5 Steps to Stop the Sneaky Sin of Gossip

Award-winning Christian Novelist and Journalist
Updated Apr 23, 2024
5 Steps to Stop the Sneaky Sin of Gossip

When I was a kid, I loved watching “Little House on the Prairie” on television. Laura Ingalls was exactly the sort of girl I fancied myself to be. I vowed never, ever to grow up to be like Mrs. Oleson, the nasty, arrogant, petty mother of Laura’s archnemesis, Nellie. To me, Mrs. Oleson was the epitome of a mean gossip, the kind of woman who’d sling secrets about a saint if she could.

I imagine the apostle Paul, when he was writing to Timothy about the proper behavior of widows, had a Mrs. Oleson type in mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 5:13, warning against those who “learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (ESV). In reality, though, gossips aren’t confined to arrogant, petty, wealthy women with too much time on their hands but all of us. 

Gossiping is when someone reveals personal or sensational facts about others—talking about people and their private lives and intimate details, often habitually. Various Hebrew words for “gossip” translate as a talebearer, one who reveals secrets or slanders others, or an evil tongue. 

Gossip might involve hearing a story about someone and then sharing it with others or talking behind someone’s back about their personal life or issues. Sometimes, this involves spreading lies or irresponsible information, but other times, it’s sharing the truth about events and circumstances that a person might not appreciate you speaking about. For example, two men talking casually about a third man’s marital strife can be considered gossip, as can coworkers speculating about a manager’s absence. Often, gossip is mean-spirited, though it can also be lighthearted and seemingly innocent. But make no mistake: Sharing information about other people, particularly information not confirmed to be true or shared without someone’s knowledge, is gossip. And gossip is a sin.

Romans 1:29-32 includes gossip among the many traits of those who are unrighteous, as does 2 Corinthians 12:20. Several proverbs also warn about the dangers of gossiping, as it sows strife among people (Proverbs 11;13, 17:9, 20:19, 25:9-10). In Matthew 18:15, Jesus urges, 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

However, gossiping is different from righteous airing, bringing to light repeated or wanton sins, or holding others accountable in a godly manner (Matthew 18:16-17, 1 Timothy 5:20). If you struggle with gossiping or keep trying to convince yourself it’s harmless but know in your heart it is not, here are five steps to stop gossiping.

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Women gossiping

1. Get Your Heart Right

Don’t get in the habit of thinking some sins are “worse” than others. Remember that anything you say, do, or think that goes against what God wants is a sin. Lying and murder are equally wrong and both punishable by death, but for the salvation we are offered through Jesus. 

If you seem to gossip frequently, understand that what comes out of your mouth mirrors what is in your heart and mind. We bear fruit that mimics the seed within us. If your heart is good and mirrors the Lord, what comes out of your mouth will naturally reflect the Lord. In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If your heart is abundantly righteous, brimming over with God, and fully immersed in and surrendered to the Holy Spirit, then the words from your lips will flow with goodness and love—not gossip.

So check your heart. In John 15:5, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing.” Given this, the apostle John notes in 1 John 3:6

"No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”

Repent. Abide in Jesus. Know that gossiping, mean talk, and other foul things are a symptom of a deep problem in the heart. 

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Men talking

2. Don't Hang out with People Who Gossip

It seems simple, but that old saying about how you are the company you keep is common for a reason. Proverbs 13:20 tells us, 

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” 

Those around us influence us heavily. For instance, I once worked at a company where people used curse words regularly and with gusto. At first, I was surprised, but after a while, I became accustomed to it, and I began not to notice it as much. One day, I realized foul words were beginning to roll off my tongue, and I had to stop consciously. It’s the same thing with gossip. When we spend time with other people who gossip, we begin to feel that influence. Proverbs 26:20 notes, 

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” 

When gossip is removed from a group of people, the gossiping stops. Evil behavior is kindled when more fire is added. Remove yourself from the presence of others who gossip, and you will likely notice that you naturally reduce the amount of gossiping you do or perhaps even stop altogether. Also, you should remember that those who gossip about others will likely also have loose lips about you when you are not around. As Proverbs 20:19 says, 

“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler.”

Sometimes, this means removing people from your life. You might need to spend time with a different set of friends. If this isn’t possible—such as if the gossip includes everyone you work with, and you cannot afford to quit or change jobs at the moment—then you might need to establish better physical or emotional boundaries. Consider telling gossiping friends or acquaintances that you wish to stop gossiping and asking them to join you. Perhaps they are also craving a change, and your initiative will help them, too. 

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Women who gossip

3. Shut Your Mouth

It sounds simple, but do whatever you need to do to force the words to stay within you. Psalm 34:13 urges, 

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.”

While the psalm doesn’t indicate how we are to do this, get creative. If sheer willpower isn’t enough, consider creative tactics. Impose a penalty on yourself when you gossip, and make it sting. For instance, put five dollars in a jar or envelope whenever you repeat or offer gossip, even if it seems harmless. Sharing gossip about a celebrity is really no different from sharing gossip about your neighbor, brother, coworker, or boss. Just because you’re certain they’ll never find out or it will never affect them doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt God when you do it.  

In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus tells us, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Do what you need to do to prevent your body from committing evil acts. Some people who feel compelled to gossip might initially impose a time limit, as in, “I’m only allowed to talk about this for five minutes.” Over time, that five minutes becomes two minutes and then only in thought. Eventually, the hope is that positive, loving, good thoughts will reign supreme over the evil, malicious ones. In fact, you might find that replacing the negative words with positive ones can be a great solution. 

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Women stopped in the woods to talk during a hike

4 Enlist Some Help

Sometimes, we do things without even noticing. This is also known as a “poor filter.” What someone thinks naturally spills out of their mouth without intention, for they do not spend time controlling the spillway. Like a leaking dam holding back water, eventually enough water gets through and creates a flood. Just like committing to an exercise program and shifting from a sedentary life to a more active one, it sometimes takes other people walking alongside us to succeed. 

Confide your gossip problem with a trusted friend and ask them to help you stop. As the apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:9

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

This help will often start by asking your friend to point out when you are gossiping. Many gossips become so immersed in this behavior that they can’t even recognize when they are doing it. You might establish a code word, like “pineapple,” that they say when it starts to happen. The hope is that you will naturally strive to stop when you recognize you are gossiping. 

If this doesn’t work, you might ask them to gently—or even firmly—call you out or tell you they cannot listen to you anymore and walk away. Not everyone has a friend who can do this, but it can be extremely helpful and even potentially a relationship. 

Another solution is to ask them to redirect you toward something else. For example, if they notice you are gossiping and don’t take their hints or cues to stop, then they might say, “Let’s talk about something positive,” or offer something else to change the subject. Or they might thoughtfully ask, “What might Stacey say if she heard you telling me this?” or “Let’s look at this from Dwayne’s point of view.”

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Woman praying, with Bible open.

5. Prayerfully Ask for God's Help

Prayer really does work, though how it works depends on God and God’s purpose in the situation. If you are struggling with the sin of gossip, know that God loves you and wants you to stop. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Ask God for help. Be persistent. Jesus told us, 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 

You are never bothering God by asking for repeated help with a problem. It doesn’t indicate a lack of faith, either, to go to him day after day, even hour after hour, asking for help to overcome a problem. In Luke 11:5-13, Jesus told a story about a man who knocked at his friend’s door very late at night asking for bread. He persisted, clearly annoying the friend, and his friend finally gave him what he wanted. 

Persistence is good. God wants to help us live in accordance and alignment with him and his ways. You can also invite other people to pray for you. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Turning bad habits into good habits can be difficult and take time, but as Christians, we’re told to obey God’s commandments. Telling lies, secrets, or stories about others isn’t good or godly, and it affects us—and others—in ways we cannot begin to imagine. If you’re feeling compelled to stop gossiping, pay attention and do what you can. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Jacob Wackerhausen

Jessica Brodie author photo headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Her newest release is an Advent daily devotional for those seeking true closeness with God, which you can find at https://www.jessicabrodie.com/advent. Learn more about Jessica’s fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional and podcast. You can also connect with her on Facebook,Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed

Originally published Monday, 08 April 2024.