By T. R. Robertson
When the twenty-first century came, the church was all together in one place, called the Internet. Suddenly a sound like a mighty tweet came from Heaven and filled the public forum where they were updating their statuses. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that sparked from their keyboards and ignited an unquenchable flame. All of them were filled with the spirit of social networking and began to gossip with virtual tongues as their Wi-Fi enabled them.
Now there were online many God-fearing ‘friends’ but also friends from every nation and un-churched background under Heaven. When they saw this babbling, the crowd came together in bewilderment. Each one heard them speaking in his own language of backbiting, rumor, and sarcasm. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these people Christians? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own unloving language? All of us—the unchurched and the dechurched, the atheists, agnostics, and apathetic, the thrill seekers and the truth seekers, both the infant in Christ and the soon to be conceived—we all watch them mouthing off about their disagreements and rumors, just like the world does.’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘Why should we listen to these people?’
Some, however, made fun of them and said,‘They can’t be taken seriously.’
Thankfully, that’s not the way Acts 2:1-13 reads in our Bibles. The first century church knew nothing about the Internet and social networking.
Acts 2 tells the story of the first manifestation of a spiritual gift known as speaking in tongues—they called it glossalalia in the language of the day.
On the other hand, Christians in the twenty-first century can fall prey to gossipalalia, a belief that certain kinds of gossip are spiritually blessed. And new modes of communication have served to magnify and accelerate the tongue wagging.
All the while, the world is watching.
A Spirit of Sanctified Gossip
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day thought highly of themselves. It became second nature to look down on others they considered less spiritual.
This attitude of spiritual superiority is at the root of much “sanctified gossip.” As God’s “chosen people,” it’s tempting to be dismissive and condescending toward the “unchosen.”
Many unbelievers say the chief factor keeping them away from religion is their own experience of being judged and treated disrespectfully by Christians. Perhaps if, like Paul, we referred to ourselves as “the chief of sinners,” we would be less likely to gossip about “those sinners.”
Many Christians are living a lie, putting on a front when we’re with other believers. All the while we’re living a life that would shock our church friends—if they only knew.
Some who live such dual lives cover up their falsehood by gossiping about the sins and hypocrisies of others. It makes us feel better to talk about people we think are worse than we are.
Some in the church commit acts of verbal violence against each other. In their struggle to pump up their own self-righteousness, they launch into attacks on a brother’s character. “Hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17) need not wield a knife or a gun. A tongue or a keyboard can wound just as deeply.
If I’m talking about someone’s character or circumstances and it doesn’t lead me to get down on my knees to pray or to find a way to love that person, it’s probably gossip.
Another spiritual misdirection comes when our hunger and thirst for righteousness is pushed aside by a hunger for being right. It loosens our tongues to argue, attack, and belittle in defense of our cherished opinions.
News channels, talk shows, and blogs are training our hearts to believe the worst about those with whom we disagree. We eagerly pass along every innuendo and speculation about the character of a politician to those on our preferred side of the political spectrum. And we’re learning the art of “spinning” the unlovely truth about the leaders and candidates we like.
Our misdirected priorities lead us to latch on to any story that reinforces our viewpoints. We often fail to investigate whether the tale is true before we pass it along to others as quickly as our Internet connection will let us.
The same Internet that so quickly delivers these rumors can also be used to quickly separate fact from folly. It only takes a few minutes to visit sites like www.snopes.com and other reliable news sources.
But the real key to discernment is to make sure we’re keeping “in step with the Spirit” rather than chasing after spiritual substitutes.
The Spirit of Fruitful Speech
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23).
If we respond—to friend and foe—with Spirit-driven love, it will be hard to undermine others with malicious gossip. We’ll be driven to seek what will comfort and bless them, not what will make us feel superior.
When the Spirit fills us with joy, we’ll rejoice with others, looking for the best characteristics of people so we can celebrate their uniqueness rather than talk about what makes them odd or offensive.
A heart of peace is a heart of restraint. Just because we have an opinion, we don’t always have to verbalize it, and we’re not required to go to battle over it. Our goal must be to win the person, not the argument.
Forbearance is the Spirit-energized ability to hold back our temper.
Kindness prompts us to avoid using words to put heavy burdens on people, to wound them, or to cause them difficulties. Christ used the same root word in Matthew 11:30 to describe his yoke as easy, not wearying.
Goodness is defined by the goodness of God. Our desire for good morals, good laws, and good doctrine will be balanced by an equal commitment to good relationships and good outcomes. Our words in every situation will be seasoned with both zeal and grace.
The Spirit of faithfulness trusts that God can handle every situation and that every person created in the image of God is worthy of our respect and restraint, even those who stand against everything we believe.
Jesus was called meek (also translated “gentle”) when he called the temple moneychangers “a den of thieves” as he turned over their tables. Notice he didn’t just call them names. Without bold action, bold words are just gossip.
Perhaps the spiritual fruit we need most is self-control. How many times have we failed to hesitate before joining in on a gossip fest? How many e-mail stories have we swallowed whole and passed along to others before we checked out the details? How many times have we overreacted and aired our dirty laundry in front of the world?
The tongue is a tinderbox that can start a forest fire from a small spark. We can choose to fan the flames of hatred or we can let the Spirit use our tongues to set the world ablaze for God’s glory.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
On Your Guard Online
Evaluate your online habits to be sure you aren’t giving in to gossipalalia.
• Have you ever written an e-mail, Facebook message, blog comment, or tweet about someone that you would never say to his or her face?
• Do you fact-check at places like www.snopes.com before forwarding e-mail messages?
• When you hear something negative about a person, do you start mouthing off to your friend via phone, Internet, or face-to-face? Or do you pray for that person and seek to make peace?
Each day during the next couple of weeks, choose a different fruit of the Spirit to focus on. Ask God’s Spirit to make the fruit evident in your life and pray that you are bearing it in all aspects of your life.