If I had a dollar for every time that someone said they had a “prayer request” or a “concern” about someone, and then they proceeded to gossip and slander another fellow Christian, I really do think I’d be rich beyond belief. It has, quite frankly, occurred around me my entire life. I don’t believe I’ve ever been a part of a church community that didn’t have an issue with gossips and slanderers.
Christians are commanded to build up the church (1 Cor. 12) and to strive for peace (Heb. 12:14). That does not mean that confrontation is unbiblical. We are to guard the truth (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), to contend for apostolic faith (Jude 3), and to stand firm (Eph. 6:10-20). But in my experience, the great majority of “prayer requests” and “concerns” and everything else that is called “exposing sin” is nothing but a cover-up for clear and undeniable sin. Which sin? Gossip and slander.
Let’s define some terms here. There are several words in the Scriptures that are translated as slander. The Hebrew words ragal, dophiy, dibbah, lashan, and rakiyl are all translated as “slander” or “backbiting” or “falsely accusing.” In the New Testament, the words blasphemia, dusphemia, katalalia, and loidoria are all translated as “slander” or “blaspheme” or “evil speaking” or “speaking reproachfully” or “railings.” This isn’t a technical summary of the lexical ranges that can be found in the Scriptures. My point is that these words are not used in the positive. These activities are condemned throughout the entire Bible, Old Testament and New Testament.
Evidence of Foolishness
In Proverbs 10:18 we’re told that “whoever utters slander is a fool.” Slander is evidence of foolishness. Foolishness, especially in the Proverbs, are presented as causing grief and sorrow. It’s not a good characteristic to have. So those who utter slander are fools.
But why are they fools?
I’d like to make some suggestions. I believe that one of the reasons that slanderers are fools is because in my experience, those who slander other people rarely take a look at their own sin and their own need for grace and mercy and love and compassion. They tend to ignore their own sin and shortcomings, but they are really good at pointing out the flaws of others.
On top of that, they tend to ignore facts. People who slander others generally work on little to no actual substance. The stuff that they say isn’t based on facts, but is often based on perceptions. Or worse, it’s based off of their own opinions and actually ignores facts. For example, someone continues to make false statements about someone’s beliefs and will not, under any circumstance, adjust those statements when they are presented with facts.
The problem boils down to whether or not the person being slandered has actually been talked to. If you have not spoken to the person you are talking about, you need to stop immediately. Actually, even if you have spoken to them, you need to stop immediately. Slander, according to the dictionary, is a a malicious, false, or defamatory statement or report. Stop slandering. You do not want to be on the side of the fool when the judgment comes. Trust me on that. For the fool “will come to ruin” (Prov. 10:8, 10, 14).
We have to remember that people were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). And those whom Christ has saved, He has saved by His previous blood. He has saved them because of His great love (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16). Your slander is against someone created in God’s image who Christ loves so much that He was willing to die for them and save them. Does your slander appropriately match the feelings and actions that Jesus has?
Destructive to Friendships
It’s sad to think that strong friendships have been destroyed due to gossip and slander. Yet I have witnessed it happened many times. But Proverbs 16:18 tells us that “a gossip separates the closest friends” (NET).
If you stop and really consider this, you’ll probably think of some personal examples. And it’s really sad. It might even hurt a little bit. People who were once close and in strong relationships are now bitter rivals and have nothing but bitterness and unforgiveness in their hearts towards the other. It’s horrible.
When gossip happens within close friendships, it hurts even more than usual, doesn’t it? When someone I don’t know says something slanderous about me it does not come even remotely close to how hurtful it is when someone we love does. That’s the nature of relationships. We are hurt deeper by those we love and care for.
So when the person you love and care for tells someone else things about you that damage your reputation, the pain goes deep. It’s just not the same as when someone you don’t care about says something nasty. When someone you loves does it, the hurt and disappointment goes deep.
Thus, slander and gossip are very destructive to friendships. In fact, the type of friendships that the NT motivates for us to pursue are impossible to form and maintain in the midst of slander.
Destructive to Church Community
As I just noted, it’s impossible to form and maintain the type of relationships that the NT commands for us to have if there is gossip and slander. Note the following texts that illustrate a radical “kingdom” style of relationships and community that is built of the greatest eternal quality – love:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – John 15:12, 17
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Acts 2:42
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Rom. 12:10
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” – 1 John 3:11 (cf. 3:23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1:5)
It’s unfortunate that gossip and slander is found in the Church. I’ve witnessed it hurt a great deal of people in my life and found myself frustrated by it… and yet at times participating in it.
But I love the Church. My love for the Body of Christ has increased dramatically in the past five years. This community of believers that God has called me to serve has my heart. I love them… truly I do.
And because I love them (corporately), I must do what I can to gently and lovingly call Christians to a higher standard than they may be abiding in. That standard is Christ! So I pray that God will purify this imperfection and sin in my life and would use me to teach against it by pointing a way towards love, love, and more love! May the Lord increase my ability to confront it and to point out slander and gossip, even when it comes in the guise as a “prayer request” or a “deep concern” or a “curious question.” No, slander and gossip destroys, even when you and I call it by another name.
Grieving to God
I’m staring at Ephesians 4:30. I’ve read this text probably thousands of times. Literally. From my own personal devotional time to seminary classes on exegeting Ephesians. I’ve discussed this verse a lot and used it when teaching on Pneumatology as an indication of the person-hood of the Spirit and the reality of our relationship with Him. It says,
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
There it is. Tucked nicely in-between some Christ-centered and gospel-focused imperatives (i.e., commandments!!!). On one side, Christians are commanded to “Be angry and do not sin” and to “give no opportunity to the devil.” Yep, both of those are imperatives. Both of those are commandments, not suggestions. This is where the “grieving the Holy Spirit” part becomes indicative of a church-wide problem. Paul’s next imperative is that “no corrupting talk” should “come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up… so that it may give grace to those who hear. Did you read that? Only say things that builds people up. I’m convicted by reading this. You should be too. We all should. In general terms, we need to ask whether or not our speech builds people up. In specific terms, we need to realize that gossip and slander do not build up anyone, including ourselves. It damages our relationship with God (note that the Spirit is grieved by us) and it damages our relationship with others (which actually hurts us too, even if we don’t know it).
On the other side of the “grieving the Holy Spirit” text, God commands, through Paul’s pen, that “all… slander (blasphemia) be put away from you (arthêtô aph umôn).” Again, the Greek is in the imperative mood. Rather than tearing down others whom Jesus called for us to love, Paul tells us that we are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:26-32 is a heavy text. It clearly tells us that gossip and slander grieves the Holy Spirit. Even when that slander is offered as a “you should pray for so and so who is dealing with [insert slanderous gossip].” Yep, even when it is disguised in that way, it still grieves the Holy Spirit.
May the Holy Spirit empower us to “give no opportunity to the devil” by causing our love for Him and for each other to grow more and more!