“Love… It always protects…” The Greek word for protect here is (στέγω) stegō which in the most literal meaning is “roof” as a roof on a house. Stego is also defined as: to protect or keep by covering, to preserve, to cover over with silence to keep secret to excuse, hide, conceal of the errors and faults of others by covering to keep off something which threatens, to bear up against, hold out against, and so endure, bear, forbear. While delighting in the truth is how we need to be with ourselves, protecting or covering others is how we need to treat each other. Everyone has errors and faults in our lives and as we become aware of someone else’s shortcomings, to we protect the person with our silence or are we quick to pass it on to the next person, spreading the person’s shame and guilt? Do we practice discretion? Or are we quick to betray the person?
In my 33 years in the church, one of the things that I have noticed is the amount of gossip that takes place, in many instances with seemingly noble intentions. The Greek word for gossip is ψιθυρισμός (psithyrismos) which means a whispering, a secret slandering, of the magical murmuring of a charmer of snakes. The visual here is clear: when we gossip, we are a snake charmer, pulling the other person in, making them dance to our music and the other person has given up what they think to be in line with the snake charmer. For the listener, we give up our freedom, because we want to be in the “know”.
I have both seen and been a part of this endless chain of gossip. I have whispered “that person is weak” or “pray for him/her because they are struggling” or “pray for them because their marriage is weak” or “pray for them because they are ________.” Soon enough this has gone through the entire fellowship and everyone is aware of their struggle? What does this make the person feel? A sense of shame and condemnation. How does everyone else start to treat them? They start to isolate and alienate them…”if I spend time with them, people might think that I am part of this or that I am influenced by them, so I better stay away from them”. Then the person feels even more isolated and unloved…and I wonder why they leave the church!
While I may cover up gossip under a façade of “noble intentions” the reality is that my motives are not so pure and noble.
Sometimes I will talk about someone else because it makes me feel better talking about them. There have been times when I have felt condemned by my life and when I share someone else’s problems I don’t feel as condemned: “See I am not such a bad person after all! I actually pretty good!” This is being self-righteous at its very core.
Another motive for me to gossip is because I am jealous of someone else and my gossip brings them down to my level. Someone else has more influence than I do, a better position, a better job…something that I want and usually something that I feel like I deserve. When I gossip, I am trying to show that I am more deserving than they are and that I should be the one elevated.
The final motive I have had for gossip is to justify myself. When there have been on-going conflicts, I will use gossip to justify myself, saying things like: “The reason this happened is they their marriage is not going well” or “why did we have this argument? Because they didn’t have their quiet time this morning!” It is designed to show that I am right because of the inadequacy of the other person.
We have to start to call gossip for what it is: manipulation. What we relay may be true, half-truths or even lies but our intent is to control the way that others think to get what we want. It is not about love, but at its very core is self-seeking.
On the other hand, the protection of love protects us all. All of us sin, and discretion and covering each other protects each of us from the humiliation that we would face if our lives were exposed by others. This protection of love provides each of us the space that we need for God to work through our lives to bring about repentance. This protection of love gives us shelter and security as we work through the problems in our lives. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12 “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9
The question for me is clear: Which am I? A roof of love that protects those around me or a Snake Charmer? Which do I want to be? A roof of Love! What do I need to change to be the shelter of Love? How do I watch my mouth to prevent myself being a snake charmer? These are the questions for me to meditate on today.