I started a new job recently, and during my orientation session a significant discussion was held on the subject of gossip. My orientation group was informed in no uncertain terms that employees who were found to be engaging in gossip would be disciplined, possibly even terminated from their position with the company. This certainly held no fears for me, as I staunchly detest gossip. Yet I found myself surprised to encounter a business that takes such a strong stand on the subject, and pleased to be part of an organization that values relationships so highly as to take a stance against gossip.

I’ve written previously on this blog on this subject, sharing how my grandfather chided me when I was a kid for gossiping about another child in the neigborhood. “When you gossip,” he told me, “you’re killing people! You’re killing yourself, you’re killing whoever listens to you, and you’re killing the person you gossip about.” I didn’t really understand what he meant until I was older, and was astounded to discover that my grandfather had actually been paraphrasing something from the Talmud.

In John Wesley’s sermon, The Cure of Evil Speaking, Wesley labeled gossip as a very common sin.

“… how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! Persons who differ from each other in all things else, nevertheless agree in this. How few are there that can testify before God, “I am clear in this matter; I have always set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips!” What conversation do you hear,of any considerable length, whereof evil speaking is not one ingredient? and that even among persons who, in the general, have the fear of God before their eyes, and do really desire to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man.”

 Wesley admitted that the very commonness of the sin of gossip made it almost unavoidable, yet he was greatly concerned that the early Methodists should avoid evil speech. His Scriptural guide in this was Matthew 18:15-17, a passage in which Christ laid forth a blueprint for transparent relationships between Christians.

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

How well do you personally live out this passage? I think many of us come up with all sorts of excuses for not following the express command of our Lord Jesus — I’ve been guilty of it myself. One customary excuse seems to be something along the lines of, “I’m just not comfortable approaching that person.” That may seem reasonable to our 21st-century ears, but Matthew 18 doesn’t concern itself much with our personal comfort zone so much as it does seeking the repair of broken relationships in the Body of Christ.

Wesley most certainly understood that circumstances might prevent one from communicating in person, and offered such alternatives as a personal, trusted messenger or writing a letter. Yet he also noted that the first step — approaching the one who has sinned against you — must be seen as compulsory, stating,

“It should be well observed, not only that this is a step which our Lord absolutely commands us to take, but that he commands us to take this step first, before we attempt any other. No alternative is allowed, no choice of anything else: This is the way; walk thou in it. It is true, he enjoins us, if need require, to take two other steps; but they are to be taken successively after this step, and neither of them before it: Much less are we to take any other step, either before or beside this. To do anything else, or not to do this, is, therefore, equally inexcusable.”

Do you find it challenging to obey this command?