Gossip is wicked and sinful — a seething and destructive evil. Gossip, in its original form, is a violation of the fifth Commandment. Exodus 20:16 tells us: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Gossip is a form of betrayal that involves listening to and/or passing on something uncomplimentary about another with the wrong intent or purpose. It perpetuates lies that ought to have died or never been spoken. It assassinates character, and the reason it’s so dangerous is because it’s so subtle and ambiguous that many are unable to recognize it for what it is.

Gossip is quite common and seemingly casual—even innocent, yet it is hurtful beyond our wildest imagination. Its venom works like a silent poison, betraying confidences, undermining treasured relationships, and making enemies of close friends.

The word “gossip” is defined as “one who reveals secrets; one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.” A talebearer is a person who circulates rumors that are either distortions of truth or outright lies designed to do mischief.

As believers we are told that love covers a multitude of sins; that means that even if there is an actual offense or sin, we are not to broadcast it to others, but rather to forgive and pray for that person, believing God will turn things around. Jesus is our model; we know how many sins He not only covered, but forgave and forgot on our behalf, giving us a gracious and undeserved second chance. Should we not do the same for those we claim to love and respect?

Scripture goes on to say that the tongue is a flaming fire that has incredible potential to destroy if we aren’t careful, and if we say we are followers of Jesus, we break His heart and make the cross of no effect, when we gossip and wound His beloved. The Word goes on to say that the world will know us by our love. Do they see Jesus when they look and listen to us saying careless and hurtful things about others?

It’s up to us as believers to give others the benefit of the doubt, believing the best of them rather than the worst. That’s why it’s so vital that we not be quick to believe everything we hear. The Golden Rule makes it clear that we are to do unto others as we want them to do unto us. The mounting evidence emphasizes how important our words are, and how God will judge us for every idle word.

Think of how many times you’ve believed something to be true only to discover that it was totally wrong. How often have you been deeply wounded by a rumor that got out of hand?

Proverbs 26:20 says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” A talebearer can’t keep stoking the fire if you remove the fuel. How do you remove the fuel? Refuse to listen to rumors. Speak up and let them know that you find their gossip distasteful and offensive. They may not respond well, but they will no doubt know where you stand, and will respect you for protecting a reputation, knowing that the next time it may be theirs.

Let 2017 be the year where you stop adding fuel to the fire. Stop repeating everything you hear. Stop texting everything you hear. Stop emailing everything you hear. Stop classifying your email as “newsy” when you’re actually being “nosy.” Be very cautious about the things you share about others in the body of Christ. Remember, God hates the one “who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19).