The practice of destroying others with gossip is rampant in middle school, egregious in high school, and socially acceptable in adulthood. Gossip is an intensely spiritual issue that has everything to do with identity. It is the act of informing others what another person’s identity is, relative to your own. It is a spiritual issue precisely because of this: you cannot talk about another person without making some statement about their identity in Jesus. In this way, a gossiper is always an identity-teacher.
Gossip roots grow deep; it is essentially a landmark of conversation in our culture. Think about it: can you think of a single day where you did not have a single conversation of which a large component was speaking negatively about someone else? I’m not sure I can. Even in the most tight-knit circles, in the closest friendships, and in the longest-standing comGroups, gossip has proven its prevalence. Therefore, our next question must be this: how then should a follower of Jesus engage and interact with a gossip-addicted culture?
At first, the answer seems obvious. “Just don’t do it.” When others gossip, refuse to be involved. Walk away. Wash your proverbial hands of all wrongdoing and adamantly condemn the vicious act of gossip (and the gossipers) by dissociating altogether. This answer isn’t necessarily wrong, just tragically incompatible with the ministry of Jesus. If we yearn to pursue the Jesus life and take part in his great restoration project over all of humanity, there is a greater answer.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the citizens of the impending and marvelous kingdom of God in this way: “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”1 This yields an image of workers carefully cultivating a garden. In this kingdom, swords and spears are antiquated relics with no perceivable utility other than as scrap material to be repurposed into true instruments of peace. As image bearers of God and citizens of his kingdom, we are to be cultivators. The kingdom of God is not a divine dump filled with swords and spears; it is a human-filled culture built using redeemed and renewed tools. If we are to truly be cultivators in the great redeeming mission of God, one thing is certain: we cannot discard the sword of gossip without seeking to participate in God’s redemptive plan for it. Our approach then must not be dissociation, but repurposing.
Instead of washing our hands and dissociating, we must beat the sword of cruel words and judging thoughts into a ploughshare of affection and care for others. What I propose is a sort of “kingdom gossip.” If gossipers are truly identity-teachers, let the followers of Jesus seek to talk about others in a way that teaches and reminds others of their identity in Jesus. A malicious gossiper seeks to elevate his own image in the eyes of others by tarnishing someone else’s image. May we instead repurpose our rhetoric of self-image boosting into a reminder of others’ image and identity in Christ. May we be a people that are so desperately addicted to the affirmation of Jesus that we lose all utility for the razor edges of destroying someone else’s image. May we be passionately sold out for the mission of reminding others of the love and acceptance of Jesus that leaves no room for pride or anger. As followers of Jesus, our every action and word toward others should reinforce their understanding of who they already are in Jesus.
How then should we live in response to a gossip-addicted culture? As a subversive agent of God’s love and acceptance. Our approach to broken components of culture such as gossip must not be to withdraw, but to create new culture that reflects the glorious characteristics of God’s kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we cannot simply be against malicious gossip, but cultivators committed to reminding others of who they are in Jesus. This means being bold in how warmly we talk of others. It means dedicating yourself to speaking of others’ natural giftings instead of their failings.
So friends, seek to make ploughshares, not swords. comGroup leaders, devote yourselves to identifying and repurposing the swords and spears in your groups. Be a cultivator of God’s great kingdom by redeeming the components of culture that are obstacles to pursuing the Jesus life together.