I've always observed the use of other people's words and speech, but until lately never really concerned myself with how my verbal communication portrays who I am in my heart. As a person who tends to avoid confrontational situations, I used to pride myself on remaining neutral and virtually impartial. However, pride leads to arrogance, even if the pride begins as something that would be perceived in a positive manner. There is so much to see in society and to understand from the Bible on this subject.
Is pride what causes gossip? My definition of gossip as I have observed it would be an embellished description of facts or hearsay of a group or person which ultimately slanders the subjects' character or attributes. When a person gossips about another person, the spotlight on the idiosyncrasies of their own life dims. Anything detrimental to their character is swept away while discussing another victim and there is a breakdown in the moral boundary of not speaking ill of another individual. The inner change caused by pride may allow one to merely guard their reputation closely, but ultimately constant exposure to a society of gossip will cause a cancer of one's character.
I have seen three sides of this process. Firstly, engaging in conversation with a group speaking about an individual numbs or perverts the sense of building others up that is so strongly encouraged in the Bible. If it is a group of people proclaiming to be Christians, it seems like "light gossip" might be okay, so long as you follow it up with some positive thought about the person before you move on to another victim.
Secondly, I have overheard a group talking about me or a close friend of mine in a way that was not meant to be kind or encouraging. Proverbs 15:4 describes how the spirit of a person can be broken by a tongue. Most people I know have been spoken poorly of at one time or another that they know of, and when they overhear something like that, when you or I overhear something like that, it's overly abrasive and sometimes detrimental to one's perception of themselves and the world around them.
Thirdly, I have observed gossip in groups. It's difficult to describe the hatred and contempt that pride produces in a group of high school students or young adults. The grievances of the victims range from differences of opinion, to physical characteristics that are apparently noteworthy, to love life rumors, and other frivolous conceptions that have no bearing on the true worth of a person. Now, there are things that I think can be judged, because they are clearly right or wrong and addressed in the Bible. This forms my worldview. There are things I cannot judge, such as an individual's character or driving purpose in life. These are things that I can only assume may or may not be true, but can't find enough definite truth to talk about the person in light of my observations. Gossip is what happens when I presume these things to be truth and talk about them anyway. Even if I check with the source who witnessed what really happened, it's not my place to spread a truth that could be damaging or twisted.
What does the Bible say about the tongue and the words that come out of my mouth? Plenty. Proverbs says a lot of things, one of which is found in 26:28 which says that even flattery will ruin a person. As I said earlier, I tend to avoid confrontation if possible. That might mean that I would attempt to smooth things over before they became rough with a word meant to calm, but actually coming out as flattery and an empty attempt to build up another. In short, it's a lie that was meant to put the other person off guard so as to avoid angry or harsh words. That isn't healthy and I recognize that from things I've said in the past that caused bigger problems than if I would have confront the original issue as I should have.
Psalms 19:14 is a good verse to mull over. It is a prayer that I have begun to pray so that what I choose to say will count for eternity. Even in conversations where the discussion leads to finite and even frivolous things, the words I say can still impact my witness. James 3:8 throws out all my hopes that I can control my tongue 100% of the time, but I believe that God has every intention of helping me if I am willing to ask Him to help me with that portion of my life. Romans 8:26 says that I can't even come up with the right words to ask God for help and to explain myself, so what hope is there for me to come up with when I am actually being scrutinized by other humans and talking about matters that do not have eternal value? Thank God for sending the Holy Spirit to translate my babbling and gibberish into something that God hears, moves, and responds to in my life.
In a moment (or an hour) of self-reflection and prayer with God, I've asked myself some questions. I don't like the answer to a few of them, but I'm asking God for help with those and I have faith that He'll teach me the right way to speak. How is my tongue detrimental to my spiritual life personally? How can I use the words I say more effectively? How do I or can I use my tongue to interrupt or redirect gossip and harmful words in a conversation to which I am drawn to participate? After examining what comes out of my mouth, what does James 3:10 mean to me - am I full of blessings or cursings? If my tongue forms both blessings and cursings, how can I rectify my outpouring to be consistent?What examples in your life do you have of times when what you said may or may not have adequately represented Christ? What can Christians do to keep themselves in check when it comes to words and gossip?