A BIBLICAL EXPOSITION OF WHAT GOD SAYS ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN AND GOSSIP, SLANDER AND THE USE OF THE TONGUE
The greatest truth a believer can ever grasp is this: when he got saved, he died to his sinful past, and the rest of his life is to be spent pursuing Christlikeness. Paul put it this way: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Ga.2:20). At the believer’s salvation experience he was awakened to the fact that he is a grievous sinner against God that deserves eternal damnation, but that because Christ loved him and died for him, he has escaped God’s wrath and now possesses eternal life. A proper understanding of Christ’s love for the believer will transform and control his life (2 Co. 5:14-15). It is a motivating truth that drives the believer to put off the old lifestyle with its sin, and to be remade into the image of Christ.
One of the sins that God wants us to put off is the sin of slander. Slander is serious sin. It is very hard for 21st century Americans to accept this. We live in the midst of so much slander that we have trouble even recognizing it as sin. Our conscience is seared. We have so quenched the Spirit in this area that we have trouble feeling His conviction when we slander. Our political campaigns are filled with slander. Our most popular magazines are slanderous rags. We frequently listen to it on television, on the radio, or on the internet. It is commonplace on the job. It is a way of life in America. But Paul lists it as one of the sins that obviously calls for the eternal wrath of God (Ro. 1:30). David prayed that a slanderer would not be in the millennial reign of Christ (Ps. 140:11). David vows to God that as a righteous judge he would destroy all slanderers (Ps. 101:5). One reason God brought judgment against Israel in Jeremiah’s day was “every neighbor will walk with slanderers” (Je. 9:4). Slander proceeds out of an evil heart and defiles a man (Mt. 15:19-20). Slander breaks our fellowship with God so that He will not hear our prayers (Ps. 15:3). It grieves the Holy Spirit and blocks spiritual growth (Ep. 4:31; 1 Pe. 2:1). Slander is one of the characteristics of the church people who in perilous times “have a form of godliness, but have denied its power” (2 Ti. 3:1-5). Again, Paul tells us that we must avoid such men as these (2 Ti. 3:5). He feared he would find such behavior in Corinth (2 Co. 12:20) and warned them to examine themselves to see if they were even saved (2 Co. 13:5). If American Christians could really see the truth of what slander is, we would cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!” (Is. 6:5).
The Greek word for slander is blasphemeo. It means ‘to speak evil of.’ Sometimes is it used of speaking evil of God, and is translated ‘to blaspheme.’ When it is used of speaking evil of men, it refers to slander. Slander is the speaking of defamatory statements injurious to the reputation or well-being of another (American Heritage Dictionary). Contrary to what most might think, just because a statement contains the truth does not mean it is not slanderous. The truth can be slander when it is uttered out of evil motives. Love is to be the guiding principle behind all of our speech, both with believers (Ep. 4:15) and unbelievers (2 Ti. 2:13) The test, then, for slander is three-fold: is it true? Is it necessary for this person to know? Is it kind? If it fails any one of these tests, it is sin.
Slander takes many forms. It is the giving of an evil report about your fellow employee to the boss (Pr. 30:10). It is taking about others behind their backs (Ps. 50:20). It is the relaying of defamatory information about someone to others (Pr. 10:18). It is the making fun of others, either behind their backs (Ps. 35:15) or to their faces (Mt. 27:39). It is the prideful remark that demeans those who are “below” us in social standing (Ja. 2:7). Sometimes believers slander other believers whose practice in Christian liberty or convictions are different from their own (1 Co. 10:30). Tattling—the telling of a tale in order to get others in trouble—is slander (Jude 9).
WHY PEOPLE SLANDER
Slander comes from an evil heart (Mt. 15:19-20). It is motivated ultimately by pride (Pr. 30; 1 Ti. 6:3). Secondary motivations include false doctrine(s) which actually intensify it (1 Ti. 6:4). That’s why ‘churches’ that do not preach Bible truth are not loving assemblies; instead they are filled with slander (2 Ti. 3:1-5). People are sometimes motivated to slander for money (2 Sa. 16:3-4; 19:27-30) or in jealousy to destroy another’s career (Is. 32:7). Sometimes an individual is motivated by pure meanness to destroy another’s friendship (Pr. 16:28). That type of individual cannot be trusted with a secret (Pr. 20:19), and believers should not associate with them. Sometimes people slander just because they have too much leisure (1 Ti. 5:13). A good job and a busy schedule helps one keep his nose in his own business. No Christian should ever meddle in other people’s affairs (2 Th. 3:6-14;1 Pe. 4:15). Unsaved people slander believers because they will not participate in their sins (1Pe. 4:4). They will make up slanderous stories as an excuse for not seeking the Lord (2 Pe. 2:2; Ro. 3:8), or regrettably, use the failures of believers to excuse their wickedness (1 Ti. 6:1; Ti. 2:5).
HOW TO AVOID UTTERING SLANDER
Believers must not slander (Co. 3:8). Preachers need to teach God’s people to “speak evil of no man” (Ti. 3:2). Instead, we need to honor “all men” (1 Pe. 2:17). That would include our leaders in government (Ro. 13:7; 1 Pe. 2:17) our employer (1 Ti. 6:1) our wives (1 Pe. 3:7) our parents (Ep. 6:2) the pastor (1 Ti. 5:17) as well as all of our brothers and sisters in Christ (Ro. 12:10). When others fail, do not promote their failure; the loving response is to cover their sin (1 Pe. 4:8; Pr. 17:9). Go alone to your sinning brother and seek to correct him (Mt. 18:15-18). If he repents, forget about it. If he refuses, then others must become involved (Mt. 18:16-17). Take one or two spiritual leaders with you to seek his restoration (Ga. 6:1; Mt. 18:17). If that does not produce repentance, only then must it become a church wide issue (Mt. 18:17). Keep secrets in love (Pr. 11:13). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
WHAT IS NOT SLANDER
It is not slander to report criminal activity to the authorities. It is a loving thing to stop the thief, the murderer, the extortioner, the pervert. Neither is it slander to point out doctrinal error (e.g. the entire book of Galatians) or false teachers (Mt. 16:6; 1 Ti. 1:20). Love desires to protect potential victims and seeks the sinner’s salvation and repentance. Love deals with sin.
RESPONDING TO SLANDER IN A CHRISTLIKE MANNER
Perhaps a few words should be said about how the believer should respond when he is slandered. Paul says that he tried to conciliate others (1 Co. 4:13). That means he sought to overcome the distrust and animosity. He didn’t take it personally. Believers should know that slander from the unsaved is evidence of their Christlikeness and is a source of great blessing (1 Pe. 4:14). Furthermore, they need to understand that Christ allowed the slander to come into their life for a righteous reason (1 Pe. 4:19). In these situations, keeping a good testimony is essential (1 Pe. 3:14-18; 4:14-19). Whether it be in the home (Ti. 2:3-5), or at work (1 Ti. 6:1), or even in some righteous deed (Ro. 14:16), the believer must be careful of his testimony. And when we suffer for doing what is right, the believer should not be ashamed, but rather glorify God in it (1 Pe. 4:16). If the slander threatens to wreck our lives, we must not fear because we know that Christ is Lord, and has allowed these circumstances to develop for His glory (1 Pe. 3:14-15). We should use the occasion to gently and respectfully witness for Him (1 Pe. 3:15). It is just this gentle forbearance that God will use to bring others to Himself in salvation (1 Pe. 3:18).
For the believer, slander is part of the old life. He must put it off completely so that he can put on the new man, which is like Christ. Let us mourn in repentance with Paul that we ever slandered (1 Ti. 1:13). Let us confess our sins that Christ may faithfully wash us clean with His blood (1 Jn. 1:7,9). And if our brother holds it against us for what we have said, we need to make it right with him before the next church service so that our God will receive our worship (Mt. 5:23-24). Let us rejoice that God could ever use sinners like us, whose mouths’ were venomous like a snake’s (Ro. 3:13-14). And let us call upon Him whose grace is sufficient to give us grace to help us have slander-free mouths that speak from a heart of love (2 Co. 12:9; Heb. 4:16).
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