He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips (Proverbs 20:19).
Among the many ways we can use our words to hurt others, three of them are backbiting, gossip, and flattery.
The word used for backbite in Hebrew means “to play the spy”. It’s a picture of someone who collects clues and scraps of information regarding a person’s character and then relates the information to anyone who will listen.
Gossip is more subtle because it can veil itself in “acceptable” language. People will say, “Have you heard?” or “I personally don’t believe it’s true, but I did hear that... ” Or, here is one of my personal favorites: “I wouldn’t normally share this, but I know it won’t go any further. Keep this to yourself.”
Of course, we Christians like to wrap gossip in spiritual language: “I need to tell you this about so-and-so so you can pray for them.” But how often do we really follow through and make it a matter of prayer?
A more subtle misuse of the tongue is in flattery. Flattery is just a fancy lie. It’s when you say something that is really not true to win a person’s favor, attention, or approval when you don’t mean what you said about him or her at all. A good definition of gossip and flattery is this: Gossip is saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face. Flattery is saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.
That is why James tells us, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). That is a mark of true spirituality.