How exactly would you define slander? Maybe you’ve heard someone drag another’s name through the mud, damage a person’s reputation, or give a scathing review? The dictionary defines slander as the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation or to make damaging comments about someone. Before you are tempted to think that slander is a trivial matter, know that God hates it and slander is evil. Proverbs 6:12-19, Romans 1:28-30, James 3:13-18
The sin of slander is to be taken seriously in the life of a Christian because all people are created to be image bearers of God. When we tear down others we devalue them, and by proxy vandalize God’s reputation. Slander causes very real, sometimes long lasting damage to ourselves and others. It is stealing the good name of another. Slander destroys relationships with our neighbors and separates close friends. It is discouraging and confusing, and derails the mission of the church, it disrupts our worship, and makes our offering unacceptable.
So, are you guilty of the sin of slander?
We must all look at our own hearts. It’s important that we are honest about our intent. Could I have delivered the facts in a more gracious way? Was what was said conjecture or part opinion? Did it have a mocking tone? Was the goal to elevate myself or cause division? Am I trying to gain support even at the cost of another? Slander is insidiously subtle. Is it really harmless hearsay? We have all aired our personal presumptions and speculations. We often give our own negative opinions of others mixed in with a few facts. Is our speech an attempt to sway the direction of another’s heart? Are we trying to gain an audience or manipulate an outcome? Beware.
Have you ever left someone with an unfair negative perception of another? Did you embellish, use incriminating body language perhaps, or just poked a little “harmless fun” at a friend? Would what you said be considered cutting, sarcastic, insulting, harsh, disrespectful or just plain unkind?
In reality, a lot of our slander comes from imagined or exaggerated offenses and are often our own projected feelings aimed at people we don’t even know. How often have you cut down the young waitress at the restaurant who brought you the wrong drink or griped about the new clerk at Walmart? While these examples are of people we likely do not know, they show just how merciless we can be.
Yet, one of the easiest ways to be led into sin is through being sinned against, particularly when it is from those we are closest with. From here all our enemy needs to do to distort our perspective is fan the flames of our hurt and get us to nurture the offense. We think we are in the right, don’t we? Yet, we cannot be purely objective.
Slander is a package deal, and the devil uses it to divide and destroy. It is never just the sin of slander. It is the sin of slander and gossip, slander and envy, slander and hatred, slander and murder, slander and pride, slander and deceit, slander and bigotry, slander and hypocrisy, slander and selfishness, slander and an unhealthy rivalry, slander and bitterness….
There are times when it is necessary, and not slanderous, to discuss negative information about a person. There are times a person’s real sin must become public for the sake of justice or an individual’s safety. It is a good thing to report confirmed sin and abuse to the appropriate people in positions of authority who can do something about it. In the case of abuse or besetting sin it’s important to be able to seek counsel or talk with an official about the things that have transpired. Counseling whether mainstream, pastoral, or other may be necessary. You may need to ask someone how to navigate a complex and ambiguous situation. Husbands and wives may need to talk about where they stand as individuals or as a family on a specific issue. Sometimes that involves talking about very specific details. In these cases it is right and good to be able to talk about things that might be hard and ugly, and we would never consider it wrong or slanderous to do so.
In every situation it is important that we are seeking time with the Lord. He ultimately will bind up our wounds, restore what has been lost, and uphold justice, even when (by mercy) His vengeance is delayed. There is a confidence that only God knows.
There are times we can be overly idealistic, hypocritical in our judgment, and unforgivingly nit-picky towards another’s sin. We can choose to harm another’s reputation unnecessarily out of jealousy. Even when what we say is true, the way we spin or color the information can be wrong. At this point if our heart is wrong, then, so are our actions and it would benefit us to remove the plank from our own eye first. Matthew 7:3-5
When we are on the receiving end of slander we are instructed to give grace as much as possible that mercy should triumph over judgment. With unbelievers, we are trying to maintain a relationship with those who are against us, so that we might still have an opportunity to share the gospel. We are to be like Jesus, to not fight back or take vengeance ourselves, but to let God fight on our behalf.
Within the church, there are also times to confront and times to give grace. Every wrong does not need to be acknowledged, and we do not have the right to exact judgment for ourselves. Jesus would have us preserve each other’s reputations as much as possible, knowing that gossip and slander are always temptations. Again, we are not talking about hiding sin or abuse within the church but are focused on those inevitable, operational offenses between brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it a big enough offense that others in the church need to be involved? Have I gone to that person specifically and spoken one-on-one? Was there a need to go back and talk again, this time with others?
We need God’s spirit to guide us. We need God’s help in revealing our own heart in every situation. When offended, pray that God help you to crucify your own insecurities and selfishness and take care of your heart first.
Don’t just pray that the other party will conform to your opinions. Prayers like this could be selfishness guised as piety. Pray for that person’s heart, for repentance, if it is needed, but also for the well-being of their families, their relationship with the Lord, for the unity of the church, and mutual fidelity. Can you pray for God to bless them?
Commit your reputation to the Lord and trust him for your protection. There’s no need to try to win back those who have heard a damaging account. Choose to care more about what God thinks and commands-He will make it right in the end. Be empathetic to others, take into account, their specific circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses. We will all be judged by the measure we judge others. Reconciliation and restoration must always be the goal and purpose of confrontation.
When you must confront, don’t be guided by fear or emotion. Be thoughtful, and take your time. Go in the spirit of gentleness. Do not be accusatory or defensive. Start by asking questions and don’t jump to conclusions. It is a very presumptuous thing to tell others how they are thinking and feeling without asking first. Don’t start with an accusation. Take every opportunity to deescalate the situation and try not to be too confrontational. Shy away from harsh language but don’t be afraid to express vulnerability. As a rule, try never to share information with someone who cannot benefit or help with the situation. We can always ask for prayer from others, but we don’t always need to air the specific details. Ephesians 4:15-16, James 5:7-11,19-20
No matter how personal or cutting slander may be, remember that our fight is never solely against the flesh and blood person but against spiritual forces of evil. Ephesians 6:12
Slander can split churches, poison friendships, fracture families, quench the Holy Spirit, kill our love, short circuit or spiritual renewal, undermine trust, and suck the courage out of the Saints. It’s a demonic weight and a satanic stumbling block that should never be taken lightly. James 3:13-18, Matthew 5:9
Written by Melanie Barnfield. Melanie Barnfield is an artist, closet introvert, wordsmith, and lover of Christ. She has been married 14 years to the love of her life, and has been blessed with 4 beautiful children. Residing in Benton, IL, she is an avid reader who enjoys teaching, gardening, and photography.