Please turn in your Bibles to Colossians chapter 3:8. Last week we explored verses 1-11 which address the issue of putting to death or putting away sin from our lives. We do this not in an attempt to make ourselves right with God, for God’s acceptance comes only through faith. We do it because it’s the appropriate thing to do, indeed it is the thing we want to do, if we have been raised with Christ to new life. And the Lord himself is working in us to do that.
We’re going to take this morning to focus on one of the sins in Paul’s list that he commands us to put away, indeed that God commands us to put away, and that is slander. It is mentioned in verse 8. And we will deal with its close cousin gossip as well because they often go hand in hand. I’ll explain why we’re going to focus on this topic in a moment.
First let me read verses 5-10 for context and then pray.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Let me begin with a story to highlight why I believe this topic of gossip and slander is worth an entire sermon. Another minister tells of an event that occurred several years ago, the church that his family was part of went through a church split. In a short period of time, roughly one third of the congregation left. And he was in a leadership position but not a pastor yet at that time.
The issue that sparked the split was a difference in opinion about church government—who leads the church and how—and over a doctrinal position they were teaching related to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These things came up because they had recently received a large influx of new members and there was a need to clarify what they believed about certain things since it wasn’t in their statement of faith at the time. If you were an outside observer at the time, and you were looking for a cause of the church split, the easy target would have been the disagreement on these issues—the different ways of thinking that people had about church government and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
But that was not the cause. The main factor that fueled the split was gossip and slander. It was not the disagreement itself; it was what people did with their disagreement.
Proverbs 18:19 says A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle. Gossip and slander are two primary ways in which brothers and sisters are offended and become unyielding and quarrelsome.
The minister goes on to say, “During that time God convicted me of slander as I responded to being slandered by unloading my frustration with difficult individuals on my wife and on my fellow leaders. And I needed to confess that and seek forgiveness. By God’s grace, the church did recover and grow in unity and is today a thriving witness to the gospel of grace.
Now, it is entirely possible, and I believe it happens every day, that a church can experience no division even when they disagree on different doctrinal issues. But no church can ultimately avoid division where there are gossip and slander, even when it agrees deeply on doctrinal issues across the board.
I don’t believe that gossip and slander are a present concern here at Warrior Gospel Disciples. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve heard any gossip or slander since I’ve been here over the last 5 months. You are to be commended for your practice of building up and not tearing down. You are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit as commanded in Ephesians 4:3 and we are experiencing that unity.
So we’re not having this message as a form of correction. If I happen to look at you while making a point, you should know that I’m not trying to tell you something! However, I do believe that because this is God’s word and his Spirit does work to bring illumination and conviction that he may tell you something. But it wasn’t planned by me!
What I pray will be accomplished in this message is that we will be freshly aware of what gossip and slander are, freshly motivated to put them away as Paul tells us to do in Colossians, and freshly aware of the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the remedy for gossip and slander. This message is preventative, so that we will maintain the unity we have, and even grow in it.
So here we go.
There are three things we need to understand about gossip and slander if we would maintain the unity of the Spirit.
• The nature of gossip and slander
• The effect of gossip and slander
• The remedy to gossip and slander
We will examine a number of Scriptures to bring clarity to these areas. Let’s begin with the nature of gossip and slander.
1. The nature of gossip and slander
These kinds of speech are closely related. In the Old Testament references, the words gossip and slander are used almost interchangeably. Some English translations will translate a text as “gossip” while others translate it “slander.” However, in the New Testament, they are listed separately because there are differences.
Gossip has to do with sharing information about someone else that isn’t appropriate to share. Proverbs 11:13 (NIV) says, A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. In other words, gossips will say to others what you say in confidence to them alone. You tell them something in the context of your relationship with them. And you have an unspoken expectation that this will not be communicated to others who don’t have the same relationship with you and who could misunderstand what was said. And then one day you find out that lots of people know about it. A gossip betrays a confidence.
For example, let’s say George shares in his men’s group that he is convicted about wasting time watching TV. He wants his brothers in his group to help him make the most of his time pursuing godliness. The group encourages this desire and they commit to helping him. Then the following Sunday George sees Sam.
Sam, who is not in George’s group, says to him, “Hey George, I heard you are watching too much TV. I didn’t know you had the same issues I do.” Now at that moment, different questions go through George’s mind. “How do you know that? Who told you? What did they tell you? Was that information communicated accurately, with qualifying remarks to explain the context? How do you know that what I’m dealing with is the same thing you’re dealing with? What else have you heard about me?”
You can see that gossip provides an opportunity for offense, and shakes a person’s trust in others, in this case in the men’s group where he is attempting to develop intimate relationships for biblical fellowship. And pretty soon George isn’t coming to the men’s group anymore because he can’t trust anyone.
Paul wrote in 1Timothy 5:13 that certain young widows who were going about from house to house were “gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” Gossip is betraying a confidence and saying things that we should not say.
Ken Sande, in his book on conflict resolution, The Peacemaker, gives the following definition for gossip. If you are taking notes, this is the definition you will want to write down. “To gossip means to betray a confidence or to discuss unfavorable personal facts about another person with someone who is not part of the problem or its solution.”
It isn’t crucial that Sam needs to know how much TV George is watching. George’s care group knows that and is helping him with it. There’s no reason for other people to know that. We don’t have to know everything that’s going on in other people’s lives. Gossip betrays a confidence shares unfavorable facts about others when we aren’t part of the problem or of the solution.
Gossip is sin and it must be put away. We’ll talk more about the effects of gossip in the second point, but for now let’s move to the topic of slander. While gossip has to do with the sharing of inappropriate information, slander has to do with sinfully judging others and sowing seeds of suspicion about their character.
A good working definition for slander is this: slander is speaking against someone to damage their reputation.
Psalm 50:20 is instructive here. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. The psalmist says you sit and speak against your brother and then he rephrases it as you slander your own mother’s son.
This is the essence of slander. It is speaking against someone else. It goes beyond just sharing information and into using that information to speak negatively about someone to leave an unfavorable impression. It’s about sowing seeds of suspicion of someone’s motives or actions. It’s about undermining a person’s reputation and turning people against them.
We have no clearer example of this than the adversary, the devil himself. The Greek adjective for “slanderous” is diabolos, which is used 34 times in the New Testament to describe the devil. In Genesis 3:1-5 we see how slander works. You may want to turn there and follow along as I read.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, ’You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ’You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Do you see what is going on here? Eve doesn’t have any problem with God’s arrangement. She has no problem with the fact that God has forbidden her to eat from one particular tree. She doesn’t doubt God’s goodness at all in doing that. To this point there is no sin in the Garden of Eden. There is no lack of trust between Adam and Eve and God.
But then, a slanderer comes between man and God. He reinterprets God’s actions as being bad. The serpent plants seeds of suspicion in Eve’s mind and creates doubts about God’s character and God’s motives. He says in effect, “God is deceiving you Eve. He’s keeping the good stuff from you. He doesn’t have your best interests in mind. You could be like God himself, but he’s selfish and doesn’t want to share that with you. But you won’t die if you eat the fruit.” And then, tempted by the slanderous talk of the serpent, Eve doubted God and sinned against him, and then so did Adam. God was sinfully judged and his character assaulted because of the influence of slander.
Now, we may think of slander only as the blatant, vicious attacks like those which happen in political debates or from angry people who have lost their cool. But slander can be very subtle and the person saying it can sound like they are protecting others, which is what makes it believable. That’s what the devil was doing. And we have our own examples.
A person might make a slanderous comment to you about someone else and you might not even be aware of it right away, because they don’t say it in an angry manner, and perhaps they say it qualified by positive statements about the person’s character. But then when you meet the person who was talked about later, you find yourself not thinking the best about them because of what you heard.
For example, suppose George is talking to Joe about their men’s group. The conversation goes like this. “You know Joe, I really like our men’s group leader, but I’m concerned about whether he’s really being open. He does a good job, but he just seems to be kind of distant and I wonder what’s really going on with him.” Now George and Joe might be really good friends, and this exchange may have seemed very minor, but then the next day Joe sees the men’s group leader, and he’s thinking in the back of his mind: “This guy is probably hiding something. He’s got some underlying issues. I wonder if there’s something wrong with his marriage or if he’s doing something illegal with his business.”
You see George, even though he said something positive about the men’s group leader, gave his unproven negative opinions and speculations about him. He planted seeds of suspicion in Joe, who now looks at the men’s group leader with a different and a negative outlook. George didn’t come right out and say something false about him, but the effect was the same as if he had. Now Joe is suspicious about the leader when he has no real basis for it. Without even knowing it, Joe and the men’s group leader have been affected by slander. The men’s group leader’s reputation is damaged and Joe is less likely now to be open to his leadership, even though yesterday everything was fine and nothing has changed.
Slander is speaking against someone to damage their reputation. And Paul says in Colossians 3:8 that we must put it away.
And we’ll be even more motivated to do that when we consider more specifically the effect of gossip and slander on people and on the church.
2. The effect of gossip and slander.
Make no mistake, the potential consequences for gossip and slander could not be more serious. Proverbs 18:21 says Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. And the particular fruit of gossip and slander is described in Proverbs 16:28. The NAS version says a perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends. The NIV translates it a gossip separates close friends.
Whether it is gossip or slander, its potency is enormous. Gossip and slander separate intimate friends. We’re talking about something that has the power to drive a wedge between people who like each other, who spend time together; people who aren’t just friends; they are intimate friends, close friends. They go on vacations together, they help each other in time of need, and they lean on each other for comfort and encouragement. They share their struggles, their fears, and their joys. Nothing comes between them. Their relationship seems inseparable.
But there is something that can separate them. Gossip. Slander. Betraying a confidence, sharing things with people who are not part of a problem or its solution, or speaking against someone to damage their reputation—these things will separate intimate friends.
And if gossip and slander can do that to intimate friends, then how much more easily can they ruin the relationships that are not as intimate? How much more can gossip and slander destroy the unity within your care group, or within a church? We must put these away and give them no place in our hearts or our speech. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Gossip and slander will bring division and separation.
You will remember our example of the devil in the garden with Eve. He sowed suspicion about God’s character, reinterpreting God’s good actions as being deceitful and unfair. And we know how that story ended. Eve took the fruit. Then Adam took the fruit, and they did indeed come to know evil for the first time. And Genesis 3:8 tells us the result when God came to fellowship with them.
… they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Slander separates intimate friends!
You see, what people say to us about others has a tendency to stick in our memories and create opinions that are not easily changed. What has been said about a person, right or wrong, shapes our thinking about them in a lasting way and causes us to act differently toward them.
That is the point of Proverbs 18:8, which says the words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. In other words, things that are said penetrate into our innermost being.
Charles Bridges in his commentary on Proverbs explains it this way: “We may seem to make light of the tale brought to our ears, and wholly to despise it. But the subtle poison has worked. ‘Suppose it should be true. Perhaps, though it may be exaggerated, there may be some ground for it.’ The thought indulged for only a moment brings suspicion, distrust, coldness: and often it ends in the separation of chief friends.”
Gossip and slander destroy trust and plant suspicion, and once that has taken root, everything that the slandered person does from that moment on is going to be interpreted through that suspicion. You are now guilty until proven innocent, and there is a chill in the relationship. And it is in this way that not only individual friendships are divided, but churches are divided as the suspicion spreads to more and more people, especially when the person being slandered is in leadership.
Charles Spurgeon, in his lecture titled “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear” warns of the effect that suspicion has on a person and on the church. “Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men’s lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind reference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Suspicion makes a man a torment to himself and a spy towards others. Once begin to suspect, and causes for distrust will multiply around you, and your very suspiciousness will create the major part of them. Many a friend has been transformed into an enemy by being suspected. Do not therefore, look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an eavesdropper with the quick ear of fear. To go about the congregation ferreting out disaffection, like a gamekeeper after rabbits, is a mean employment, and is generally rewarded most sorrowfully.”
I want to draw your attention to one particular way in which to avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion that Spurgeon refers to. You’ve probably heard the expression, “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.” Well, now that almost nobody is reading newspapers, the same wisdom applies to the new media. “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.”
There is more gossip and slander on the Internet than you could read in a lifetime. If you want prime examples of these things, read the comment section of any blog that deals with Christianity or politics. I don’t recommend that you read those comments; it is rarely edifying. But you’ll find it there and even in the blogs and reports themselves.
If you spend any time on the Internet at all, you are going to encounter gossip and slander that seeks to tear down individuals, churches and ministries.
The Internet provides a forum where anyone can say anything they want and it appears to have authority because it’s been published for the whole world and the person appears to know what they’re talking about. Don’t let that fool you. Apply biblical wisdom to what you read, and be careful not to receive or pass on gossip or slander.
I’ll be sending out an article with today’s message that I encourage everyone to read that is related to this topic. The article is by Tim Keller and David Powlison, titled, “Should You Pass on Bad Reports?” It was written particularly with the Internet in mind. So read it this week while this message is still fresh in your mind.
Well, I think we have established the definition and the effect of gossip and slander and it is serious. But we need to end with the solution.
Let’s look at the remedy for gossip and slander.
3. The remedy for gossip and slander.
How do we put away these things? Well, it begins with the heart. Passing along unfavorable information about others and speaking against others is rooted in self-righteous pride. Pride in the heart leads to thinking of oneself as more righteous, more purely motivated, and superior to someone else. There is an appeal in bringing someone else down or hearing about it because we can think of ourselves higher in comparison.
And it is exactly at that point where the gospel is the remedy to gossip and slander. The cross of Christ demonstrates that if there is anyone who could be justly judged and exposed in sin and brought low, it is ourselves.
Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “No one is good, except God alone.” The person you or I wish to bring low is not more deserving of condemnation than we are, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
And yet God in his mercy did not bring us low, but he brought his Son low in our place. Jesus was slandered by men and accused by them of sin that he did not do. His character and reputation were smeared. Even when he was on the cross “those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" And those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:29-30, 32).
But as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:23-24, Jesus suffered those things for us. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
It’s hard to be self-righteous and enjoy seeing others brought low when we are aware that we deserve to be judged and brought low, but our Savior was judged and brought low in our place, bearing our sins in his body on the tree. That cuts the root of pride that feeds gossip and slander.
The remedy to gossip and slander starts with the cross. It starts with the humility of believing the gospel. And that puts us in a position to actively put away gossip and slander. Let me just very briefly mention some practical suggestions on how to do that.
• How to resist speaking gossip or slander
Train yourself to see evidences of God’s grace in other people.
Follow Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
It is easy to become a slanderer or a gossip if we are constantly thinking about what’s wrong with other people rather than thinking about praiseworthy things and excellent things. The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. What we say is directly related to what we are meditating on and filling our heart with.
If you are constantly thinking about the deficiencies of another person, don’t be surprised if you find yourself speaking against them to others. Instead, on a daily basis look for and thank God for how he is at work in other people. It will transform your outlook. It will make it much more difficult to find pleasure in tearing them down.
• How to respond to when you hear gossip or slander
The article that I mentioned earlier deals with this situation, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But the main goal is to keep a bad report from passing into your heart as though it were true based on hear-say.
Suspend judgment and ask the speaker one of these two questions: “How do you know that’s true?” and “Why would it help me to know that.” Either of these are ways to graciously question the report you are hearing that may lead to the speaker retracting it or realizing that they are participating in gossip or slander. And be ready to follow up with an observation if indeed they are doing that.
• How to respond to being the object of gossip and slander
The best protection against taking offense at others’ sins against you is to have a lower opinion of yourself than they do.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely at some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation. And you would be no gainer for the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted and it is ugly, be satisfied, for it would need only a few touches and it would still be nearer the truth.”
That’s the perspective we have when we are more aware of the criticism of the cross than we are aware of the criticism of others. Whatever negative and condemning things are said about us may not be accurate, but the fact remains that we do deserve worse treatment than that for our many sins.
But along with the awareness of the criticism of the cross must go an awareness of the promise of the cross. No matter what charge of wrongdoing is brought against us, God’s promise to the believer is Romans 8:33-34. Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
No charge against us, real or imagined, can change God’s declaration of pardon and acceptance of those who are in Christ Jesus by faith. Therefore, freed from the need to defend ourselves, with humility we can seek to learn from the bad reports about us, and then go to the person who brought the report to clear up the matter and pursue peace.
Obviously more could be said, but we’ll have to end there.
May the Lord help us to resist and put away gossip and slander and other sins of the tongue in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be humbled by the criticism of the cross for our many sins to refrain from self-righteous speech about others. And let’s rejoice in the promise of the cross that through Christ believers have been declared righteous and acceptable before the throne of God, despite all bad reports about us in this life.