I've got a friend who struggles with...gossip

Helen Thorne | 6 Feb 2014

“I am so angry with him. I need to vent …”

“I think it’s important that you know what she has been doing … “

“Have you heard the latest? I mean, for prayer… “

It’s a temptation to which many of us succumb. For a few it becomes a habitual sin. And when a sermon or a loving rebuke from a friend opens our eyes to the fact we are a gossip, often we need support … But if someone asks for our help after the service, what on earth can we say in response? Here are a few thoughts …

1. Praise God for his work in you!

Admitting to being a gossip and wanting to do something about it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work. This is great news and certainly something worth getting excited about. Of course, if the person isn’t sure if they are a gossip or not and they ask for your opinion, always speak the truth - clearly, humbly and gently – even if it hurts.

2. In what situations do you tend to gossip?

Few people gossip 24/7, most tend to have certain triggers that prompt them. Is it when they feel threatened? Feel hurt? Feel unloved? Feel bored? It’s always good to know when temptation is most likely to hit … such information makes it easier to beat!

3. What do you gain by gossiping?

Gossip brings perceived benefits – not godly benefits but benefits nevertheless. Gossiping can engender a sense of power, a sense of popularity, a thrill of excitement in an otherwise dull day or a hint of revenge as the reputation of someone who has caused pain gets dragged through the mud. Again, knowing what function gossip plays in a person’s life can make it easier to work out what is going on in their heart. Someone who gossips for revenge may well have a wounded heart that needs comfort and a hardened heart that needs to be reawakened to the joy of forgiveness. Someone who gossips for a fleeting sense of power, may have a heart that has yet to submit to the King of the universe who gives eternal power to his followers to be used for his glory not theirs. It’s great to dig out these links.

4. What damage does your gossiping cause?

It’s never a good plan to layer on the guilt but encouraging people to see their words and actions as God sees them can be a great spur to change. Encourage your friend to reflect on the ways gossip can damage their relationship with their heavenly Father and their relationships with the people around them. Proverbs 16:28 or 11:13 could be good conversation starters.

5. Can we spend some time in repentance now?

If someone is convicted of their sin, don’t put off a time of repentance. It’s great to say sorry to the Lord. It’s great to apologise to those people who have been hurt (and resolve any tense issues directly with the individuals involved). And it’s great to reflect on the wonder of God’s gracious forgiveness.

6. What truths about God and his creation would it be good to remember?

God is not looking for people who are merely obedient, he wants a family who are loved by him and who love him and others in response. For those family dynamics to work, we need to see each other clearly. Reflect on some Bible verses that show God to be the loving, sovereign King that he is (eg Isaiah 55:8-13). And verses that show our call to love those around us (eg John 13:34-35). Scripture is transformational – as the Spirit applies these truths to our hearts, we will see our sin, our forgiveness and our calling more clearly. Pick Bible verses that address the issues identified in question 3.

7. What would it look like to tame your tongue?

James 3 encourages us all to tame our tongues but after years of letting our tongues run wild, having it under the control of the Lord may feel like an alien concept. It’s good to sketch out what godly speaking that comes from godly motives looks like in practice. Together, work out what your friend (and you) are aspiring to be like. If you know what you’re aiming for you’re more likely to exercise the self-control necessary to reach it and speak words of repentance when you miss.

8. How can you make yourself more accountable?

It can be helpful to encourage the person who is struggling to give one or two trusted friends with the task of coughing each time they hear the person turning the conversation towards gossip. And it can be great if a small group of people who know how to keep pastoral confidences can be asked to pray regularly for the person who is struggling. Brothers and sisters in Christ are there to spur others on to love and good works.

9. How can I pray for you?

It’s great to let the person who is struggling articulate their prayer requests. We might want to add in other things but the way someone asks you to pray for them tells us a lot about where they are with the Lord and their battle against sin.

10. Let’s pray right now.

There’s rarely any good reason to wait … Aim to pray straight away. If they have struggled to give you any clear prayer requests, you can use a passage of Scripture like Galatians 6 as a guide – pray through the armour of God, bit by bit.

Book recommendations:

You Can Change – Tim Chester
The Implanted Word – Douglas Moo
A Sinner’s Guide to Holiness – John Chapman

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK. She formerly worked with the London City Mission and has written Hope in an Anxious World, Purity Is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.