I have a confession: I am, on occasion, a doom-scroller. I can easily get sucked into reading nonsense Christians say about one another on Twitter. And I can get riled up really quickly, especially when I see people committing a sin specifically condemned in Scripture: “Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters” (James 4:11a).
And I’m equally tempted to commit that sin myself in response.
The sin of slander
The language James used might read differently depending on what translation you prefer. The ESV, for example, renders it pretty well by saying “Do not speak evil” against one another. The CSB says, “do not criticize.” The NET above says “do not speak against.” But it’s the NIV, I think, gives us the clearest picture of what James is saying:
“Do not slander.”
That is what James warned about—slander. Speaking evil against them. Lying and defaming them.1 And he was not alone in condemning this sort of behavior.
Throughout Scripture, we’re warned against this sin. Leviticus 19:16 says, “You must not go about as a slanderer among your people.” Romans 1:29-31 lists slander among the many practices of those who reject God. In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus described it as the act of a heart bent toward sin. Proverbs 12:22, Psalm 101:5, Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:1, Colossians 3:8, and Titus 3:2 are just a sample of commands and warnings Scripture offers against slander in both the Old and New Testaments.
Why Christians slander one another
Recently, I shared three diagnostic questions to help us deal with conflict that stems from slander and sinful judgmentalism. In this article, I want to take a step back and ask why we slander one another at all? Despite being clearly condemned by Scripture, this sin is alive and well among us. And it is an equal opportunity sin, of which people across the theological spectrum are equally guilty. So why do we do it? Why are we prone to commit this sin?
Here are three reasons:
1. We’ve been tricked by an untrustworthy source
In some cases, it’s because we’ve been duped by others. We’ve been lied to about another believer by someone we thought was a trustworthy or reputable source. And because we trust the source, we perpetuate the lie, slandering our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is one of the great dangers the social internet creates because it has, in truth, made us gullible. “The social internet has made us gullible because we’ve built our own little worlds led by microcelebrities, or ‘influencers,’ and many of us will believe anything they say,” wrote Chris Martin.2
I won’t belabor the point, in part because, while I have a list of names I could offer, I am not sure it would actually help to share them in this forum. But what is helpful is to remind us all that there are people who are actually trying to play us. And they’re doing it in order to further their own ends.
Don’t let them.
2. We’ve misunderstood or misinterpreted another person
Sometimes we slander one another because of a misunderstanding. We hear or read something another Christian has said or done, and interpret it in the worst possible light as a result. This, I think, is the most common form this sin takes among Christians. It is an unintentional sin, but a sin nonetheless.
3. We choose to
A final reason, one I wish was rarer than it is, is that we slander one another simply because we want to. We intentionally choose speak evil against a brother or sister in Christ. It is a way to score points within our particular tribes. To get people to pay attention to us. To make a name for ourselves.
The fruit of slander
But whatever the reason, the result of slander is the same. We defame men and women made in the image of God. We sit in judgment over them—and not only over them, but over God’s law itself. As James wrote,
He who speaks against a fellow believer or judges a fellow believer speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but its judge.
James wanted us to see that, if we are to be doers of the law, and not merely hearers (1:22), slander can have no place in our lives. If we are to fulfill the royal law (2:8), then slander must be rejected. I is impossible to be a doer of the law and sit in judgment over it, because to obey the law is to love our neighbor as ourselves. To sit in sinful judgment over our neighbors is to violate the law; to reject the great commandments, of loving God with all of our being, and loving others as the expression of our love for God.
The heart issue at the heart of slander
What James is telling us is that what we say and do and think about other people, especially about other believers, is a heart issue. Out of the mouth, the heart speaks, and out of the fingers the heart tweets, if you will.
And slander, ultimately, points us to the oldest of heart issues—our desire to usurp God’s authority and sit in sinful judgment over others. This is a serious issue for us; it is a sin easy to commit, especially in our outrage filled culture.
So when we’re tempted to perpetuate this sin, we should instead ask ourselves some key questions:
- Where are we tempted to judge others?
- What are the things that others do or say that make our heads scratch, or trigger our discomfort?
- What, specifically, does this reveal about our hearts and where we need Jesus’s help and healing?
These are not easy questions for us to ask of ourselves, but they are so necessary. None of us naturally gravitate to the kind of introspection that dealing with this kind of sinful behavior requires. For many of us, examining the root of our behavior it’s too difficult, too painful. Self examination reveals our weaknesses and flaws.
But if we believe the gospel, if we believe that Jesus came into this world and died for us while we were at our worst, while we were completely helpless to help ourselves, then there is no need for guilt and shame. Through him, we have hope. Through his Spirit, we can change, and, by God’s grace are being changed.
And so today, if outrage tempts you to sin, stop and reflect. Consider if what you’re reading is true. Pray. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Log off social media. Do whatever it takes to honor God and love your brother and sister. But give no room to slander and sinful judgmentalism.
- It is important to note that it is not slander to call a brother or sister to repentance over legitimate sin, nor is it slanderous when journalists report verifiable facts that detail the sinful actions of Christians.
- Chris Martin, Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media (Nashville TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2022), 52.