The Sinister Nature of Slander
Our unleashed words can be every bit as damaging and destructive as any other kind of aggressive outburst.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. Titus 2:3a
Some time ago, a listener to our daily broadcast emailed our ministry expressing grave concern about a recent guest on the program. The email included a link to a website she said would provide information to support her concern.
Because I feel responsible for our programming, I decided to check out the site.
What I found behind that single click was a host of online sites, each linked to others, all seemingly devoted to exposing Christian ministries and individuals. I’m talking about reams of personal accusations and biting commentary, including private documents that never should have been made public—church disciplinary proceedings, leaked memoranda, and the like. Most of the material on those pages consisted of petty hearsay related in sensational, scandalous, “he said/she said” fashion, leaving readers to fill in the blanks with their own suspicions.
The site was like a maze of mole tunnels, the kind that run beneath the soil in some of our backyards. Each one that popped up seemed to implicate another person—a pastor, author, speaker, ministry head, or church leader of some sort. It was insidious and ugly—all laid bare in cyberspace for the world to see (and “like” and “share”).
The radio guest whose character had been called into question by our listener’s email was among those targeted in the feeding frenzy. Few were left out, it appeared. But when I dug a little deeper into the charges that had been brought to my attention, I discovered a common thread that explained a lot.
The whole thing seemed to trace back to one woman with a vendetta against the spiritual leaders of her local church. They had attempted to confront her about a pattern of disobedience. Unbroken, unrepentant, she had apparently set out on a mission to bring down the people who dared to speak truth into her life, and she had drawn many others into the fray.
If the exposé I was reading had ever been a genuine effort to uncover the truth, it no longer was anything of the sort. It was a hateful, vindictive campaign of division and destruction. And it had all started with one woman whose anger and bitterness gave birth to slander.
As, sad to say, it often does.
In his characteristically blunt way, Martin Luther makes this point in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:
It is especially among womenfolk that the shameful vice of slander is prevalent, so that great misfortune is often caused by an evil tongue.
These words are not easy to hear. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that women often seem to have particular trouble with this issue. This is not to suggest that men are not just as capable of instigating revenge against others, of getting bent out of shape and wanting to settle their personal scores. But when we hear Paul specifically exhorting Titus to remind the women in the church not to be “slanderers” (Titus 2:3), we do well to sit up and pay attention.
When men have a dispute with another man, they may resort to getting physical. But we women are more likely to let our tongues do the fighting. When we feel threatened, we can be vicious with our words.
(Do you wonder, as I have, why Paul addresses older women about this issue of slander? Perhaps this is a particular temptation for women whose families are grown and who have more time to sit around talking, sharing hearsay and stories about others, without pausing to think: Is this true? Is it benefiting those who are listening? Is it building up those we’re talking about?)
As we press into the practical heart of Titus 2, a good place to begin is by realizing that our unleashed words can be every bit as damaging and destructive as any other kind of aggressive outburst.
Sometimes, in fact, they can be worse.
Devil in the details
Paul’s admonition in Titus 2 against slander and sins of the tongue hits close to home for me. Just moments ago, I caught myself starting to say something to a close friend about a third party—a report that was unnecessary and would not have put the other person in a good light. This is the very thing Paul says older women who revere the Lord should not do. How grateful I am for His Word and His Spirit that restrained me in this instance from passing along the potentially harmful information. I think back with regret to many times when I have not heeded that restraint.
And so I take this seriously.
I hope you do too.
As a clue to how serious this matter of slander should be to us, the word translated as “slanderers” in Titus 2:3—which other translations render as “malicious gossips” (NASB) or “false accusers” (DJV)—is the Greek word diabolos, from which we derive our English word diabolical.
This word—diabolos—appears 38 times in the New Testament. And in all but four of those occurrences, it’s used to refer to Satan.
Give that a moment to sink in.
Diabolos. Slander is devilish.
This connection between slander and Satan shouldn’t surprise us. The first time we meet him in Scripture, he is slandering God’s nature and character to Eve in the garden of Eden. “You will not surely die” for eating fruit from the forbidden tree, he told her (Genesis 3:4). You can almost hear the sound of snicker in those words. God said that? No, He didn’t. If He did, He wasn’t telling you the whole truth. Because the truth is … well, let’s just say there’s something He doesn’t want you to know…
Slandering God to humans—that’s one of Satan’s trademark tactics. I’m sure at times he’s tried selling you on the notion that “you can’t trust God; His Word isn’t true; He doesn’t care anything about you. If He did, then why did this happen? And why didn’t that happen? God is clearly not on your side, so…”
We also know from Scripture that Satan actively persists in slandering believers to God. He famously did it in the early chapters of Job, declaring that righteous man’s behavior to be the easy response of an easy life. “Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has,” Satan said to God, “and [Job] will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11).
See what this Job character is like when You’re not paying him to love You, the slanderer sneers.
Diabolical. Do you hear it? And Satan has been slandering us ever since. “The accuser of our brethren”—that’s what the apostle John called him in the book of Revelation (12:10 NKJV). He constantly rings slanderous accusations about us before the throne of God, refuting what Christ’s sacrificial death has accomplished in declaring us holy and righteous in the Lord’s sight.
He’s a liar. An accuser.
Satan (diabolos) is a slanderer (diabolos).
And to hear Paul tell it to Titus, we should immediately get the connection. To be a slanderer is to be diabolical—to be like the devil. It is to participate in the works and character of Satan himself. When we slander others, we are doing his bidding and fulfilling his purposes.
Interestingly, in two of the three instances where diabolos is employed in Scripture to communicate the idea of slander, it is specifically addressed to women. Titus 2:3 is one of these; 1 Timothy 3:11 is the other. In the 1 Timothy passage, the word diabolos appears three times between verses 6 and 11, referring to Satan twice and to slanderers once.
As if there’s not a lot of difference between the two.
So lest we think of our runaway mouths as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, let’s remember whose acrid, smoke-filled company they place us in. Let’s remember, too, that Jesus Himself included the sin of slander in the same list as murder, adultery, and sexual immorality (Matthew 15:19). Are we as concerned and shocked over the sin we commit with our tongues as we are over the evil behavior of others?
May the Lord open our eyes to see how sinister our bent toward slanderous, stinging talk really is.
Taken from Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, copyright © 2017. Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.
On FamilyLife Today®, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Barbara Rainey open the Scriptures to Titus 2 to see what Paul has to say about mentoring, slander, and a woman’s role in the home. To learn more about this passage of Scripture, order Nancy’s book, Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together.