ADDICTIONS ABOUND IN TODAY’S world. Alcoholism, drugs, tobacco, sex. But there is one addiction nobody wants to talk about. In fact, few want to admit that they are addicted to it or that they have a problem with it. And yet I have found that it is perhaps the most pervasive addiction that exists—in liberal circles, in the most conservative circles, among young and old. The addiction is gossip.
I know from personal experience how addictive this can be. I grew up listening to the voices of criticism and gossip all around me. Criticism of what people wore to church. How they fixed their hair. How they spent their money. How they raised their kids. Yes, even criticism of the sermon on Sabbath.
At first I was just a social gossiper, an occasional slip of the tongue, a little fun at someone else’s expense. Nothing dark or ugly. But as the habit grew, so did the addiction, and, totally unaware, I became hooked.
Gossip and criticism can take many forms that are cloaked in acceptable garments. Those who are blatant gossips and snoops, and are proud of it, are easy to spot. But others veil their prying and snooping by claiming “Christian concern.” When someone asks for prayer about something, we may think that gives us license to pry and poke, to pick them apart in our conversation with others. We whisper to the whole church the juicy little secrets we’ve discovered, and then try to make it seem right by asking people to “pray about it.” There are also the “righteous” who criticize everybody’s faults
“because they ought to know better” and we have the Scripture passages and Spirit of Prophecy quotes to prove it. Oh, I know. I’ve been there. Done that. Heard it all.
Ellen White writes: “There has ever been a class professing godliness, who, instead of following on to know the truth, make it their religion to seek some fault of character or error of faith in those with whom they do not agree. Such are Satan’s right-hand helpers. Accusers of the brethren are not few, and they are always active when God is at work and His servants are rendering Him true homage.”1
After 40 years of thinking I was a Christian, I found out that, in fact, I was destroying people with my tongue. I cried. I fasted. I prayed. I asked God to forgive me and change me. And then God gave me a converted heart and told me to go make things right. I had many wolves to face, and believe me, they wanted me for lunch. I had to repeat over and over to myself that I must learn to gather warmth from the coldness
of others. While many people were forgiving, those I had hurt the worst were understandably doubtful and distrustful.
But in Jesus there is freedom from this addiction, just as He can give freedom from every other sin in our lives. Here are the 12 steps that brought me to an awareness of my sin, helped me to face and repent of my sin, and now help me to live a life free from this sin. I pray that these steps might bring healing and freedom in your life too.
Steps to Freedom
1. Ask God for a converted heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (verse 17).
2. Ask God to show you if this is a sin in your life. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24). “We shall not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness . . . . But when the heart yields to the influence of the Spirit of God, the conscience will be quickened, and the sinner will discern something of the depth and sacredness of God’s holy law, the foundation of His government in heaven and on earth.”2
3. Confess your sin to God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins. They may be of such a nature as to be brought before God only; they may be wrongs that should be confessed to individuals who have suffered injury through them; or they may be of a public character, and should then be as publicly confessed. But all confession should be definite and to the point, acknowledging the very sins of which you are guilty.”3
4. Confess your faults to those you have wronged. “Confess your sins to God, who only can forgive them, and your faults to one another. If you have given offense to your friend or neighbor, you are to acknowledge your wrong, and it is his duty freely to forgive you.”4
5. Consecrate yourself to God every morning. “Make this your very first work. Let your prayer be, ‘Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee.’”5
6. Hide God’s Word in your heart. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). “Temptations often appear irresistible because, through neglect of prayer and the study of the Bible, the tempted one cannot readily remember God’s promises and meet Satan with the Scripture weapons. But angels are round about those who are willing to be taught in divine things; and in the time of great necessity they will bring to their remembrance the very truths which are needed.”6 God’s Word will help us speak only those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; and to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23). “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit” (Psalm 34:13).
7. Avoid temptation. To the best
of your ability, stay away from circumstances and people that will draw you back into this addiction.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1).
8. Be open about your struggle. Don’t let your pride keep you silent and open the way for temptation.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). If you are in a situation that you can’t avoid, be willing to say, “I have a problem with gossip, and I am trying to get it out of my life, out of my home.” You’ll find that most people are willing to help you by holding their own tongue.
Then do it. You will notice that your conversation will turn to Jesus and away from the criticism. When my family first started doing this, we found ourselves praying several times a day—even several times in one hour. It was a supreme struggle for all of us, because our habits had become so deeply entrenched. But as we have continued to pray, God has done a work in us—we now catch ourselves before the words are said.
10. Do something kind for someone you
have critical thoughts about. Ask God for an understanding heart. “In your association with others, put yourself in their place. Enter into their feelings, their difficulties, their disappointments, their joys, and their sorrows. Identify yourself with them, and then do to them as, were you to exchange places with them, you would wish them to deal with you.”7
11. Think about Jesus when you begin to have negative thoughts. “Let the mind dwell upon His love, upon the beauty, the perfection, of His character. . . . It is by loving Him, copying Him, depending wholly upon Him, that you are to be transformed into His likeness.”8
12. Trust Jesus completely to work in you. “It
is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “Many have an idea that they must do some part of the work alone. They have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, but now they seek by their own efforts to live aright. But every such effort must fail. Jesus says, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ Our growth in grace, our joy, our usefulness—all depend upon our union with Christ. It is by communion with Him, daily, hourly—by abiding in Him—that we are to grow in grace.”9