We've all been in these types of situations: a friend or acquaintance approaches us, and tells us what someone else has said about us, or one of our family members, or one of our friends. The teller usually is very concerned, feeling that they thought we needed to know what was being said. After this, the average hearer usually goes from being calm to being furious.
This happens many times in church settings (like prayer meetings or bible studies), but it can happen anywhere. We can be having a perfectly beautiful day, then bang! Down comes the "I thought you should know what so-and-so is saying about you."
What's a Christian supposed to do with that? My flesh wants to follow in the footsteps of the James and John (see Luke 9:54), asking Jesus if I could just call down fire from heaven to consume the people who dare to trash me or my loved ones. However, that's not how this sort of thing should be handled.
Self control is a very hard thing!
How are you doing with gossip? Have you been sharing things with others who aren't directly involved with the subject of your information? Do you share personal or sensational facts with others about others? Do you relay to people what negative or unflattering things others have said about them?
We tend to think of gossip as something said about someone that is not true. However, someone who is a gossip, by definition, is a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others. The action of gossip is to relay a rumor or report of an intimate nature. These rumors or facts can be true. What we commonly think of as gossip is in fact slander - to defame someone. Gossip often reveals true facts; facts that don't need to be known by the hearers. My former pastor was very wise with this. He used to say that gossip is the sharing of information with someone who is not directly involved with or related to the subject or situation. That's a broad definition, isn't it? But loaded with wisdom.
If we would learn how to, as our mothers used to tell us, "Mind your own business" then love really could cover a multitude of sins.
People tend to lean toward sin in this area. The New Testament book of James talks about how the tongue is a little thing, yet it can do a great deal of damage:
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. Read James 3:5-10... it is shocking!
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
So, then, what do we do?
If you find yourself in a situation in which someone is gossiping to you, or as they may have put it, "were concerned about something someone said and thought you should know" then the one reporting this to you is the first one in line to be talked to. The one doing the gossiping needs to be gently stopped in his or her tracks and be told if he/she had an issue with someone, he/she shouldn't be talking to others about it but rather go to the person with whom they have the issue directly, per Matthew 18, to work it out. Most people, however, will listen to gossip then report it back to the person who is the subject of the gossip. This is wrong, even if it is well-intentioned.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Pv. 17:9
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends. Pv. 16:28
The ones doing the whispering do as much damage as the ones who made the original statements.
Trust me. As a pastor's wife a lot of people think they are doing me a favor by "sharing" things others have said about my hubby. It is not helpful in any way, and causes me to sin in my heart against others. It's just not worth it. I have learned to turn people around and gently tell them that if they have an issue with my husband, they need to go directly to him. I also tell people who gossip to me the same thing - that they need to go to the person who's offended them. Or that I cannot listen to gossip.
All that sounds easy, doesn't it? But it is very difficult. We don't want to offend the person who gossiped to us. What I found to be useful is to simply say, "I don't think I should be hearing this. Can we change the subject?" This usually stops whatever is being said, and allows for redirection of the conversation. Once you get into the habit of doing this, it gets easier and you find that you're not upset with people over things you shouldn't have known about in the first place.
My very first pastor's wife shared great wisdom with me about this, which really hit home when I was a young believer. She pointed me to this verse in Ecclesiastes:
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
I am far from perfect in this area, but by God's grace He's helping me to get better. How are you doing?