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Welcome back to our Merciful Life Series. I hope you’ve listened to last week’s episode. Definitely make sure you start there.
Otherwise, I’m honored to have you joining us today. It is my pleasure and great joy to minister to you in this way. But it’s an even greater blessing to minister face-to-face to the multitude of individuals and families the Lord has brought into my life.
I love being a biblical counselor because I love revealing the awesomeness of God and helping those same people learn to glorify Him.
And the topic we’re discussing is one I have encountered so many times. I’ve encountered it in my life and my wife’s life and my kids’ lives and every other life my life has touched.
Even though we humans have received infinite mercy, we are so often incredibly merciless in the way we talk. And one of the most dramatic ways we display our merciless attitude is in our angry responses.
Regardless of whether it’s full-on rage or mild annoyance, our merciless responses offend God and sin against the people in our lives.
That’s why we’re working through this study together . . . so we can learn to be merciful to others as God is to us.
So, be sure to subscribe to the show, listen to all the episodes in this series, and access the free episode notes, transcript, and mercy resources I’ve linked for you in the description of today’s show.
And, now let’s consider our second unmerciful response.
Last time we were reminded of what it is to be merciful, we learned that one of our most basic sinful responses to underserving people is antagonism, and we looked at the effects of malice in our lives.
So, let’s turn our attention again to Ephesians 4:31. This verser outlines six items that we need to put away.
The idea of putting something away has to do with hoisting it up and taking it someplace else. It’s the same word used in Acts 27:13 to refer to raising an anchor.
God wants us to exert all necessary effort to absolutely remove these things from our lives. And the idea we’re considering today is slander.
1. What is slander?
Merriam-Webster defines “slander” as “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.”
The Greek word translated “slander” in this verse is also translated “blaspheme” when aimed at God.
Therefore, we could say that a slanderous individual is someone who desires to tear down difficult people and situations. And they most often do this by gossiping and lying and manipulating.
Before we continue, I want to draw a distinction for us. Last time we talked about the hurtful words we speak to others, and we defined that as malice. Slander is also a form of malice, but instead of wanting to directly hurt the person we dislike, we’re aiming our wicked words toward another so that their reputation and testimony will be hurt in that other person’s eyes.
It is malicious, but it’s not the same as when we set out to unashamedly hurt someone directly.
Now, please be very careful as you consider whether or not you have an issue slandering people. Some slander will be obvious, but others will be more culturally acceptable and, therefore, harder to spot.
For example, you may believe you’re talking to your pastor about a spiritually immature member of your church, when in actuality you aren’t interested in that individual’s relationship with God so much as you are getting them to stop doing what they’re doing.
Also, sometimes we believe that the thing we’re saying is 100% true. But it doesn’t matter if we believe it’s true; what matters is whether or not it’s true.
A joke was told of Mildred, the church gossip and self-appointed monitor of the church’s morals. She kept sticking her nose into other people’s business. Several members did not approve of her extra-curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.
Well, she made a mistake when she accused new member George of being an alcoholic after she saw his old truck parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon.
She emphatically told George, and several others, that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn’t explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing.
Later that evening, George quietly parked his truck in front of Mildred’s house . . . and he left it there all night.
Mildred may have believed George was an alcoholic, but that doesn’t mean it was true.
Another more realistic example is a claim like “My boss hates me.” That is truly slanderous . . . unless — of course — the boss actually hates the employee. But how often does anyone actually have proof of that?
And then there’s the issue with manipulation that comes from leaving certain information out. For example, when a child runs into the room screaming that his sibling took something from him, but he conveniently leaves out the fact that he took it from the other child first . . . he’s slandering.
And obviously lying about someone is outright slanderous.
In regard to its nature, slander has many marks against it.
1. It’s foolish because it denies God’s reality. Proverbs 10:18 says, “Whoever utters slander is a fool.
2. It’s a product of sinful anger. And . . .
3. Most often it’s a lie — whether intentional or not.
Now, you may be thinking, “Sure, I was angry when I said what I said, but I wasn’t lying. What I said about that person was 100% true.”
The issue lies in the fact that our desire was to tear them down in the eyes of the person in whom we’re confiding.
It’s one thing to state a fact — Declan hit Oliver.
It’s something else to communicate that to focus on one’s own need. “When Declan hit Oliver, I had this rush of PTSD from when I experienced that same thing.”
But if I’m telling you that Declan hit Oliver because I want you to agree with me that Declan is a jerk . . . that’s slander.
So, whether we’re telling the truth about someone to malign their character or lying about them, we’re being manipulative and unmerciful.
So . . .
2. How do we address slander in our lives?
A. We need to have our delusion confronted.
There is nothing more important than truth. In fact, I refuse to have a conversation with someone if there is any doubt about the truthfulness of what is being said.
Why waste 30 minutes listening to you slander our boss when I can say, “You know as well as I do that he gave you fair warning that you wouldn’t be allowed to clock in if you were over 30 minutes late again. You were late, and he kept his word. He doesn’t hate you, you just don’t want to take responsibility for your tardiness.”
But this isn’t just a question about the truthfulness of our words. We also need to consider the truthfulness of our intentions.
If my boss told me to my face, “I hate you.”
It could be appropriate for me to share with you that my boss told me he hated me today. But why am I saying it?
Am I saying it because you asked me why I was called to his office, and I’m simply being honest?
Am I saying it because I’m struggling with resentment, and I need you to confront me?
Am I telling you because I thought it was really interesting that he said that in light of the fact I had just done something nice for him . . . but my intention was merely to make an honest observation — I have no desire for you to have an attitude about him.
Or, am I saying it because I want you to affirm with me that he’s a terrible person who deserves to be fired?
That is slander.
B. We need to accept responsibility for the consequences of our slander.
As I mentioned before, slander is not only a result of anger, it’s — more often than not — a lie. There will be Primary Consequences and — potentially — Secondary Consequences for that sin. And we need to take full responsibility instead of blaming other people.
C. We need Bible, not pragmatism.
I guarantee you with no fear of being wrong that you justified your slander using pragmatism.
Pragmatism is a philosophy that assesses the value of something based off the success of its practical application.
If my slander accomplishes what I want, it must be good. If I can justify it with the worldly notion that, “He deserved it,” than I’m okay.
Instead, we need I Timothy 6:3-5 which teaches that slander (interpreted as “abusive language”) is the product of delusional living. God calls slanderers conceited, says they understand nothing, have a morbid interest in controversy, and are depraved in mind and deprived of Truth. The main problem is that individuals who slander are calling God a liar and rejecting His will for their lives.
If you’re tempted to argue that your enemy deserves it, remember how the Bible teaches us to treat our enemies. Turn to Jude 1:8-10. Jude relates an ancient account of how Michael and the Devil were arguing about Moses’ body, and Michael refused to slander (translated “railing judgement”) the Devil, but instead called on God to do the job. In that same passage, once again, the Bible identifies the source of the problem as being defiled individuals who reject authority acting like instinctual, unreasoning animals.
And Psalm 15 is powerful because it describes the type of person who has a strong relationship with God. It reads, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend.”
Instead of hurting people, the Bible commands us to serve. Instead of lying about people, we’re taught to speak the Truth.
One way to fill ourselves with truth is to ask our closest friends to keep us accountable. We need to be humble enough to say, “Listen, remember how I was complaining about my boss last week. It’s true that what he did was wrong, but the only reason I told you was so that you would complain about him with me. That didn’t glorify God. And I realize that I do that to you a lot. Will you please help keep me accountable? I want to be a more merciful person. My boss doesn’t deserve my mercy any more than I deserve God’s mercy, but the Lord pours it on me every day, and I need to do that same for my boss.”
And then . . .
D. We need to replace slander with mercy.
Now, obviously all lying is right out. Ephesians 4:25 commands, “Laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
But what about when someone actually does something wicked, and I need to share it with someone else?
First, we need to start with our own hearts. Why are we saying it? If there’s any anger, I’m probably going to slander. If I want the other person to be mad at them, I’m slandering.
But consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 23, starting in verse 1: “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.’”
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t lying, and He wasn’t sinfully angry.
But I guarantee you the pharisees would have though that what Jesus was saying was very slanderous.
No. Jesus was speaking truth about the situation, not so that His disciples would think less of the pharisees, but so that the disciples would not fall into the same sins.
It wasn’t about blaspheming the pharisees, it was about a teaching moment for the disciples.
So, yes, you can be merciful and still speak the truth. But mercy demands that you don’t try to demean the other person.
Remember, God calls us to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving just as God has forgiven us. He wants us to love our enemies, not seek their personal destruction at our own hands.
In order to live a merciful life, we must stop being so slanderous. We must guard our words. We must guard the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.
We need to speak the truth in love so that God’s people are built up, not so that unbelievers are torn down.
I hope you’re sharing this series with your fellow disciplees. Whether they’re your friends, students, children, spouse, or fellow church members, please share this series with then so that you can all hold each other accountable to living a merciful life.
And if you need help breaking the cycle of slanderous speech, please write us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. We would love to help.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing the unmerciful nature of clamor.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.