Proverbs 26:20 “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (NIV)
There are many reasons why we are tempted to engage in gossip. Perhaps we want to simply “fit in” with a group of peers or friends. Maybe if we have that extra tidbit of information to share, we think we will gain more status in the group or more credence in the eyes of another as one who is always “in the know”. Or perhaps we are seeking in even the smallest and subtlest of ways to exact revenge on another who may have hurt us in the past or to remotely engage in combat to gain the upper hand against those whom we might view as a threat to our own status and/or reputation. It’s possible that we may feel dissatisfied with our own life circumstances and harbor envy toward the object of our gossip. Whatever our motivation, gossip is, to put it bluntly, sinful and wrong.
And then we consider the quarrel itself. A fire is an apt metaphor for a quarrel. Quarrels and bitter conflicts left unchecked and unresolved can escalate and rage out of control, much like an inferno. In our media-saturated culture, it takes very little imagination to visualize the tragedy of one’s home engulfed in flames and completely lost in the process. It’s also likely that many of us have either ourselves suffered the pain and loss due to a fire, or else we know of others who have.
The last thing you’d want to do when you see a house on fire is to throw more wood on that conflagration! Imagine the outrage of those around you were you to do so! Why, then, should we want to stoke the flames of a quarrel that only leads to bitterness and pain for all those involved?
Not only should we take care not to initiate gossip, but we should also seek to avoid any behavior, however minor and subtle, that will encourage the active gossip(s). Such enablement and affirmation of a gossip is akin to handing more flammable objects off to the one who is actively throwing more fuel onto the blaze! Both parties are guilty of participation in these destructive dealings.
The devastating aftermath of so many quarrels, like a fire, results in nothing but ashes and in a very real sense of the word for the participants in gossip-fueled conflicts, “we ALL fall down!”
“All right,” you may say. “This verse simply instructs us that we would do well not to be involved in gossip. This is true. But what is a good and positive alternative to this negative behavior?” I think it’s so wonderful that we not only have instruction from the Word of God on what not to do, but also some positive examples of what we should be doing instead. Take, for instance, another verse from today’s reading. In verse 7 of Paul’s letter to Philemon, we read the following words from Paul referring directly to his friend and the namesake of the letter: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” (NIV)
Philemon loved his fellow believers and was a refreshing influence in their lives. Rather than contributing to conflict and sowing seeds of discord, bitterness and destruction as in the example of those who fuel a harmful fire, he provided cool, healing refreshment to the hearts of those around him through love, joy and encouragement. We too can follow this example in both word and deed. Instead of gossiping about others, let’s consider asking God to help us and show us what we can say or do to be a refreshment to others who may be suffering and undergoing various trials and times of dryness and discouragement. A timely word of encouragement, a pat on the back or a hug, a gift that you know would brighten one’s day, perhaps taking some time out of our busy schedule to sit quietly with a friend and just listen (!), maybe laugh with them, or cry with them—you get the picture. All of these could provide great refreshment. And I’m sure God could add many more ideas to that list. He can use your involvement in their lives in even seemingly insignificant ways to provide exactly what another might need. He wants to use us, not to tear each other down, but to build each other up. I’d like to challenge us to meditate on these verses and as God leads us, put them into practice, even today!