I confess that the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:36-37 have long sent chills down my spine. Most of you have read them: “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (NLT).
I think it is imperative that we get the sense of this text right. The traditional translation of the word “idle” should be challenged. The impression is that all random remarks will be judged and (this is what sends chills down our spine) if we are guilty there is no hope for us. If this were correct then no one would be justified on the last day. A truer explanation is that the phrase here means “every deedless word.” Matthew 7:22-23 has already told us that we will give an account for all our deeds. Thus it seems to me Jesus is saying that on the last day people will give an account for their lives and this includes their words that resulted in deeds, or the lack of Christ-like deeds. The first “you” in this text really means every single person since it is plural. The word “every” suggests that the whole of one’s life is examined.
Having said this what hope is there for any of us? Matthew 3:6, with 3:2, indicates that a word of repentance, as in real confession, produces good deeds (i.e. “fruit in keeping with repentance,” in Matt. 3:8). That’s the basis for justification on the last day, confession of sin and trust in Jesus Christ revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees, in this context, had “convicted” Jesus’ innocent disciples (Matt. 12:7), thus they are condemned for their speaking against the Holy Spirit. The sin against the Holy Spirit is to not flee to Christ in confession for justification through his grace alone.
Having said this it is abundantly clear that the Bible speaks a great deal about the sin of speaking inappropriately. Such speech is not innocent or innocuous. The two major sins involved in speaking, besides just talking too much and creating an abundant context for sin, are gossip and slander. This is what I noted yesterday in regard to the Ergun Caner conflict at Liberty University.
Gossip, I noted, is idle talk. It is careless speech. It may be malicious and it may even be true. The gossip spreads rumors but sometime the gossip spreads facts to the wrong people, in the wrong context and in the wrong spirit. Webster’s New World Dictionary says a gossip is “a person who chatters or repeats idle talk and rumors, especially about the private affairs of others.”
Nehemiah 6:5-8 indicates that gossip (false rumors in this instance) was used to intimate Nehemiah in his leadership. One of the most powerful descriptions of gossip in all the Bible is in Psalm 41:5-6:
But my enemies say nothing but evil about me. “How soon will be die and be forgotten?” they ask. They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they’ll spread it everywhere. All who hate me whisper about me, imaging the worst. “He has some fatal disease,” they say. “He will never get out of that bed!” (NLT).
We read in John 7 that the crowds grumbled about our Lord. John says, “Some argued ‘He’s a good man,’ but others said, ‘He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.’ But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders” (John 7:12-13, NLT). And the little epistle of 3 John refers to man named Diotrephes, a church leader, who “made evil accusations” (verse 10) against the apostles.
Proverbs 18:28 says that gossip “separates the best of friends.” And a gossip is a person who “goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” Proverbs 20:19 repeats this statement and then counsels “don’t hang around with chatterers” (NLT). Proverbs 26:20 sums this up rather well: “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (NLT). Stop the chattering gossip and the quarrel will most often end.
Make no mistake about the conclusion here: gossip is a sin. Paul speaks of confronting the church in Corinth and of addressing their numerous sins that will require him to deal with them on a future visit. Among the sins he lists are “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior” (2 Cor. 12:20, NLT). Note how closely all of these are related to one another. They actually tend to fly together like a flock of Canadian geese heading south for the winter. Where you find jealousy, anger and arrogance you also find gossip, slander and selfishness, and vice versa.
In the particular case of Dr. Ergun Caner, which I referred to yesterday, it seems that a whole load of gossip was involved with some facts that were used to “make evil accusations.” The board of Liberty University, which no one would rightly suggest had any reason to cover up the facts if they found them worthy of letting him go, has retained Dr. Caner on the Liberty faculty. I think fair-minded and gracious Christians should leave it there. It is none of their business to engage in this dialog any further when proper channels of authority were followed and a process justly concluded that said the charges against Dr. Caner were not sufficient to warrant dismissal. My advice: Pay no heed to further discussion about this issue or you will likely be engaging in gossip yourself.