Hidden Disease

Three year old data collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists the two leading causes of death (COD) in the United States as heart disease and cancer.  Nearly 600,000 people were killed by heart disease and another 575,000 by cancer in 2010. For most of us these figures are unsurprising and empirical; we can all identify people in our life who are affected by one of these two diseases. And, as I continued to research I found the comparisons between the leading CODs to be very telling.  The data I was researching indicated that more people were killed by one of these two diseases (heart disease and cancer) than the top 20 remaining CODs combined.  In other words, heart disease and cancer are not only the leading CODs in the United States, they exceed any other COD by an extraordinary margin. I did some further research and discovered one primary and simple reason for this disparity. The reason heart disease and cancer are so deadly, when compared to any other leading CODs, is because these diseases are hard to detect. Incredible achievements have been made through modern medicine but when a disease is obscured or hard to detect it renders even our most cutting-edge treatments and medicines impotent.  And, after processing this data I asked myself a more pertinent question.  My question was: if this type of disease can exist in our bodies why could it not also exist in our spirit? Couldn’t there be serious spiritual diseases that are also obscure and hard to detect? There are a few possibilities that come to mind when I think of toxic spiritual diseases that are hard to detect.  However, there is one behavior (symptom) that seems to fit that profile better than anything else … and I believe it is the disease of gossip.

I view gossip within the church the same as plaque in an artery or a tumor in the brain. Like these diseases, gossip is hidden and lethal.  It doesn’t cause any noticeable disfigurement and its symptoms can be easily rationalized or dismissed.  For example, a brain tumor might affect a person’s vision or create headaches but these symptoms could also be part of everyday life.  As a matter of fact, most of the time these symptoms are dismissed as products of age, fatigue, out-dated contact lenses or any numbers of things.  An artery blockage might involve the feeling of indigestion or a loss of energy which, again, can be symptomatic of normal day-to-day discomfort.  So, it makes sense that if it is hard to detect diseases like cancer or heart disease there would be certain spiritual diseases that would follow the same pattern. This is why the symptom of gossip will often present as things we would consider ordinary and appropriate such as a statement of concern or request for wisdom.  Sometimes the symptoms of gossip involve: “venting” between friends, “accountability” between peers, “coaching” between coworkers or a “counseling” relationship.  Gossip can be so filthy and hard to detect that it can even masquerade as “prayer requests” among confidants. Gossip can take on many shapes and sizes which might be why the Bible has many terms for the disease … perhaps to help us detect it better.   Aside from the word itself (2 Cor. 12:20) the Bible calls people who gossip:  backbiters (Prov. 25:23), busybodies (2 Thess. 3:11 & 1 Tim. 5:13), slanderers (Rom 1:30), people with secrets (Prov. 20:19), talebearers (Prov. 11:13) and whisperers (Prov. 18:8 & 26:20-22). The church seems to do a good job emphasizing how we talk to each other but God seems to place a considerable amount of focus on how we talk about each other as well.

Being kind face-to-face is much easier for us than being kind behind someone’s back. Gossip is very effective and it works to reduce the risk of confrontation and provide people with a platform to galvanize relationships around what they perceive to be someone else’s dysfunction.  And, based on my own shameful experiences, I can say that there is indeed a twisted sense of satisfaction and unity that comes with being part of a lynch-mob.  Gossip promotes a sense of unity by giving two or more people a way to satisfy their desire to privately defame another person or group of people.  The tricky part is, the unity that comes from gossip can seem like a very good thing even though it’s not. The tragic irony is that the twisted unity that comes from gossip is actually the reason why the disease of gossip is so hard for us to detect … it’s the reason why the disease is allowed to grow and take over.

The following five points represent principles of wisdom that have helped me diagnose the gossip in my own life and avoid the long-term effects of this very toxic disease.

  • Avoid talking to people who gossip.  The Bible does not instruct Christians to engage situations that lead them into sinful behavior.  If you’ve identified someone in your life who is struggling with gossip then it would be best to avoid any long and in-depth conversations with that person for a while.  And, when you believe the Lord has prepared your heart you should eventually discuss your concerns about that person’s gossip with them face-to-face (Mt. 18:15).
  • Keep in mind that those who gossip to you will invariably gossip about you. The rules for gossip are not biblical, which means the rules for gossip are man-made, which means the rules are subject to change when the person applying those rules decides to change them. In other words, loyalties that are forged through gossip have a shelf-life.
  • If you’re not an active part of the solution then you should assume that you’re active part of the problem.  If your words are not being used to edify the person you’re speaking of then your words have made that person sport and are only functioning to compounding the problem.
  • Be prepared for awkward silences, disapproving tones and cold demeanors.  When a person wants to gossip to you they want you to gossip back. When you decide not to gossip, not only does it hinder what that person was trying to do, it will force that person to confront their own demons.  Unrepentant people do not appreciate this and you need to understand that your resolve will most likely be met with awkwardness, disapproval and coldness.
  • Pray to God for help. The Holy Spirit will help you identify and safeguard against the diseases of gossip.  Pray that God will help you identify when gossip is beginning to happen and pray that he will provide a clear way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13).

As with any serious disease, early detection and aggressive treatment are the keys to recovery.  The hidden disease of gossip is no different.  We need to understand its affects and how to treat it if we hope to keep it from damaging our relationships with each other and with God.

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About Matt Brecht
Lead Pastor of NorthPointe Church

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