Most, if not all of us, have heard the word rumor before; however, I would like to strongly suggest that most of us who have heard the word do not fully understand the damaging effects and awful results of rumors. By definition, rumor means a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts. It means gossip or hearsay.
The word gossip, which is a well-known word to most of us, means idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It means light, familiar talk or writing.
Synonyms for the word gossip are small talk, hearsay, palaver, chit-chat, rumor and scandal.
It was the American historian, George Bancroft, who rightfully concluded, “Truth is not exciting enough to those who depend on the characters and lives of their neighbors for all their amusement.” The New Dictionary of Thoughts, 242. (Tryon Edwards, C. N. Catrevas, Jonathan Edwards, and Ralph Emerson Browns, New York Standard Book Co., 1969, 1960.) And Hector Hugh Munro said, “Hating anything in the way of ill-natured gossip ourselves, we are always grateful to those who do it for us and do it well.” Familiar Quotation by John Bartlett, 812. (Little, Brown & Company, New York, 1989.)
Having said all this, by now you are aware of the thrust and focus of this message! I desire to address a passage of Scripture that will help us Christians to understand how to relate to and deal with hearsay, rumor, gossip, and related synonyms.
From the Holy Scriptures we read, “If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you.” Deuteronomy 13:12–14.
In this passage the Lord gave to His people a divine principle based on strict justice, righteousness, integrity and love. It demonstrates a high regard for the rights of others and a profound measure of respect for our fellow human beings. If this divine principle were followed to the letter, what untold harm would have been prevented! How many estranged relationships would never have existed! How many enemies would never have been created!
The phrase hearsay conveys the understanding of a person avouching himself/herself concerning a report, which they have heard. This person boastfully certifies that what has been communicated is fact even though that which was reported has not been proven.
The phrase “children of Belial” literally means sons of evil, children of wickedness or ungodly men. The counsel given to the Israelites was this: If you hearsay that some of your brethren and sisters have severed association from the rest of Israel—the church—perhaps with the purpose of setting up a new church, and have made strong effort to draw away others with them, then some important steps must be followed before action is taken on these children of Belial.
What are the steps that must be followed in dealing with hearsay?
God through Moses commanded, “Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain. …” Verse 14.
The steps that must be followed are:
- Make Search
- Ask Diligently
- The Thing Certain
Let’s see what these mean.
To Inquire means to seek or to ask, to make inquisition. It is to investigate with the idea of demanding an answer.
To Make Search involves finding out, seeking out, to search out, to penetrate, to examine intimately. It has to do with use of intensive and minute investigation.
Ask Diligently conveys the idea of thoroughness; it is to make sure.
The Thing Certain literally means to substantiate, to verify, to establish after due investigation. It incorporates the phrase, without a shadow of a doubt. In the context of church discipline, it must be based on certainties, not on rumors. Hearsay should not be accepted as evidence. If one presumes to make an accusation, he/she should be required to provide proof in substantiation of it before action is taken.
This is how a person can ascertain the truth concerning a matter that is a floating rumor. These steps speak to the fact that it is absolutely necessary that all sides of the matter or issue be heard and examined carefully before conclusions are made and actions taken!
As far as the Israelites were concerned, they were required to search into the very heart of a matter. It would be a crime, a murder, if they should act judicially on mere rumor or through any evil bias. Certainty of the facts must precede any sentence of destruction.
Such instructions are repeated elsewhere in the book of Deuteronomy for emphasis. “If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the Lord thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” Deuteronomy 17:2–6.
In Deuteronomy 19:15–19, the principle of hearing both sides of the matter is emphasized: “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”
Jesus, while He was on earth, taught this important principle as recorded in Matthew 18:16: “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” The principle set forth here is that a perceived offender should be personally approached by one hearing of his or her possible or alleged wrongdoing with the sincere hope of hearing and understanding the other side of the story. The need for two or three witnesses has to do with the fact that they can bear witness to the efforts that have been put forth on the perceived offender’s behalf and also to the facts in the case. As convincing as a person’s story might be, the other individual’s testimony may be even more convincing and also may very well be the truth. Therefore, this is why it is so important to inquire, make search, ask diligently and see that the thing is certain!
Have you ever wondered what are the reasons why Christians practice or find delight in hearsay or gossip?
Well, here are several reasons:
- Actuated by curiosity
- Actuated by jealousy
- Many by hatred against those through whom God has spoken to reprove them
- Some conceal their real sentiments
- Others are eager to publish all they know, or even suspect, of evil against another. See Testimonies, vol. 5, 94.
It would do us much good to remember that as often as we engage in gossip or hearsay we literally grieve Jesus and sadden the angels. These words of Inspiration make this very plain: “You may feel it no sin to gossip and talk nonsense, but this grieves your Saviour, and saddens the heavenly angels.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 457. It does not stop there, for this evil practice displeases the Holy Spirit to the degree that He will have little to do with such individuals or churches.
Some members who have been Christians for many years feel it their duty to gossip with the new converts, but this is not what God expects of us. Counsel is given on this matter: “The ministers may do their part, but they can never perform the work that the church should do. God requires His church to nurse those who are young in faith and experience, to go to them, not for the purpose of gossiping with them, but to pray, to speak unto them words that are ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ ” Testimonies, vol. 4, 69.
Here are some of the ways the church and individuals are affected by hearsay or gossip.
- The church becomes weak — “Christians should be careful in regard to their words. They should never carry unfavorable reports from one of their friends to another, especially if they are aware that there is a lack of union between them. It is cruel to hint and insinuate, as though you knew a great deal in regard to this friend or that acquaintance of which others are ignorant. … What harm has not the church of Christ suffered from these things! The inconsistent, unguarded course of her members has made her weak as water.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 186.
- Confidence destroyed and mischief created — “Confidence has been betrayed by members of the same church, and yet the guilty did not design to do mischief.” Ibid.
- Souls separated from God — “I saw that when sisters who are given to talk get together, Satan is generally present, for he finds employment. He stands by to excite the mind and make the most of the advantage he has gained. He knows that all this gossip, and tale-bearing, and revealing of secrets, and dissecting of character, separate the soul from God. It is death to spirituality and a calm religious influence.” Ibid., 185, 186. “The thoughtless, unkind words that are spoken grow with every repetition. One and another adds a word, until the false report assumes large proportions. Great injustice is done. By their unrighteous suspicions and unrighteous judgments the talebearers hurt their own experience and sow the seeds of discord in the church.” Ibid., vol. 8, 83.
- Faith is undermined, discord and strife created, friends are separated — “The spirit of gossip and talebearing is one of Satan’s special agencies to sow discord and strife, to separate friends, and to undermine the faith of many in the truthfulness of our positions. Brethren and sisters are too ready to talk of the faults and errors that they think exist in others, and especially in those who have borne unflinchingly the messages of reproof and warning given them of God.” Ibid., vol. 4, 195.
“Satan is working to crowd himself in everywhere. He would put asunder very friends. There are men who are ever talking and gossiping and bearing false witness, who sow the seeds of discord and engender strife. Heaven looks upon this class as Satan’s most efficient servants.” Ibid., vol. 4, 607.
- Majority of church trials arise from gossip — “Gossipers and news carriers are a terrible curse to neighborhoods and churches. Two thirds of all the church trials arise from this source.” Ibid., vol. 2, 466.
“Difficulties are often caused by the vendors of gossip, whose whispered hints and suggestions poison unsuspecting minds and separate the closest friends. Mischief-makers are seconded in their evil work by the many who stand with open ears and evil heart, saying: ‘Report, … and we will report it.’ This sin should not be tolerated among the followers of Christ. No Christian parent should permit gossip to be repeated in the family circle or remarks to be made disparaging the members of the church.” Ibid., vol. 5, 241, 242.
- The reclaiming of backsliders is hindered by hearsay —Ellen White wrote to a particular church to counsel them concerning some of their brethren who had backslidden and especially one brother A. She told them: “There was more gossiping over his case than sincere sorrow for him. All these things kept him from the fold and caused his heart to be separated farther and farther from his brethren, making his rescue still more difficult.” Ibid., vol. 2, 218.
- Has a twofold curse — “Evilspeaking is a twofold curse, falling more heavily upon the speaker than upon the hearer. He who scatters the seeds of dissension and strife reaps in his own soul the deadly fruits. How miserable is the talebearer, the surmiser of evil! He is a stranger to true happiness.” Ibid, vol. 5, 176.
I leave with you some wise counsels from the Word of God:
- “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool. In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise. The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth.” Proverbs 10:18–20.
“An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.” Proverbs 11:9.
- “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” Verse 13.
“He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.” Proverbs 20:19.
- “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.” Proverbs 13:3.
- “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire. A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” Proverbs 16:27, 28.
“He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” Proverbs 17:9.
- “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” Proverbs 18:8.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21.
- “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish.” Proverbs 19:9.
- “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” Proverbs 21:23.
- “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:36, 37.
I appeal to you with the words of the apostle Paul to the Philippian Christians: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8.
It is only through total reliance on Christ, surrendering ourselves to Him daily, that we will be delivered from the sin of gossip, hearsay, and talebearing. None need be discouraged because Jesus is waiting to give each one victory. All we need to do is claim the promise, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Verse 13.
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.