There's a perception in the church that all discussions about other people are gossip. This perception is based on Scripture repeatedly telling us that gossip is a sinful thing (Leviticus 19:16, 2 Corinthians 12:20, James 4:11, 1 Timothy 5:13). I think at times we take these admonishes too far; for instance, how can we ask for a friend to join us in confronting someone who has sinned if we can't tell them why they're coming (Matthew 18:15-20). How can we seek out wise counsel if the details surrounding our need for counsel would be gossip (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15)? How can we carry each other's burdens if we aren't allowed to talk about them (Galatians 6:2)? James 5:16 calls us to confess our sins to each other so that we can pray for each other and be healed, how does this definition of gossip work within that framework?
Given this tension, how do we know what is gossip and what is an acceptable and wise way to be honest with those around us?
Gossip seeks to slander and tear down (Proverbs 10:18, Ephesians 4:29, and James 4:11).
Gossip seeks to shoot the breeze (Proverbs 10:19 & 1 Timothy 5:13).
Gossip seeks to mettle (Exodus 23:1 & Proverbs 26:20-22)
Gossip seeks to satisfy self (Proverbs 11:13 & Romans 1:29-32).
What does this mean for us as godly husbands and wives? What should we do when we have conflict in our marriage and don't know what to do?
Take Time and Pray
Seek out your own heart and try to uncover your motives. How did you contribute to the incident? Often times this step alone gives us all we need to go back to our spouse and resolve the conflict as we genuinely apologize for how we sinned toward them. In the times where we didn't contribute to the incident or we can't think of a way in which we sinned, we'll likely need further counsel. Either to help us find the best, most God glorifying way to call out our spouse's sin or to further reveal our own hearts. (As Jeremiah 17:9 points out, our hearts are deceitfully wicked and impossible to understand.)
Seek Out Godly Counsel
We need to be willing to talk with trusted godly people about the situation so they can speak into our lives. We need to seek counsel from believers we trust will not be swayed in their opinions of our spouse by our conversation (Galatians 6:1). For example, our parents are not likely to be the right people to seek in these times. Their role is to love and support both their child and their child-in-law. Sharing the wrongs done to us can often disrupt their ability to properly love our spouse. This is one reason why it's so important to find good fellowship and accountability in a solid church. By joining Life Groups we can find other believers we can be real with. We are then able to bear our souls to others and they are able to carry our burdens and help us think out our complex and difficult situations in a wise and godly way.
The people we choose to invite into our greatest sorrows need to be reasonable sounding boards for the events that unfolded and how we ought to reply to them. (When we are emotional, it may even be prudent to warn our friends and ask them to keep us from gossiping when we share the conflict we want advice for.) Our trusted brothers and sisters can then point out where we’re being overly emotional, sinful, and obstinate (Jeremiah 17:9). The whole time we’re talking to them we still need to be prayerfully examining our own hearts. If we are "seeking advice" just to talk negatively about our spouse and win an ally, then our motives are wrong and sinful. But if we are seeking advice to hear where we are wrong and where we need to grow in our walks then we are doing rightly.
We need to listen. Proverbs continually speaks of how the wise man takes counsel from the righteous and listens to the words of the wise (Proverbs 1:20-33, 11:14, & 15:22). Listen to their words, mull them over, see how they line up to Scripture and your own heart. Be diligent in finding the truth.
Is it Gossip?
So, is our talking about our marital conflict with someone else gossip? Not inherently. The only way to know is to seek out our Lord, take inventory of our heart motives before Him and our friends, and make sure that our goal is our own growth and the sanctification of ourselves and our spouse before a holy God.
Every now and then I hear of a spouse who is angry their spouse has told others of their sins. A person who reacts this way is not putting his/her own walk with God first, nor are they concerned about their spouse's Spiritual growth. Most of us wouldn't have the same indignant response if our spouse went out and asked advice about how to deal with sinful children, co-workers, or neighbors. It is pure pride that causes that frustration and anger to well up within us. Our view of gossip has become tainted by the idea that we should love and honor our spouse (a very Biblical ideal!), to the detriment of our own walk with God.
If he's upset because it looks badly on him or our family, he's upset for the wrong reason. We should be glad that our spouse sought out biblical and wise counsel to try and resolve conflict and draw closer to both us and God. We should be happy that our spouse thinks so highly of God and so reverently toward our marriage that they want to see us both grow in holiness and purity in our martial resolution. It can be hard to be joyful for our spouse when they come back from seeking advice certain that we acted sinfully, but when it happens we need to be aware enough of our own hearts that we can reply humbly as David did to the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12) rather than pridefully like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).
Let us consider our own motives carefully and continually strive to be men and women after God’s own heart.
Let us seek out honest, godly friends that we can be transparent with and who can see our lives for what they are and call us out on our sins.