By Basilea Schlink
The Holy Scriptures say that slanderers deserve to die (Rom 1: 30, 32). Nor should Christians even eat with slanderers (1 Cor. 5: 11-N.E.B.). Paul says: "Drive out the wicked person from among you" (1 Cor. 5: 13). That is how serious the sin of slander is. But Satan is willing to pay any price to get us to sin so that we will be damned one day. He wants us to be not even aware that we have indulged in it; he wants us to think that this sin of slander cannot possibly apply to us! But it is a fact that this sin is very wide-spread among us Christians. It is one of the traits of our Pharisaism. We would not lie intentionally-we are are too pious for that-and yet we lie by condemning and accusing others, even if we do not know them personally, but have just heard negative things about them from someone else. Because we are so high and mighty, self-righteous and critical, we think we can do so without testing the facts and so we spread false suppositions. We may begin to spread falsehoods about members of our own church or about other Christian groups without even being aware of it.
In this way the sin of slander creeps unnoticed into our hearts. It begins with the spirit of criticism, with judging one another, with gossiping. In our pride we think we can and must pass judgment on everything, we must assume the job of watchman. But we are wrong. We are not true watchmen, because we have not even watched over the truth in our own lives. And still we dare to condemn others and make statements without having examined the facts. If they are wrong, we become slanderers, who spread false rumours that could ruin the reputation of someone else or of an entire Christian group.
Did the Pharisees do anything different but judge Jesus' actions to the best of their knowledge, and as the spiritual leaders of their people warn others about Him? And yet they were hypocrites, slanderers and liars. How did that come about? Their judgments were not pure. They were not free from personal emotions, even if they did not realize this. They were proud and did not want to be humiliated in front of Jesus, who drew their attention to their sins and their need for redemption. They also had envy in their hearts, because Jesus had many adherents among the people and had placed the Pharisees in the background. That was hard for them to take. They begrudged Him this popularity. That is why judgment about Jesus came from their evil hearts. Such a proud heart, filled with envy and jealousy, makes us blind and incapable of seeing the truth about others. At the same time it gives birth to another sin-gossip, or slander. So it is often the Christians who out of envy, slander their brothers and other Christian groups. They say unfavourable things about others to deprive them of their good reputation, while they want to improve their own reputation as supposed watchmen and good leaders of the church. But they would never admit that they gave such negative verdicts out of envy.
About this attitude Jesus says, "The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (John 16: 2). If we only realized that Satan's most crafty trick is not letting us recognize our lies as lies! In our pride, which makes us blind to our sin of envy, we are convinced that we are serving God, when we warn people about others and so undermine their reputation. No one is in such danger of living in a lie and becoming a hypocrite as we Christians. But because we will all have to appear before the judgment seat of God and answer for everything we have done (2 Cor. 5: 21), we have to closely examine all our judgments about people and Christian groups and ask for light to see where we have fallen into the sin of slander.
Slander belongs to the sin of lying, and liars, according to the Holy Scriptures, will find their place in Satan's kingdom. Besides that, slander belongs to the worst sins against the fifth commandment, because when we destroy a person's good reputation, we can harm him more than if we had wounded him physically. And what a terrible judgment does Jesus threaten to give those who trespass against the fifth commandment, by being angry at their brothers! Again Jesus shows us quite clearly that this sin, if we do not turn from it, will bring us into the kingdom of torment.
So our fate for eternity depends upon whether we are freed from gossip and slander. How angry God must be at slanderers, if He forbids us to eat with them. Never will they have fellowship with other believers in the Kingdom of God-they will be cast out into darkness.
In the face of such severe judgments which await slanderers, it means making a complete "about face" and promising God: "Unless it is necessary, I will not spread any negative stories about others or about Christian groups, and I will never do so without examining them first." Yes, it means entreating Him to grant us contrition: about the times when we have done such things, and to turn away from such ways.
Then we have to pray daily: "Set my secret sins in the light of Thy countenance (Ps. 90: 8). Show me my hidden motives for judging others so sharply." Yes, we have to ask God daily to show us the roots of our sins, to show us why we have an aversion for a certain person and can only make unfavourable judgments. Often it is pride, hidden jealousy, envy and bitterness which are the causes. But it is not enough to have this revealed to our selves, and to confess it to a spiritual counsellor. No, contrition must compel us to go to the others, whom we have put into a bad light through our criticism and slander, and ask them for their forgiveness. Then we have to tell all the others the truth and to set the falsehoods straight.
Repent! That was the contents of Jesus' sermons. Turn away from evil words and actions. If we have slandered others, let that be our motto, so that we will not become an instrument of Satan again. He is the "old liar" who makes every effort to seduce us into slandering. If we do not repent, we will belong to him and he can come for us at the end of our lives and take us into his kingdom of horror.
Jesus wants to help us be freed from the sin of gossip and slander. He has said, "I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth" (John 18: 37). He has redeemed us to be children of light and truth. If He as the Head is truth, would He not make every effort to have the members of His body also bear the traits of truth?
Therefore, "Ask, and it will be given you!" He wants to give us His Spirit of truth; He has promised Him to us, if we ask for Him in faith. He is exhorting us to do this so that He can redeem us from the severe sin of gossip. Through His redemption we will be able to say good things about others in humble love and make every effort to practise the song of love in 1 Corinthians 13.