Foolish Lips Sink Ships

A gossip goes around revealing a secret,
but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.
(Proverbs 11:13)

Last week I had the joy of visiting family down in South Louisiana. While we’re not all “Cajuns,” per se, I’ve found the culture and language in French Louisiana to be totally unique. There’s the fait-do-do and chicken and sausage gumbo; unique word spellings like “geaux” instead of “go” and “breaux” instead of “bro”; and accents that can be so thick a Western soul needs not one but two translators just to order lunch!

I exaggerate, of course. But not that much…

No matter what culture I embed myself in, whether it is the Spanish-Mexican New Mexico or the French-Southern Acadiana, I find the same verbal traits exhibited by people. Humans still act as fallen beings and conversations between people remain the same, despite the language or culture.

For example, last week I twice decided to eat out at a deli in Lafayette, my mother’s homeland. I was after a nice healthy salad but what I received both times was a lesson in what happens when a soul declines to restrain their tongue. I was just a spectator but here’s how the events went down…

Meal One: I had just sat down at an empty table with my laptop to do some work when I heard a loud female voice at the table next to me complaining. There was a partition between tables, so I couldn’t clearly see who the woman was complaining towards, but I could see that they were an older woman of some relation (friend, mentor, mother, etc.). The voice was coming from a young 20-something mother with two children at the table. The subject of her verbal gripes was the children’s father. Without knowing the home situation, the mother was vocally berating her husband/boyfriend (maybe ex) in front of her two young children. I knew they were his kids, too, because of some of the things she said about him.

I didn’t want to listen. But as I ate, I had no choice. No earplugs on me. A full restaurant of people. A woman who didn’t care who heard her voice.

He is this and he is that and he does this and he does that… the young woman was sharing secrets that even I blushed about. The poor older woman didn’t have time to respond to anything that was said, for the mother was on a verbal roll. She loudly shared bad things — mostly grips about his habits and some of his responses to her complaints — and she shared them not caring who was listening, above all her young children. One child was just a tiny baby, in a carrier, but the other child was able to talk and, I assume, listen.

I felt so sad for the child who could understand what his mother was saying about his father. What must this child be thinking about dad? What will mom do to destroy his notion of fatherhood?

Meal Two: Not learning my lesson, I sat down at the exact same deli table a few days later, again to enjoy a healthy salad and get in some laptop work. The restaurant was less crowded this time and my meal was rather peaceful until two middle aged women sat down at the table directly in front of me. How nice, I thought. Some friends are eating lunch together and visiting. Well, one of them was visiting. Well, one of them was talking. Well… poor friend! It was one of those one-sided conversations, you know? One person talks while the other one absorbs it…err… listens? Ha!

The subject made me shake my head, though. The talker was again loudly and carelessly berating someone not present! This time is was a young man of some relation. It seemed to be either a son or a son-in-law. He did this and he did that, she told her friend. And I think this and I think that about it… She was keen on sharing with her friend every foolish thing that the young man did! She seemed to reference a girlfriend or wife of the man, saying, she wanted to do this but he wouldn’t let her and he is keeping her from this or that. Always her opinion followed the release of insider information.

I couldn’t believe that the talker was sharing all this information about the young man and his lady friend (maybe her daughter?). I also couldn’t believe that the woman thought she had solved all of the problems the couple was having and the solution always involved getting the young man out of the way! Really? She despised this young man and she wanted her friend to know it.

The dictionary definition of gossip is, “Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” A gossiper is, “a person who likes talking about other people’s private lives.”

The biblical definition of gossip takes the dictionary one step farther, painting gossip as a close relative of slander. In the book of Proverbs, there is are several great descriptions of gossip and the righteous response to one who engages in the practice.

A gossip goes around revealing a secret,
but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence. (11:13)

The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip;
avoid someone with a big mouth. (20:19)

Without wood, fire goes out;
without a gossip, conflict dies down. (26:20)

The Hebrew word for gossip is poteh, which is a homonym for patah — “to be naive; to be foolish.” Gossip is seen as folly of the lips and a sign that the gossiper has a serious lack of wisdom. You’ve heard that phrase, “Loose lips sink ships?” Well, in this case it is foolish lips that pierce the keel.

In Proverbs, a gossiper is akin to a secret informer (its use in 11:13), one who foolishly shares information that they absolutely should not. They cannot be trusted. Hey! If they are willing to share information about someone else with you, what do you think they will do with your information?

The New Testament word, psithurismos, is also expressive. It means, “a whispering, i.e. secret slandering.” The idea is that a person leans over to whisper a secret in another person’s ear. That secret? Something negative about someone. Slander and gossip are best pals. It’s hard to tell someone a secret about someone else without affecting their reputation in some way!

Gossip is dangerous, my friends. Secrets and speculations can ruin a person’s reputation in the eyes of others and, at the worst, can be flat out lies. I think of the young mother who was revealing secrets about her partner in front of their children. And of the older woman who was dissing a young man in front of her friend. Gossip and slander are among the traits of someone who is not following Jesus Christ. Of the wicked world, Paul writes,

They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents… (Romans 1:29-30)

Among believers, gossip and slander have no place. Paul told the Colossian believers,

“But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” (Colossians 3:8-10)

I often have to guard my own lips so that they don’t reveal information about someone that I was entrusted to keep secret. It’s hard for me! If money burns a hole in one’s pocket, then surely secrets must burn a hole in one’s mouth! Whenever I have lunch with someone, my head sometimes keeps repeating… I know something, I know something, I know something... But trust and wisdom says, “Say nothing! Don’t even allude to or approach the general subject.”

I have bundles of respect for counselors, the amazing men and women who hear all kinds of secrets in private trust. They know things. But they have to keep those secrets locked in private compartments of their head. Trust is a hard thing to gain but an easy thing to lose!  And if you cannot trust your pastor, counselor, small group leader or best friend, who can you trust? If they serve in Jesus’ name, what does that say about Jesus? Can you trust Him?

Beware of gossip, my friends. Avoid it at all costs! Don’t talk publicly about the private lives of others. Use wisdom and earn trust.