“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11: 13)
There are many passages in the Bible that instruct us to control our tongue. The Book of Proverbs in particular is replete with references urging us to guard our lips and to speak wisely (6: 17; 10: 20, 31; 12: 18-19; 15: 2, 4; 17: 4, 20; 18: 21; 21: 6, 23; 25: 15, 23; 26: 28; 31: 26).
One aspect of the unbridled tongue is talebearing. In the Hebrew, two words are used for “talebearer”:
1) “rakiyl” – one who walks about carrying tales;
2) “nirgan” – a “slanderer” or “whisperer” or “busybody”.
Talebearing is a habit that tends to go out of control, and govern the tongue. Let us consider some aspects of this sinful tendency:
o A grievous sin
Talebearing is a common but grievous sin. It is a violation of the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex 20: 16). The Old Testament expressly forbids the carrying of tales: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD” (Lev 19: 16). The apostle Peter warns us not to be “a busybody in other men’s matters” (I Pet 4: 15).
A talebearer or gossiper is a dangerous person because he “revealeth secrets” (Prov 20: 19) and exposes the faults of others. One who comes to us with the secrets and failings of a neighbour will likewise reveal ours to him. In this malicious way, talebearers sow discord and distrust in families, work places and even in churches.
The Bible warns us of the gravity of this sin and the grievous hurt it inflicts on its victims: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov 18: 8); “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends” (Prov 17: 9).
The talebearer delights in relating scandalous stories of others. Though there may not be physical harm, the wounds inflicted by such fault-finding characters are deep and irreparable. The hearer may or may not take their reports lightly, but what has been said may cast a doubt in the mind, thus sowing suspicion and distrust – “What if it is true?” This often results in dissensions and broken relationships.
“Talebearers are those who secretly carry stories from house to house, which perhaps have some truth in them, but are secrets not fit to be told, or are basely misrepresented, and false colours put upon them, and are all told with design to blast men’s reputation, to break their friendship, to make mischief between relations and neighbours, and set them at variance” (Matthew Henry).
o Meddlers and Judges
Talebearers or gossipers complain about others behind their backs. They are meddlers who find pleasure in slandering, accusing and discrediting others. They are quick to whisper juicy stories – both true and untrue – from ear to ear. They often find ready listeners who are waiting to hear news of the latest scandal and to pass it around.
In his article entitled, Who is the Gossip Among Us? Dr Peter Masters made an interesting observation on the sad state of talebearers: “Persistent gossips appoint themselves as judge and jury of all other members of the human race, but in reality they are among the weakest and most pathetic members of society. Self-control is one of the noblest features of human personality. But gossips have never exercised it. This department of their being is feeble and decrepit. … The gossiper is not the sole offender. Every gossip inflicts guilt on a number of listeners. They receive the sin, and relish and enjoy it, making it their own. Their hearts are hardened toward the victim, and they so often become ‘tellers’ in their turn. To tell gossip is as treacherous as recruiting another person to lie or steal or cheat. It is against the victims, the hearers, and ultimately the whole church” (Sword & Trowel 1995 No. 2).
(… to be continued)