Idle Chatter

Lots and lots of good can be done by the tongue, so it is particularly unfortunate when Christian women stir up evil and mischief with their tongues by backbiting, criticizing, or general cattiness. This tears the place up when we ought to be building. It is destructive, not constructive, creating division where there ought to be unity, and more than one church has been destroyed this way.
Cattiness includes all of the following: making stuff up, believing the made-up stuff and passing it on, talking about things that are not our business, breaking a confidence, criticizing choices other people make about their own lives (especially topics relating to children, childbirth, education, birth control, etc.), running down husbands, or grumbling about decisions made by those in authority over us, whether it is parents, husband, pastors, elders, or our city council. Backbiting, reproaching, being at tattler and busybody can be summed up as “speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13). Slander, false statements maliciously intended to hurt someone’s reputation, putting spin on the story, being spiteful with a desire to hurt, annoy, or humiliate; complaining, attributing motives….all this can be called backbiting or cattiness.
Consider Psalm 15:1-3:
“Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart;
He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend.”
The wise walks, works, and speaks. How? Uprightly, with righteousness and truth in his heart. The foolish backbites, does evil, and takes up a reproach.
To avoid being catty ourselves, we can ask God to “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). This is a good prayer that we ought to pray when we are in situations particularly conducive to idle chatter. Better to be quiet than participate in a conversation that you know to be unwise.
I’ve known of ladies who joined women’s groups that they soon quit because of the vast amount of idle chatter. So consider what the tone is at some of the women’s get-togethers you participate in. If it is negative, and you are not able to steer it, find something better to do with your time.
If you have participated in the gossip, confess it to those people who heard you say it. It is unwise to confess your gossip to the person you have wronged unless you have good reason to think they have heard about it. But if they have, then by all means seek their forgiveness as well.
Another tactic is one my mother-in-law used. After moving to a new community, some of the church ladies began calling her with the latest scoop. So she responded once by saying something like this: “Is that really true? Did she really do that? Then come over right now, and we will go confront her about it.” The woman passing on the information had no desire to go confronting anyone, and soon Bessie was scratched off the gossip chain much to her relief.
If someone is dropping hints about something and obviously wants you to ask who it is, there is nothing wrong with reminding them that you are not interested in knowing information that is supposed to be confidential. But there is a difference between news and gossip. Gossip is passing on information that is not intended to be public, while news is not meant to be hush-hush. Announcing an engagement is news, unless you were asked to keep it quiet. Passing on the information that someone has been fired from his job may be news, but it may not be kind or necessary to spread around.
Corrie Ten Boom suggested that you ask yourself three things before sharing information: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
Another guideline that we use is this: Is the person I am telling part of the problem? Is he part of the solution? If not, then he probably doesn’t need to know.
We never promise secrecy, but we do exercise what we call responsible confidentiality. If someone says, “I’m going to tell you something, but first I want you to promise me that you won’t tell anyone else,” we never give such a promise. After hearing whatever it is, we may need to call their parents, their spouse, or maybe even the police. You just never know. That is not gossip; it is being responsible with information. But if we call a few friends to say, “Guess what I just heard,” we are obviously being gossips.
Finally, we should take Paul’s exhortation to heart in Ephesians 4:29:”Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” This is the Christian standard for communication. Anything less needs to be confessed and forsaken.

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7 thoughts on “Idle Chatter

  1. This is a timely word for me indeed as I find myself again confronted with the temptation to fritter away my time in useless prattle. Thank you for the excellent reminder on how I should use my tongue (and ears).

  2. What a great collection of many great definitions and good ideas. This is the best short work I’ve read on gossip (and related). Thanks, Mrs Wilson! Printing it out and saving it. Hope you don’t mind if I share it .

    In Him


  3. Mrs. Wilson, thank you so much for your honest and convicting words. What an encouragement you and your husband have been to my husband and me lately. Please keep speaking truth to us.

  4. Mrs. Wilson, what do you suppose is the sin beneath the sin? I know for me a piece of it is the attention and sense of self-importance and self-justification I get from gossip. (And underneath that is a failure to believe that I have all the importance and justification I could ever need in Christ.) I know that when I sense that, I’m on the wrong track, and I need to shut my mouth.

    But other times what I want to share is simply burdensome, and I need help processing it or dealing with it or counseling someone else. In a case like that, I might go to someone wiser than I am (such as one of my elders’ wives) who can be trusted not only to wisely handle the information I want to share, but also to tell me to shut up if I start saying too much. Does that seem like a careful enough course of action? I guess what I’m looking for is a clearer way to gauge my motives.

    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  5. I agree with Meredith–this is the best summary on “speaking things which they ought not” that I have read.

    We are currently in a relatively large church for the first time in our lives and I have been perplexed at how to handle the situations of idle chatter and constant criticizing among the women. In the midst of an otherwise edifying conversation it is common to hear a criticism of the way another family in the church does this or that. What do you suggest be done in such a case?

  6. Another common thing I hear is gossip dressed up in a prayer request. “Pray for Susie because this is what’s happening in her office/family/marriage, etc.” I’m finally getting bold enough to stop people in their tracks and say I don’t want to hear gossip, or if something is going on I’ll ask “Susie” about it myself. It’s worked really well so far in getting these women to reconsider what they’re spreading around about other people’s business.

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