God hates slander (Proverbs 6:16, 19). It is evil. That’s why Paul lists it as a behavior of those who hate God (Romans 1:30) and why James calls it demonic behavior (James 3:15–16).
Slander occurs whenever someone says something untrue about someone else that results, intentionally or unintentionally, in damaging that someone else’s reputation. And when it occurs, it becomes a divisive, discouraging, and confusing weight that often affects numerous people — sometimes many, many people.
Because of its poisonous power, it is one of the adversary’s chief strategies to divide relationships and deter and derail the mission of the church. We must be on our guard against this closely clinging sin and frequently lay it aside (Hebrews 12:1).
The Subtlety of Slander
Sometimes saying something untrue and damaging about someone is bold and blunt. But often slander is insidiously subtle, especially since we have heard slander all our lives in almost every context and grown accustomed to it. This means we must heighten our sensitivity to it and lower our tolerance of it.
Slander can wear a hundred masks. I’ll mention a few common ones.
Sometimes we pass along slanderous information that seems almost like harmless hearsay, yet the effect it has on our listeners is to leave them with an unfairly negative perception of another. Sometimes we embellish with information or tone a negative report about someone in order to enhance our listener’s perception of ourselves.
Sometimes we have a very real concern about someone, but we share it with someone who cannot benefit from or help with the concern. We do this because we simply want our listeners to think worse of a particular person. Or if we share a concern with an appropriate person, we can sometimes indulge our speculations or presumptions, mixing them almost imperceptibly with facts for our listeners, distorting the concern in order to sway an outcome in a direction we desire.
The net effect of all forms of slander is to unjustly devalue another person’s reputation.
Slander Is Stealing
This devaluing is at the heart of what makes slander evil. The Bible tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). In this context, a good name represents a person’s character, which is the most valuable thing about their identity. A good name is who we are in the minds of others. And since relationships trade in the currency of trust, a reputation is a very precious asset.
So whenever we handle a person’s name — who they are in the minds of others — we are stewarding a treasure that belongs to them. If we damage a person’s reputation unjustly, we are stealing their good name; we are vandalizing their character. This causes very real, sometimes long-lasting damage to people, because restoring a devalued name is very difficult. Who knows what love, joy, counsel, comfort, and opportunities we take from people if we care for their name carelessly?
God knows. And he hates it. God hates when we speak evil of his name (Exodus 20:7) and when we speak evil of others (Titus 3:2). He will hold us accountable for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:36). This is great incentive for us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).
Fight Slander First in Yourself
The foremost slanderer we must silence is the one inside us. Full of malignant pride, our sin natures are not interested in truth, but in self-glory. So they seek to manipulate others through slander (or flattery) for our own selfish benefit.
Sin (and therefore our demonic harassers) seizes on a concern for or an offense we’ve received from another and seeks to distort it into thinking evil of that person.
Thinking evil of another is assigning imagined or exaggerated negative qualities to them that don’t exist. Often this begins as private fantasies where we nurture our concerns or offense by imagining ourselves justified in our righteousness and others condemned in their evil. But in truth, all we’re doing is passing our own evil thoughts on to imaginations disguised as other people. That’s our sin nature’s slanderer talking. We are fools to listen to it.
And when our slander spills out from ourselves to others — and it will if we don’t catch it soon enough — it is both selfishly indulgent and cowardly.
Slander is indulgent because often what we really seek is the self-flattery buzz of our listener approving and admiring us more than the one we are slandering. We are robbing another’s reputation to get the drug of self-flattery.
Slander is cowardly because it’s a way of nurturing a concern or an offense and gaining sympathizers without doing the courageous work of bringing it directly to the source of our concern or offense. Our rationalizations for this can be countless, but essentially we don’t have the guts to deal with it head-on. This means our character is in serious question, since we are willing to vandalize another’s character to gain allies.
We must grow ruthless in ignoring and silencing our slandering sin natures.
Helping Each Other Fight Slander
When someone slanders another to us, we must remember that we are not mainly fighting flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Satan knows that slander deadens and splits churches, poisons friendships, and fractures families. He knows slander quenches the Holy Spirit, kills love, short-circuits spiritual renewal, undermines trust, and sucks the courage out of the saints. So our goal, particularly in the context of the church, is to help each other shed demonic weights and avoid satanic stumbling blocks.
So how do we do this? The best way is to become people who are not safe to slander around. We must ask each other questions like:
- Have you shared your concern with this person directly? I’d be willing to go with you to talk to him.
- Just to be clear, is this information I should know? Do you want me to help you pursue reconciliation?
- Are you doing everything you possibly can to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander?” (Ephesians 4:31)
- How can I help you guard this person’s reputation like a treasure? (Proverbs 22:1)
In other words, friends don’t let friends slander. Friends don’t let friends act like God-haters (Romans 1:30). The more we love people, the more we hate slander, because a slanderer hates his victims (Proverbs 26:28).
Let us remember that we are stewards of the treasure of each other’s good names. Let us resolve to avoid sharing information that is unnecessarily damaging to another person’s reputation and to repent to everyone affected if we do. Let us seek to silence the sin nature slanderer within and graciously give and receive others’ help when one of us slips, perhaps unaware, into slander. Let us do damage to Satan’s forces by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Let us lay aside the destructive sin-weight of slander.
A Word About Slander and Abusive Situations
There are times when it is necessary and not slanderous to discuss or share information that is damaging to a person’s reputation. Remember, slander is untrue damaging information. But sometimes a person’s real sins are of such a nature that they must become public for the sake of justice and individual safety. Here are just a few sample scenarios:
- Reporting confirmed, documented sin and abuse to appropriate people in positions of authority who can do something about it.
- Participating as an appropriate person in spiritual, and in some cases civil, authority in an investigation such as a report of someone’s sinful, perhaps abusive, behavior with the intent of either confronting that person or clearing their good name.
- Discreetly, and without unnecessary details, informing others of another’s confirmed sinful or abusive behavior because, without this knowledge, someone might suffer real harm.
- Seeking pastoral counsel regarding how to navigate a complex and ambiguous situation, doing everything you can do to guard the reputation of a person in question from unnecessary damage.
Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 18:15–17 must guide us in such difficult cases. And Jesus expects us to behave circumspectly in them, always seeking to preserve others’ reputations as much as possible, knowing that gossip and slander are always temptations crouching at our doors.
In an age of social media, that lacks the functional information-spreading restraints of past eras, let us be all the more slow to post (“slow to speak” — James 1:19) analysis, speculation, and commentary on information about another person or group, even if it has become public in our slander-saturated culture, that might eventually prove slanderous. All the serious biblical warnings about slander still apply, which should make us all, especially those of us with “platforms,” tremble.