Toxic talk: the dangers of backbiting and gossip
Words are powerful. They can build up or break down, encourage or destroy.
We love to know and share rumors and secrets. The more scandalous they are, the more fun they can be to share. We often forget to stop to consider if it is true or not. We adjust or fill in the details, exaggerating here and there so we can get the right reaction. We become storytellers of the worst kind. We want to know about disputes and give our opinion. We are drawn to conflict. We want to watch fights.
“Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” James 3:4-5.
Backbiting and gossip: A message that spreads like cancer
Many people don’t take backbiting and gossip seriously. We quickly recognize stealing, anger and jealousy as sins, but we often don’t consider that it is also a sin to gossip and backbite.
“But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer.” 2 Timothy 2:16-17. Backbiting can come to us so naturally that we can even do it while thinking. A simple conversation becomes an opportunity to complain or speak negatively about someone. Maybe we hold a prejudice against someone and secretly want others to share that prejudice, weaving opinions into a conversation to get the others to agree, “Oh, yes, he is so much like this” or “It’s absolutely horrible how she gets away with that.” In backbiting, we encourage others to backbite as well.
The results of backbiting are horrendous: Division, strife, suspicion. Satan is all about division. He loves any opportunity he gets to break down brotherhood and unity. It is incredible what gossip and backbiting can tear down. “A whisperer separates the best of friends.” Proverbs 16:28.
The taste of backbiting lingers. Over time, a small issue becomes a big one that drives a wedge between friends. Where there once was a clean and pure source, it has been stirred up so it has become dark and murky.
Growing in love for one another
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.
First and foremost, to be free from gossip and backbiting, we need to grow in love. Are our words building up bonds of love, or are they tearing down?
It is written in Matthew 12:34: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If our mouth is quick to speak evil of the others, what does this tell us about our hearts? How much love do we have, really, if we are so eager to talk about the others behind their backs?
When we have a genuine love for the others, it simply isn’t possible to backbite them. All grievances and complaints against them disappear. Love is written about in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If this is the kind of love we have for the ones around us, the mere thought of speaking against them in secret should be terrible!
We need to pray to God for help so we can grow in love and show goodness and kindness towards the others. If we think someone is doing something wrong, we can pray for that person and God will show us how we can help. Perhaps we can go to the person in a spirit of love and ask them for clarification, rather than muddy the waters with backbiting. It’s nearly impossible to harbor evil thoughts or to backbite against someone we are praying for. We need to focus on the positive and be active in praying for the others. By sharing this love, we can help to bring peace and rest.
Have you heard a rumor or story about someone else? Just let it die with you! “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” Proverbs 26:20. If we accept everything we hear about the others as fact right away, it shows how close the sin of gossip and backbiting is to us. Even letting the idea run around in our minds is the first step on the path towards division and strife. Lies spread like wildfire.
A decided stance against backbiting and gossip
What should we do if the others around us begin to backbite? Maybe we have been invited into a conversation where people are speaking badly about someone else. “Hey, did you hear about what he did?”
If we allow this to continue, we are just as guilty as the ones who brought it up. We cannot take part in gossip and backbiting in order to be “friendly,” or to “go along with the crowd.” Do we have a willingness to fight against this? Do we want to be finished with backbiting? We cannot allow these thoughts and actions to live when we know that they need to die.
People will often defend themselves by saying that the backbiting they do is true. This is not a defense! “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Romans 2:1. Even if every single word was true, we need to remember that backbiting in itself is wickedness! If we listen to and tolerate backbiting, we share the blame for it. We need to flatly deny a backbiter the opportunity to say another word!
Comfort and edify one another
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29.
Our mouths can be used to do great goodness, in blessing and uplifting the others, or great wickedness, in speaking evil and slandering the others. “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.” James 3:10. When we take up a battle against backbiting, we can become an example for others. We can radiate a spirit so strong against gossiping and murmuring that people will know that it simply isn’t acceptable.
We need to be on watch at all times so that we can be one who builds unity with our words, instead of being one who tears it down. “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” 1 John 2:10.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.