The Destructive Nature of Gossip

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another speaks evil against the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12



Gossip is one of the most insidious problems that exist in any community, church or otherwise.  It can often start without malice but very often, and very quickly, turns in that direction and that can bring down an entire community.  As one engaged in the art of spiritual direction and as well as one who often hears confession, gossip comes up on many occasions.  It is my opinion that most people have no idea what gossip is and how destructive it can be.

In my Daily Meditation Email (you can subscribe here) the focus has been on the Letter of St. James.  This is a very practical letter that gives the reader an idea of what one needs to do to live a Christian life.  Recently, the focus turned towards gossip, and I thought it would be instructive to include that meditation.

The word that James uses for to speak harshly of, or, to slander is katalalein. Usually, this verb means to slander someone when he is not present to defend them.  This sin slander is condemned all through Scripture. “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:20).  Katalia is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential information that destroys the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves.

Some are slow to realize that there are few sins which Scripture condemns as the sin of irresponsible and malicious gossip.  There are few activities in which the average person finds more delight than this; to tell and to listen to the slanderous story. James condemns it for two fundamental reasons.

  1. It is a breach of the royal law that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (James 2:8, Leviticus 19:18). Obviously we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves and speak slanderously of him. If a person breaks a law knowingly, they set themselves above the law. But our job is not to judge the law, but to obey the law. So if a person speaks evil of his neighbor they have appointed themselves a judge of the law and taken upon themselves the right to break the law, and, therefore, stands condemned.
  2. It is an infringement of the prerogative of God. To slander another human is to judge that person. No human being has any right to judge any other person; the right of judgment belongs to God alone.

It is God alone who can save and to destroy. To judge another is to take to ourselves a right to do what God alone has the right to do, and he is a reckless man who deliberately infringes the prerogatives of God.

We might think that to speak evil of our neighbors is not a severe sin. But Scripture would say that it is one of the worst of all because it is a breach of the royal law and an infringement of the rights of God.

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