Authored by Marie Story
Texas faced major drought all throughout the summer of 2011. Everything was tinder-dry, and wildfires were a big problem. Every now and then I would see a cloud of smoke in the distance and then hear the fire trucks rushing by. People regularly had to evacuate certain areas as fire became a threat, and cities were on high alert.
City officials sent out warnings, and precautionary measures were put in place. They put out notices asking people not to cook outside, not to park on dry grass—not to do anything that could cause even the tiniest spark, as that could very quickly set off a fire.
Once a wildfire gets going, it can be very difficult to contain. Because everything is so dry, the fire can rage out of control, spreading from one area to the next. Huge areas can be destroyed if the fire isn’t stopped immediately. One major fire this year managed to destroy over 1,500 homes and 34,000 acres—and it took weeks to finally completely put it out.
More than once the Bible talks about how gossiping can be as dangerous as fire.1 James 3:5 says that “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
Seeing how incredibly destructive the recent fires have been got me thinking a lot more about this. The tiniest spark from a barbeque set off an uncontrollable blaze. An electric wire sparked and started a fire that could be seen for miles and caused an entire neighborhood to be evacuated. Could our words really be that dangerous?
Gossip is a sneaky habit. Gossip can make us feel good about ourselves because it puts others down. It can also make us feel good because it makes us appear as if we know more information than the next guy. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, and it’s so easy to fall into. I figure most of us can remember gossiping about others at some time—even if we didn’t intend to.
So what’s the big deal? Why is gossip so bad?
For starters, gossip can majorly mess up friendships. Proverbs 16:28 says that “A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends.” When you talk negatively about others, you tend to look down on them—it causes you to lose respect for them. And when you know that a rumor’s going around about you, it can severely damage your relations with others.
Gossip also destroys trust. Have you ever shared something with a friend in confidence, only to have that information become common knowledge? I’d guess that was the last time you confided in that friend.
Remember, the person who gossips to you likely also gossips about you. I sat chatting with a friend once where the entire conversation revolved around others and their issues. I heard about one person after the next, as this friend aired everyone’s personal information. Suddenly I started to wonder what this friend was saying about me when I wasn’t around. Needless to say, I was very careful about what I shared with her from then on.
Proverbs 11:13 tells us that “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” If you’re known as a gossip, people won’t trust you with much because they know it’s only a matter of time before you share it with others.
Gossip is also often untrue—or at best, it’s a misrepresentation of the truth. Most folks wouldn’t intentionally go around spreading lies about others; but when a juicy story comes in from a “reliable source,” we don’t think it hurts to pass it on.
Proverbs 15:4 says that “a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Spreading negative stories about others is hurtful in more ways than one. It hurts our own integrity as we go around spreading questionable stories. It hurts those who hear the rumor, as they come to misinformed conclusions based on an iffy story. And most of all, it hurts the person being gossiped about, as they have no way to defend themselves as the rumor is spread far and wide.
However, gossip is not only spreading false stories about others, but it includes sharing factual tidbits about others’ lives, details that just aren’t our place to be talking about—things like why so-and-so broke up with so-and-so, or that such-and-such a friend gained this much weight over spring break, or whatever. You see, the point is that whether the stories are true or false, all gossip can be hurtful or embarrassing to the one being talked about.
The good news is, gossip can be stopped! And you can stop it! Proverbs 26:20 says, “Where there’s no wood, the fire goes out: and without gossip, a quarrel dies down.”
In heavily forested areas, clearings are sometimes created to contain the spread of a wildfire. This is to prevent the fire raging out of control and destroying an even larger area. Once the fire reaches the gap, there’s nowhere else for it to go, and eventually it dies out.
You can be the spot where the gossip stops. A fire will go out if it runs out of fuel, and a rumor will die if people quit passing it along. When someone comes to you with a bit of gossip, you can make the choice not to pass it on.
Is your tongue setting off destructive wildfires? If you’re not careful, you can be burning friendships, tearing down trust, and spreading hurt between your friends and family. You might think a little match—or a little story that you’re dying to tell—might not hurt anyone, but if we’re not careful, gossip can get us into a lot of trouble.
As Smokey the Bear says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Only you can hold your tongue when you’re itching to share the latest news with your buddies, and only you can decide to walk away when gossip is being shared.
Proverbs 16:27; Proverbs 26:20; James 3:6
All verses are taken from the New International Version.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International