Wednesday, May 6, 2009



"A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much." Proverbs 20:19.

Preachers get teased about talking too much. We do talk a lot. Some of it is expected, like sermons and Bible classes. It would be unusual for a preacher to stand up on Sunday morning and say, "I’m sorry, but I have nothing to say this morning." It might be unusual, but it might also be appreciated!

But the idea in this proverb is not about talking too much; it is about talking irresponsibly. There is a difference between someone who talks incessantly, even though that can be terribly annoying and unnerving, and someone who talks irresponsibly. The idea of talking irresponsibly is connected to the first part of the phrase about a gossip betraying a confidence. Someone who talks too much can betray a confidence, but it is not the AMOUNT of the talking taking place that is the problem in this verse. It is the intent and the irresponsibility of the talker that is in focus here: Gossip.

Gossip is a killer. Several verses in Proverbs address the problem of gossiping:
Proverbs 11:13 - "A gossip betrays a confidence ..."
Proverbs 16:28 - "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates friends."
Proverbs 26:20 - "Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."

There is not much good that can be said about gossip. Gossip is more than annoying and unnerving: it is destructive. In Romans 1 Paul lists gossip along with sexual sins and murder as evidence of God’s wrath being revealed against us. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 Paul lists gossip as one of the sins that he fears will disrupt the church.

God’s teachers (Solomon and Paul) were both concerned about building healthy communities. They wanted families and churches to live together in openness, honesty and love. They wanted people to live together in mutual respect and concern for the other.

Gossip undermines all of these healthy, constructive attitudes. Gossip is the opposite of openness and honesty. Gossip is conducted in quiet and in secret, hidden from the view of others. It’s message is whispered and cherished as "choice morsels" (Proverbs 18:8).

Gossip is the opposite of love and respect: you can not love and respect the person you are vilifying with malicious secrets. Nor do you really love the person you are passing on the delectable morsels to, since you are drawing them into your sin with you. Friends don’t do that to friends. "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks irresponsibly."

Both Solomon and Paul prefer words that are constructive: words that encourage, promote healthy community relations, and build character in others. For example, in Proverbs 10:21 Solomon writes, "The lips of the righteous nourish many ..." The word for "nourish" in Hebrew is "to shepherd." So, the words of the righteous man "provides the nutrition necessary for the development of godly character." (Dave Bland, Proverbs, 116). "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29).

A gossip talks irresponsibly and destructively. He shatters community, whether in a family, church, or other social setting. But a wise man talks encouragingly and constructively. He talks responsibly. A wise man nourishes the hearts and minds of others. He builds community in human relations. He benefits those who listen by providing nourishment for the development of their godly character. The gossip or the wise man ... which one do you think is blessed by God?

Warren Baldwin

(From the forthcoming book, "Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks, and other Gems from Proverbs)


  1. Warren, I appreciate these Bible posts. It's always great to hear others share about what God has shown them in His Word.
    Keep it coming. I'm on the receiving end!

  2. Thank you, Monica. I just left a post on your site!

  3. This is a good one. I hate to stereotype, but I know this is a problem for women--for me. I've even been known to say on a friend's voicemail, "Call me back, we've got some gossipin' to do," as a joke. But, it's not funny.

    This is something I've been working on this year. Especially as it pertains to my husband. I realized that it's gossip to share things about him with my friends or complain about what he does or doesn't do. I'm trying to learn to take my complaints about him or about anyone to God and not seek the counsel of my friends--because is it really counsel from them that I seek, or it is vindication?

    I'm rambling...thinking as I type. So I'll stop. I just wanted you to know that you struck a chord with a timely and valid post.

  4. Nicole,
    Thank you for sharing this. You are wonderfully honest. My wife used to work in an office where many of the woman gossiped about their husbands - even some very personal topics that shouldn't be divulged, except in a counseling-type situation. It endeared my wife to me that she didn't indulge in those conversations, even though as a young husband I gave her ample ammunition to use against me! My wife was strong and mature and gave me time to mature as a husband.

    I appreciate your sensitivity to this subject (gossip) and your respect for your husband. Your respect for him will trump any annoying aspects of his behavior or personality, and all of us men have them! (Even at 49!)

    And, sometimes a husband or wife does need some counsel. I recommend that a man go to an older man and a woman go to an older woman, ideally someone from church that they respect and trust. They can talk with them openly and honestly and it doesn't have the flavor of gossip. My wife and I are both 49 now. We have younger couples come to us for conversations like this. It is helpful to the younger couples and very gratifying to us that we can help someone.

    I tip my hat to you for the integrity you take to your marriage! Thanks for the visit and comments. WB

  5. Wonderful comments in reply to my comment, Warren. I totally agree.

    I'm not perfect in it, but I'm aware of my imperfections and I've prayed for wisdom on this issue. I believe that just having that desire has changed me. I "hear" and "see" my weaknesses in ways I wouldn't have otherwise. More than once I've had to just close my mouth mid-sentence lest I say something I'd later regret. I'm thankful for this area of refinement and pray that it continues to completion.

    Blessings, Nicole

  6. hello Warren,

    You have listed some great scriptures concerning gossip.

    My husband and i are normally the ones that do the nourishing and building up of others, but through the years i have found that many whom you nourish with your words and even actions are usually ones that are not nourishing with others in their own lives. They are needy for nourishment only because they feel bad about themselves because of the toxins and unwholesomeness in thier own lives. These people can be very wearisome and can drain a person because this relationship is only one-way.. which is you feed me!

    As you well know being in ministry can become very wearisome because there are soo many that are constantly needy of nourishment but nothing is given back in return. So as a servant of Christ of course the only place we can go to get nourishment is from Him and Him alone!

    My husband and I have had to talk to people about this and direct them to the Lord and to Him alone because we seen that they were dependant upon us more than God thus we were becoming more of their guide than God!

    This has been difficult for some people in our lives because they want to continue to depend on us instead of God and it is hard for them to understand why you are not constantly feeding them anymore. We have told them that God will feed them and give them all they need and that there is nothing else we can say and or do, and that they need to pray and get in the Word for themselves to draw encouragement and nourishment from the Lord if they are to grow!

    It is one thing for us to continually talk to a person and give them Godly advice or counsel when asked but there comes a time when i truly believe they need to search God out for themselves.

    Maybe you have some thoughts on this as well!

    I didn't mean to ramble on but my husband and I were in ministry for many years and we witnessed this a lot. Today we are no longer in the "church establishment ministry" but still in ministry in everyday life...

    God bless i truly enjoy reading your Bible fountain, i love God's Word and His teachings :)

  7. I think you are right - there are some who are so needy that they require constant attention. The church is here for them, but they can, without even meaning to, drain the resources of anyone who tries to work with them. You and your husband have obviously experienced that! What can you do?

    1) Like you tried to do, steer them into Bible study, prayer, etc. so they can learn to feed themselves.

    2) Bring other healthy couples in to share the load of listening, helping, offering counsel, etc.

    3) Eventually, you have to offer some very straight forward advice and counsel to the people about their decision making, dependence, etc. This is not because you simply weary of them, but for their own good to become healthy and whole.

    Sadly, the break up of the family is producing more and more people who are not getting the proper emotional and spiritual nourishment as children from a healthy and present mom and dad, so they are growing up and seeking for it as adults. They enter marriages unprepared, have children when emotionally they are still children themselves, and continue the cycle of producing emotionally starved adults.

    Fortunately, the cycle can be broken. I have seen it several times. But, it takes someone willing to do the very hard work of growing up. That is hard enough when you are 13, 14, 15. It is very hard when you are emotionally that age in a body that is 33, 34, 35.

    Thanks for your work. Keep helping, mentoring and serving. You are helping some people whether you know it or not.

    Tamela, I have another site just for family type issues - Family Fountain. It is listed under "Helpful Links" to the right. I invite you to visit there, too.

    Thanks for the good comment!

  8. I appreciate the insight on Proverbs 10:21...our words can "shepherd". A lovely image.

    The Word is so rich! And alive!

  9. Hi Warren! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind words. I am sure that God sent me over here to read this post. I have just had a very bad situation with a committee and have decided to end my involvement. I have been deeply hurt and praying that God would help me to do what is right and not what I want.

    This was a hard truth that I know I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  10. Oh, I love the picture of those "future preachers". Teach them to preach the hard stuff over the fluff. :)

  11. TwoFinches - Thanks for catching the significance of a couple of words and pointing it out.

    Edie - I'm sorry for your situation with the committee. I don't know if this article helped, but I hope so! And, these young preachers are coming along! Some of them conducted a service for an area church just tonight.

  12. I had just remembered that i had left a comment on this post and i wanted to come back to see if there was a reply. Thankyou for the confirmation what you have said is what my husband and i have had to do with certain individuals. I will take a look at the family fountain as well :)