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Bert and Biff were standing at the water cooler at work. (Okay, they were not at the water cooler, but whenever you want to tell a story about gossip, the water cooler is the traditional metaphorical location.) Ben passed by them, and once he was far enough away, Biff said that he had heard from Barry that Ben and Marge were not doing well.
According to Barry, Ben has been flirting with Mable in the office. They have been staying late at work as well as doing lunch together, two times per week.
Biff was appalled at what Ben was doing, though it could have been more conjecture than truth. Since Biff was not sure what to do with this new information, he mentioned to Mildred, his wife, what he had heard.
Mildred was not surprised. She had already surmised that there was something wrong with Ben and Marge’s marriage. Mildred heard from Madge that Marge had “spilled her guts” at the ladies’ Bible study. Marge’s cathartic moment happened four months ago.
All of the people in this “gossip-collage” are friends. They all attend the same church and have known each other for 3 to 17 years. None of them know for sure if Ben and Mable are having an affair. Everything they have discussed falls in the realm of uncharitable judging, which is observing others without love, grace, or objective evidence.
Here are a few things to think about when someone tells you something negative about another person.
It does not have to be wrong for a person to share information about someone else, and what they disclose does not have to be gossip. When it comes to relationships, it’s not possible or practical to keep from talking about folks who are not part of that conversation. For example,
Barry, Bert, and Biff were gossiping about Ben, Marge, and Mable. Mildred was not slandering them, but she did not love Ben or Marge well because she was harboring potential damaging information and was not doing anything about it. If this were a true story, the displeasure of God would be great toward these “friends” because of their poor stewardship of the relationships.
Barry should have gone to Ben and asked him about his lunches and late work hours with Mable. It would not matter, at that point, if Ben were in sin. The most significant thing during this early stage would be Barry loving his brother enough to inquire about what he thought he knew, even if his information was incorrect.
If Barry was wrong about an affair, he could appeal to Ben about his lack of wisdom in going to lunch alone with a woman who is not his wife. He could talk to Ben about his lack of discernment in hanging out with another man’s wife after hours.
Biff should have let Barry know that he had a responsibility to do something about the information that he had shared. He should have asked him what he was going to do about it. Biff could envision Barry about going to Ben to get to the bottom of it all. Then Biff would need to follow-up with Barry in a week or two to see how it went. If Barry refused to talk to Ben, Biff could let Barry know that he will go to Ben to get to the bottom of what he shared.
Mildred should have talked to Madge about Marge’s “cathartic moment” in a similar way in which Biff needed to talk to Barry. And Mildred should speak to Biff, her husband, about what she heard from Madge. She should appeal to her husband to help her think rightly about what was shared and to help her figure out the best way to help their friends. Biff and Mildred are one-flesh under God. They need to function in a unified way by loving another one-flesh family that is potentially dissolving.
Here is one more practical aspect of our “gossip-collage.” Apart from having a “theology of gossip,” you need God’s wisdom about when to speak when something (potentially) bad is going on with another person. This matter is especially critical for church life.
We all know “stuff” about people, and sometimes the things we know about others is not good. And we choose, for good or bad reasons, to share the stuff we know about people to the wrong individuals. And when we do this, we make excuses for why we did it. Christ did not relate to folks this way, and neither should we.
Jesus loves us too much to let us drown in our sin. We know this because He went through death to deliver us from the bondage of sin.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Lingering problems rarely “auto-correct.” E.g., God sent Nathan to serve his friend, David, who had succumbed to sin. In nearly all counseling situations, the problems have been going on for years, if not decades. It is on us—the church—to intervene in these situations. It does not please God when we hang out at the “water cooler,” sharing information that we are unwilling to act upon biblically.