to be a gossiper. I want to share with you an acronym which spells the word THINK. T-H-I-N-K. Most of it comes from Chuck Swindoll I believe, but I put in one from me. When someone says something about someone else to you, run this check list through your mind. It will help you detect whether it is gossip or whether you should ever ever pass along even the slightest retelling of it. T stands for True. Is what the person is sharing true about this other person? If it is not true, then tell that person, "Hey, that's not the true picture. Say no more." And if it is not truthful it means, never ever repeat it. If it is just an opinion or an allegation, it is never to be told again. The second letter is H - Is what the person is sharing about others Helpful? If it is not edifying, if it is not building someone up, if it is not helpful, then don't go any further. The third letter is I. And that stands for me... I. Is this person saying this to boost the ego, the "I" to make him or her look good at the expense of another? Remember, often times gossip is said to tear down one and build up the gossiper. The fourth letter is N for Necessary. Is it really necessary that I need to know this? Tell a physician, tell his father, tell a pastor, get a professional - but why do I need to hear this? Is it necessary? Or is this just some trash talk? And the fifth letter is K for (anyone want to guess?) Kind. Is what the person is sharing kind? Is it basically, simply, purely a kind thing to say about someone? If not, then keep our mouths shut. If you can't say something kind, then don't say it. You see, we can get out of the gossip loop. We can avoid gossip completely by running this checklist in our minds. And if any one of those five things are not being fulfilled, just politely excuse yourself from that conversation. Don't give into the base desires of gossip that just want to show the faults and failures of other people. Sometimes it's best just to keep quiet. Listen to the lyrics of the song, "Nothing At All." "On and on and on she goes, where she stops no one really knows.
Everybody's got a problem, so it seems and she ain't afraid of telling me. "If you can't say nothing good, don't say nothing at all. "On and on and on he goes, now look who's the one playing the fool.
Criticizing, telling lies, puttin' down, ain't you got nothing better to do? "If you can't say nothing good, don't say nothing at all. "Cause I know that there are times in life when we just can't keep things to ourselves.
But to want is not to make it right, we've got to tame our tongue. "If you can't say nothing good, don't say nothing at all." We need more deflectors in our lives to block the potential of gossip. One great deflector is when someone says something to you about someone else you then say, "Can I quote you on that to the person you just talked about?" If they no... then say, "Then don't tell me such things. It's not fair to talk about someone that way behind their back." If a rumor or gossip that is severe persists and it bothers you then you must go to the source and say, "I heard this about you. Is that true?" And if it isn't, then go back to the gossiper and tell her or him to cut it out. Proverbs 25:9,10 Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another: Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. Someone said. "The difference between news and gossip is whether you raise your voice or lower it." John Wesley had a principle of always going to the source of the gossip to find if it was true. It was in a document called, "Six Articles for Covenant" that he used when he met with other men in 1752. And every man who joined his group called, "Methodist" would hang the "Six Articles of Covenant" on the wall. Here is what this Covenant said:
You see, we have a choice on this earth to be a receptacle and sender of bad news or a receptacle of and sender of good news. The best good news is that Jesus Christ gives us a life that is worth following... far greater than maybe we could imagine. God offers us a love that is so unconditional and rewarding that we would never want to gossip or take anyone down. We will feel so good about ourselves that we just want to be just a transmitter of His love. Let me close with this final story. F.W. Boreham tells of a man whose home is the Other End of Nowhere (Ibid., p. 526). This man has two pockets. One has a hole in it and the other is carefully watched that no hole develops in it Everything that he hears of a hurtful nature such as an insult, cutting remark or gossip - he writes on a piece of paper and sticks it into his pocket with the hole, where they fall through, blow away and magically dissolve. On the other hand, everything he hears that is kind, truthful, loving helpful, he writes on a piece of paper and puts it in the pocket without a hole. At night he goes home and empties out all that is in the pocket without the hole, and goes over all of the pieces of paper he wrote on... and he reads them and remembers the days events and thoroughly enjoys all the good things that came his way. Then he sticks his hand into the pocket with the hole and finds nothing there - and he laughs and laughs and rejoices that there are no evil things to rehearse. This is what we should do at the end of a day. This is what it means to be a receptacle and sender of good news. Unfortunately, too often, many of us reverse it and put the bad things in the pocket with no hole - so we remember bad events and faults of others and maybe pass them on to others. And then we put the good things in the pocket with the hole - so we lose them and forget them and have little to be thankful for. When it comes to gossip, may we therefore be people with holy pockets or PUKA POCKETS. May bad things go through the holes or pukas in our pockets and blow away and dissolve so that no one will ever know of them. And when it comes to hearing good truthful things, may we have a pocket full of blessings that we pass on. May we have a puka pocket theology and may we remember what the Apostle Paul said in Phil. 4:8, "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Amen.
- That we will not listen or willingly inquire after ill concerning one another.
- That if we do hear any ill of each other, we will not be forward to believe it.
- That as soon as possible we will communicate what we hear by speaking or writing to the person concerned.
- That until we have done this, we will not write or speak a syllable of it to any other person:
- That neither will we mention it after we have done this, to any other person;
- That we will not make any exception to any of these rules unless we think ourselves absolutely obliged in conference (Ibid., p. 526).