Slander occurs whenever someone says something untrue about someone else that results, intentionally or unintentionally, in damaging that someone else’s reputation. And when it occurs, it becomes a divisive, discouraging and confusing weight that often affects numerous people—sometimes many, many people.
Because of its poisonous power, it is one of the adversary’s chief strategies to divide relationships and deter and derail the mission of the church. We must be on our guard against this closely clinging sin and frequently lay it aside (Hebrews 12:1).
The Subtlety of Slander
Sometimes saying something untrue and damaging about someone is bold and blunt. But often slander is insidiously subtle, especially since we have heard slander all our lives in almost every context and grown accustomed to it. This means we must heighten our sensitivity to it and lower our tolerance of it.
Slander can wear a hundred masks. I’ll mention a few common ones.
Sometimes we pass along slanderous information that seems almost like harmless hearsay, yet the effect it has on our listeners is to leave them with an unfairly negative perception of another. Sometimes we embellish with information or tone a negative report about someone in order to enhance our listener’s perception of ourselves.
Sometimes we have a very real concern about someone, but we share it with someone who cannot benefit from or help with the concern. We do this because we simply want our listeners to think worse of a particular person. Or if we share a concern with an appropriate person, we can sometimes indulge our speculations or presumptions, mixing them almost imperceptibly with facts for our listeners, distorting the concern in order to sway an outcome in a direction we desire.
The net effect of all forms of slander is to unjustly devalue another person’s reputation.
Slander Is Stealing
This devaluing is at the heart of what makes slander evil. The Bible tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). In this context, a good name represents a person’s character, which is the most valuable thing about their identity. A good name is who we are in the minds of others. And since relationships trade in the currency of trust, a reputation is a very precious asset.
So whenever we handle a person’s name—who they are in the minds of others — we are stewarding a treasure that belongs to them. If we damage a person’s reputation unjustly, we are stealing their good name; we are vandalizing their character. This causes very real, sometimes long-lasting damage to people, because restoring a devalued name is very difficult. Who knows what love, joy, counsel, comfort and opportunities we take from people if we care for their name carelessly?
God knows. And he hates it. God hates when we speak evil of his name (Exodus 20:7).