Are you doing the Devil’s work? This might not be a question you consider very often. To the contrary, as you read that question, you might have thought, “Of course not, I’m a Christian.” Yet, it is all too common that we join the Devil’s work without even realizing it. We might even feel justified when we carry out his purposes because we are doing it for a greater good, or so we tell ourselves. We join with Devil in this seemingly justifiable way when we engage in the sin of slander.
There are numerous ways to join with the Devil in his work, as any behavior, speech, thought, or action that opposes the purposes of God joins forces with darkness. Even Peter, the Apostle whom Jesus chose to lead the church after he ascended, was sharply rebuked by Jesus for being like Satan in opposing the cross and suffering that Christ was meant to endure for our sins (Matthew 16:23). If Peter was capable of acting in the interests of Satan, then we should be constantly on our guard against doing the same thing! Like Peter, we are sinners who constantly rely on the grace of God for our salvation and for holiness (Acts 15:11). With this in mind, we must understand there are few ways to more closely resemble the very character of Satan himself than to engage in slander.
But what is slander? I think one reason we are not aware of this pervasive sin is that we rarely use the word in everyday speech. We are more familiar with other sins of the tongue, like gossip or harshness. As we will see in a moment, however, slander often shows up in the Bible as a very serious sin in the eyes of God.
In addition to rarely using the word, it would also seem our culture makes a sport of slander. Social media, fake news, sensational blogs, and even the real news have given way to headlines, comments, and articles that are designed to get clicks by the very act of slandering another person, institution, or group of people.
We should begin, then, by defining slander. Slander is “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation” (Merriam-Webster). This is very similar in meaning to libel, which is a word we use even less. Since I’m not writing legally, I will just kind of collapse the meanings of slander and libel into one. I’m addressing anything we say or write that is a false charge or misrepresentation that defames or damages the reputation of another person.
The Bible speaks clearly against slander. Slander is a category of sin that is covered under the ten commandments. God said in the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Later in the law, Moses wrote, “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people” (Leviticus 19:16). The people of God were not to intentionally hurt others through critical and accusatory speech. The book of Proverbs speaks of slander and the slanderer many times, as well. The slanderer reveals secrets when they should not (Proverbs 11:13), and he is someone to avoid associating with because of this (Proverbs 20:19). The person who slanders, or defames, another person is considered a fool (Proverbs 10:18). And a person was not even to slander a servant to his master (Proverbs 30:10). Slander, then, had no place in the covenant community of Israel, and all people were protected from this kind of speech that would intentionally bring harm to another person through a false report. To slander is to fall short of God’s standards for holiness.
In the New Testament, holiness for the New Covenant community also means that we put away slander from our lips. Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23). Do you notice the sins that slander is mentioned alongside of by Jesus? Slander comes from the heart, and it is evil. When slander rolls off of our tongues, it means that there is something in us that desires to do harm to another person.
Slander is a sign of a people who have rejected God and have been given over to sin. Paul wrote, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:28-31).
If slander is a mark of the those who are not in Christ, then clearly this is a behavior in which Christians should not engage. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:30-31; cf. Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 1 Peter 2:1). Slander is something that grieves the Holy Spirit of God. It is something that is simply not acceptable behavior for a Christian.
Then why do so many Christians engage in slandering others in public comments, personal conversations, or on social media platforms? I believe the answer to this lies in the nature of the Serpent’s temptation of Eve in the garden.
I mentioned in the introduction that when we slander, we take on the very character of the Devil. The first temptation to sin came through a slanderous accusation the Serpent made against God himself. Satan misrepresented God’s word, made a false accusation against God that he was withholding good from man, and defamed God’s reputation in the minds of Adam and Eve. If you think about it, this was really the first unfounded conspiracy theory: God was conspiring to withhold good from Adam and Eve. This conspiracy theory was spread by Satan himself, slandering the only Holy God (Genesis 3:1-5). After Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they realized they had been deceived.
Therefore, sin came to the human race when we believed a slanderous lie about God. In our fallen nature now, we battle against our propensity to sin by both believing slander and spreading slander. We are bent by our sin nature to follow the father of lies, the Serpent, also known as the Devil or Satan. Jesus said the Devil is our father if we do not listen to God. By nature, we are children of wrath and follow the wrong father. Jesus said of the devil that he “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In fact the very name of the devil in Greek (διάβολος) means “one who engages in slander.”1 Additionally, the name Satan means an “adversary.”2 This can also be understood as an “accuser”3, and we can see Satan play that role in the book of Job, where he accuses Job before God, slandering his character and faith (Job 1:6-12). In Genesis, the Serpent embodies this slanderous adversary, bent on lying to defame God and to plunge the human race into sin.
In Revelation, we again see Satan, this time embodied by the dragon, behind the beast who “opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven” (Revelation 13:6). This word for blaspheming (βλασφημέω) also carries with it the meaning to “slander, revile, defame, speak irreverently /impiously/ disrespectfully of or about.”4 Therefore, from the beginning to the ending, from the Serpent to the Dragon, Satan is found slandering God, speaking lies against his Holy Name and bringing accusations against his holy people.
But what does slander and the serpent have to do with you and me? Like any young child will mimic the way their parents talk, both in word and the tone, so we, as those still battling the flesh, easily mimic the Devil, who Adam and Eve decided to trust over God, thus picking the father of lies instead of the father of lights. Even for the Christian, there is still something in us that can be tempted to believe lies and to spread lies. There’s something in us that still doesn’t trust God and the authority he established on the earth. When hurt, our fleshly reaction is to strike back. When disrespected, our temptation is to dishonor the other person. When lacking full knowledge of a situation or person, we invent stories in our heads that fill in the gaps. Worse yet, we tend to propagate those suspicions among others, slandering people we should be encouraging. Defaming people we should be honoring. Instead of being the light of Christ to the world, we become the mouthpiece of the Devil.
But what does this look like in our day-to-day lives? Most of us do not have the public platform to slander another person or institution on a grand scale, but all of us can fall into this trap. Every sin, no matter how “big” or “small,” is an affront to the holiness of God. Indeed, Jesus said that every careless word will be judged (Matthew 12:36). We can fall into the trap of slander within our own homes, and, perhaps even more significantly now, on our social medial accounts
- Conversations at Home: Sin is sin whether we are with our families or closest friends or with complete strangers. These relationships do not give us a free pass, where we can just remove the filter and let it all fly. Unfortunately, our closest relationships can become the breading ground for slander, as we talk about our true feelings towards others. This can happen around the dinner table, in conversations with your wife or husband, or when hanging out with your best friend. The important thing to remember here is that you are not the exception. Slander is not okay because you are spreading it among trusted confidants. At all times, we must guard our tongues from evil, that no careless word be spoken.
- Social Media Accounts: And then there is the issue of social media accounts, particularly FaceBook and Twitter. From my perspective, this is where the gloves come off, and, it would seem that all rules of engagement fall by the wayside. Articles, blogs, videos, comments, and posts so often fall into the category of slander that you cannot even keep up with it all. I think this is often driven by a noble impulse to expose wickedness, uncover lies, and to promote justice, but all too-often, it is accomplishing the opposite by just adding sin on top of sin, which results in division, anger, and isolation.
Am I Slandering or Exposing Wickedness?
Perhaps you fall into that category of a person who is skeptical about what the media tells us, is distrusting of institutions or the government, and expects the worst from prominent leaders, whether civic leaders or religious leaders. I understand this completely, as we have all been given much reason to doubt people and the stories that are told to us. And when we believe we are being told a lie, we should want to find out the truth and let others know as well.
Yet, as we follow this course of action, it is important that we not promote lies by inadvertently spreading slander. If our goal is to expose wickedness, we need to first take the time to build a legitimate case against the person or situation we are seeking to expose. Just reading an article or blog post that fits your already formed opinion does not comprise actual evidence that you are correct. This is only reinforcing what you already believe, and there are many writers and websites out there who know they can make a lot of money by manipulating you into clicking on headlines that fit the narrative you already believe. This is how an algorithm works.
So how do you know if you are spreading slander or exposing wickedness? I believe the key lies in taking the time to compile evidence.
The Need for Evidence
There is certainly a place for exposing wickedness, but doing this requires great care. We do not want to be those always looking for the worst in others. We do not want to be those who believe every accusation we hear. We certainly do not want to be known as those who spread every accusation we hear.
In our pursuit of truth, then, we must slow down enough to do the hard work of gathering evidence that will justify a charge against another person. This is no small thing. God also cares about this, as we see in his word.
Paul told Timothy, “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). In other words, the Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, tells us there has to be real evidence before we accuse a leader in the church of sin. Likewise, God spoke through Moses, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). God knows our corruption, and he knows how important it is that a charge against anyone be established by fact.
Slander can destroy a person’s life and reputation. It has the ability to mislead others by making them distrust the person they should be trusting. Slander can lead to the breakdown of families, churches, businesses, and nations. It is no small thing. So, before spreading a story that could potentially slander another, make sure there is real evidence to back up the claims. Remember, a person’s opinion does not equate to evidence, one witness does not necessarily mean something is true, either.
Getting to the truth requires listening to both sides of the story. In Proverbs, we are taught to hear both sides: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). It is easy to believe what we read or hear until we read or hear something that totally contradicts it. Then we are left with the difficult task of discernment, of digging deeper, and of asking questions of what we are reading or hearing. Wisdom will be patient enough to seek the truth by listening to the cross-examination.
Another proverb says it is a simple man who believes everything he hears. “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15). Prudence requires that we are thoughtful in what we believe. This thoughtfulness in what we believe should lead to thoughtfulness in what we share with others.
To apply this to your life, I believe you should answer the following questions before you share something potentially slanderous:
- Is what you just read or heard supported by fact and corroborating witnesses?
- Is the source I’m reading or listening to have a known bias? If so, how might that be influencing their presentation of the information?
- Is what I just read or heard simply a confirmation of my own thoughts on the matter? If so, have I considered that I myself am biased to believe it is true without giving the matter the thought and research it deserves?
- Have I taken the time to consult other sources that might disagree with what I just read or heard? Have I looked at another website, blog, or channel that I know will present a person or situation in a different light?
- If I have taken the time to hear the other side of the story, has new information been presented that makes me doubt the accuracy of the first source I read or heard?
- Is the information I’ve been presented have the appearance of credibility? Has it clearly been written in a sensational way to stir my emotions? Am I thoughtfully processing this or emotionally reacting to it?
- Am I prone to believe the worst about this person or situation because of my own past, beliefs, or assumptions? If so, am I allowing those pre-judgments to cloud my understanding?
- Have I already decided what I think about this particular person or situation no matter what new evidence is presented to me?
If you can honestly answer all of those questions before you share something that could bring an accusation or defame another person, I believe you will be sharing much less and thinking about much more. You will also begin to realize just how biased you can be.
Humble in Our Judgments
We must see clearly now just how evil slander is, and we must realize how easily we participate in this evil. We must slow down in our judgments of others, taking the time to form opinions based on facts and evidence, not emotions and fear. We should be humble in our judgments of others, especially other Christians. The Devil is a liar and the father of lies, and we must humbly recognize our inclination to follow in his steps as fallen, sinful men and women. Remember, every careless word will be brought into judgment, and there is no exception clause given to what is posted online. If we carelessly slander others, we participate in the work of the Devil. Let us be those whose judgments bear weight because we are known for being slow to speak and quick to listen. Let us be those who can truly expose wickedness because we have not become unwitting participants with the forces of darkness. Let us not be noisy gongs or clanging symbols, but let us be those whose character resembles Jesus Christ, in word and in action.
1 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 916.
2 Ibid., 226.
3 Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 966.
4 Arndt, 178.