Slander in the Camp

Slander is a violation of the 9th commandment, "You shall not bear false witness."

Why is Paul writing this to Christians? Because Christians are as capable of this as any other person. As John Owen once said, “The seed of every known sin is in my heart.” Putting it simply, we are all capable of doing this. Churches, businesses, ministries and relationships are ruined…not from without, but from within.

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked person by being a malicious witness. Exodus 23:1

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up dissension among brothers and sisters. Proverbs 6:16-19

How many of you have witnessed the evils of slander? Sadly, it happens all the time in circles of people who name Jesus as their King and Redeemer. The more I speak with leaders and fellow Christians, the more I realize how prevalent this is.

Slander is a violation of the 9th commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” The usual suspect we think of when it involves violating the 9th commandment is gossip. While gossip is clearly evil, we often leave out slander. My guess is that we don’t really think Christians will go there. Sadly, that is not the case.

Gossip and slander are different. The difference is that slander is much more intentional. Slander is out to ruin the person or drive their reputation into the ground. Listen to the way Paul situates slander in his catalogue of sins of speech in Ephesians 4:31-32. He clearly places slander in the anger family. Notice that it is driven by the opposite of forgiveness and reconciliation:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

In his commentary on Ephesians, John Stott defines the following words:

  • Bitterness (pikria): a sour spirit and sour speech.
  • Rage (thymos): a passionate rage.
  • Anger (orge): settled and sullen hostility.
  • Brawling (krauge): people who get excited, raise their voices in a quarrel, and start shouting, even screaming.
  • Slander (blasphemia): speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation.
  • Malice (kakia): ill will, wishing and probably plotting evil against someone.

Another word for slander in Greek is diabolos. It is the word that is used for Satan and means the “accuser”, the one who attacks the brethren. Slander is the passionate, determined goal of one person to destroy another. As you can see, it is driven by bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and every form of malice. It is diabolical. What are a few ways that we may attempt to slander someone for the purpose of harming their reputation?

  • Sensationalism–spinning what someone said to sound evil.
  • Betraying confidence–using constructive criticism shared in private and telling the person not present what was said with an evil spin. This is usually done so that they will join in the brawl against another person.
  • Putting words in a person’s mouth that were never said. This is a more straightforward, outright lie.

Why is Paul writing this to Christians? Because Christians are as capable of this as any other person. As John Owen once said, “The seed of every known sin is in my heart.” Putting it simply, we are all capable of doing this. Churches, businesses, ministries and relationships are ruined…not from without, but from within.

Below is a song called, “The Murder Weapon” by T-Bone Burnett. It is a song about the evils of the tongue. It is a reminder of the fall-out of evil speech. I’ve included the lyrics and the YouTube video.

We are all capable of gossip and slander. Only by God’s grace can we avoid them.

It can kill from any distance but you never see it strike
There isn’t any warning, no blinding flash of light
It hits you when your back’s turned or when your eyes are closed
There isn’t any shelter and it cannot be controlled
It can be as subtle as a whisper in the dark
Or as brutal and as cutting as the teeth of a shark

Chorus: The murder weapon

There is no good description for the way it makes you feel
It’s as lethal as a stiletto and more easily concealed
It sometimes is strategic and sometimes not at all
But you get caught in the fallout, win, lose or draw
There is no escape except to go completely mad
If it doesn’t kill you right at first it makes you wish it had

Chorus: The murder weapon

Tim Lane is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, lives in Atlanta, and serves as president of the Institute for Pastoral Care. This article appeared on the Institute blog and is used with permission.