Here is a suspicion: a lot of us have been involved in difficult and uncomfortable situations because of someone being a busybody, and we may sometimes be surprised to see that that someone is looking back at us in the mirror. What is a busybody? Note these three online dictionary definitions: “A person who pries into or meddles in the affairs of others.” “A nosy, meddling person, who’s very interested in what other people say and do.” “A person who is too interested in the private lives of other people.”
My son was standing with me in the grocery checkout line and pointing to one of the magazines on the rack asked, “You know what these are called?”
He answered his own question. “Yellow journalism.” (Yellow journalism is otherwise known as muckraking, or scandal mongering.)
The reason those magazines sell is because people are stoking their inner busybodies. They love to know what’s going on in the private lives of the rich and famous. That kind of curiosity is to be put out of the life of a serious Christian. The Apostle made it clear when he admonished, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). To be curious about notable people and read that in a magazine may seem innocuous but the same curiosity is what leads to getting too involved in private matters of those with whom we are personally acquainted. That’s when we can get very uncomfortable. Like the proverb says, “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Pr. 26:17).
Two women from the church I pastored in Kansas had gotten involved in an issue that was not their business. The almost panicked looks on their faces as they stood just inside our front door and asked me to intervene was priceless. They didn’t know what to do with what they’d intermeddled with. They reminded me of Paul’s description of idle women who can be found “wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Tim. 5: 13).
The reason it is hard to recognize when we are involved in this sin is that as busybodies we are usually on a righteous mission. Someone is doing something that we see is wrong, so we feel compelled to fix it. The two women standing at my door were trying to fix something that involved two other couples. Instead, they found themselves in a very unhappy position. In their case, their meddling got them into trouble. In other cases, such meddling actually causes people to leave the church.
When a lady attending a church for a period of time did not adopt certain standards as soon as someone thought she should, she was told, “You’ve been attending here long enough so you know how you should…” The poor woman had been struggling with some very significant issues at home and was holding on by a thread. The busybody by trying to “fix something” that she thought was not right pushed her over the edge and she stopped coming to church. How much different would the outcome have been had the church woman come along side that hurting lady and been interested in her enough to carry her burden as a real friend? Another woman came to church who had very little church background. She was “lined out” by a busybody who thought she should dress differently. She also left the church. That church had no more influence on either of those women. Its ministry to them was over, not because of the preaching nor because the church was conservative but because of someone who “meddled in the affairs of others.”
Busybodies often do not know who they are and even after such occurrences may feel justified because they have defended their territory against some kind of compromise. They have kept their own space from being invaded by the defiled. Is God pleased? Consider this from the prophet about those who more tightly gather their self-righteous robes around them: “Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day” (Isa. 65:5).
The Bible is very clear that we are to receive people even if we disagree with them over matters that are disputable. “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Romans 14:1). People with weak faith are not to be destroyed by the wagging tongue of a busybody. They are to be received. In fact, Jesus had some very strong words for those who harm “one of these little ones.” “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1,2).
One problem with busybodies is that they are very much interested in the lives of others so that they have something to talk about. It’s called tattling, or gossiping. John Wesley called it evil speaking. He said that when we speak of an absent person in a way that diminishes their character or reputation in the minds of others, we are speaking evil. Bits of gossip that the busybody has found out by prying into the private matters of others are too juicy not to share. One comedian did a spoof on prayer requests that were nothing more than an outlet for gossip. The reason it was funny was because it reflected what too often actually goes on. As Wesley said, the reason for spreading the tale was because “you was burdened!” If gossiping busybodies had the burden of the Lord they would first put a guard on their own tongues.
Note with what company the inspired word of God placed busybodies: murderers, thieves, and evildoers. Not a list of saints, to be sure. Busybodies with their tattling tongues are not funny. They are not to be laughed at as some kind of buffoons who just don’t know any better as they wag their tongues and go from house to house speaking things they ought not. No. They are classified with evildoers.
By way of contrast consider how the Lord Jesus used his words. “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22). Followers of Christ are careful to let their speech be “always with grace” (Col. 4:6). Any who would be a spiritual physician should heed the centuries old oath of medicine: First, do no harm. Then, go on and “minister grace to the hearer.”
For those who are not wise enough to know how to minister grace, perhaps the age old adage is appropriate. “Mind your own business.”