Matthew C. Mitchell. Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue. CLC Publications, 2016. 192 pp. $13.99.
Recently on Tuesdays at our church, over the course of six weeks, a few of us skipped lunch and prayed together. We prayed about evangelism; we wanted to ask God to make us better sharers of the Good News Story of Jesus.
One thing we all noted repeatedly throughout the six weeks was this: because evangelism was something we were constantly thinking about, seeking inroads for, and praying towards, all of us tended to notice more opportunities around us for evangelism. The opportunities were everywhere.
As I read Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew C. Mitchell, something similar happened. No, I didn’t start gossiping more (I don’t think). I did, however, notice that gossip is everywhere, and not just from other people—from me too. This is one of the great helps of the book: highlighting a sin so common that we hardly notice it. Our inability to recognize gossip is especially tragic, because, as Mitchell writes, “technology has made it possible for us to gossip long distance” (p. 23). Oops, there goes a tweet, a post, a share, a message. Gossip is white noise to us.
What’s interesting about not noticing gossip, however, is that we certainly still notice when it hurts us. (He said WHAT about me!?) Mitchell, a pastor of Lanse Evangelical Free Church, remembers when gossip hurt him. “One time, when the gossip was at its worst,” he writes, “I thought seriously about quitting the pastorate altogether” (p. 17). Maybe you’re not in full-time ministry, but likely you can relate to a time when you were hurt by gossip and perhaps even wanted to walk away from a particular school, job, or church. Sticks and stones can break bones but names can never . . . .
Resisting Gossip is structured in four parts, moving from a definition of gossip (I), to how we resist gossip (II), then to our response when others gossip (III), and finally, what to do when we regret the words we’ve spoken (IV). There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter, a bibliography for further reading, and a bonus chapter for church leaders on creating a culture that resists gossip.
The book is full of stories about the damage gossip inflicts. Of course, to protect the guilty, the names have been changed, except for when Mitchell is the culprit. Even as he encourages us to be changed by the gospel to resist sin, he models this gospel-change that allows him to own his sin. In a more humorous moment (at least for readers), Mitchell recounts a time when an extended family member visited, and through thin-walls and under doors, his gossip leaked. “I complained long and hard to [my wife] about our relative [who was in another room] . . . . It was chilly at our place the next morning!” (p. 83).
My favorite chapter was Chapter 3: A Gallery of Gossips, where Mitchell offers five profile sketches: The Spy, The Grumbler, The Backstabber, The Chameleon, and The Busybody. In a way—and this is in part what I liked so much about this chapter and the whole book—it thoughtfully engages the book of Proverbs, another book with much to say about wagging tongues. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:8, NIV).
Another favorite section came near the end of the book as Mitchell contrasts the difference between a distinctively Christian approach to how sin is forgiven and how it is done in every other religious or secular system. He gives the example of a Jewish author who teaches that if you, as a guilty gossiper, find yourself in a place where you are tempted to sin again, and “you do not repeat the mistake [of gossip] . . . not only are you forgiven, but it’s as if you never made the original mistake.” Mitchel writes, “No. This is not how it works! . . . Christians are forgiven and cleansed only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (p. 147). On our own, the scales will never balance. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). We need a savior who absorbs the punishment for our “careless words” and gives us credit for his perfection.
For sinners like us, it’s speaking gossip that comes easy and resisting gossip that comes hard. But, by the grace of God and for the glory of God, we have to do it. Matthew C. Mitchell’s book Resisting Gossip is a good book to help us recognize and resist this common sin.