“So put away… slander…”

1 Peter 2:1e

By Pastoral Apprentice Michael Wang

The 2020 California Wildfires were the deadliest the state has ever seen. Over the course of 7 months, over 9,000 fires set ablaze 4.5 million acres of land. In a forest, the air can reach temperatures up to 1,470 °F and can spread as fast as you can run. If you’ve seen any of the videos it’s truly terrifying. A giant fireball in the distance, shining brightly, consuming everything in its path. There are tragic videos of people driving through a burning street, trying their best to drive out of harm’s way, packing their cars to the brim because they won’t have a house tomorrow. Fire fighters have bravely fought against these dangerous forces of nature, and some have even lost their lives. All that’s needed to start one of these fires is a small spark.

Even if you’re not an arsonist, you may be starting fires that you are not aware of. The Bible describes a deadly fire started not by matches, but by the words that come out of our mouths. James 3:5b-6 says: “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” As terrifying as a forest fire is, it is nothing compared to the fire from hell that you can unleash on your brothers and sisters with your tongue.

One of the many ways we hurt one another is through slander. Slander is any act of speaking negatively against someone else without the intention of loving them. You might be wondering, “What’s the big deal? Everyone has a person in their lives that they can’t stand. You have no idea what he/she is like! What’s wrong with venting about him/her to your friends? What I’m saying is all true!”

More often than not, however, the motive we have is not to love this person, but to speak out of our impatience and a desire for others to validate our feelings toward the people we slander. Even if we don’t intend to, the person hearing the slander will inevitably be influenced by what you say to view the person being slandered in a negative light. Even if what we’re saying is true, if the purpose is not to build up and give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29), it is sin.

This is a serious sin that breaks up the body of Christ. I know a church that had two members who experienced a bad break up. The ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend spread gossip about one another and quickly formed factions within the church who wouldn’t sit next to one another. The elders got involved and told them: “You are destroying the church!”

Perhaps the one we sin against the most is not one another, but against God, who sent his Son and paid the infinite debt of sin that we owed. How strange is it for us, who have been forgiven much, to yet withhold a small forgiveness from others and instead choose to slander them?! We scorn him, who redeemed us for good works, when we choose to hold a grudge against others, and seek to destroy them with our words.

But praise be to God in that even though we have slandered others, he still holds his hands out ready to forgive us! There is no sin too great that he cannot forgive, and he paid for all our sins past, present, and future with his death on the Cross. And he lives again and gives us new life and even makes us co-heirs to the kingdom of God!

So we are no longer slaves to slander, but slaves to Jesus. We can obey God with our tongues – no matter how hard it seems, no matter how impossible it feels – because his Spirit is working in us! Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Only when we are shaken by God’s radical forgiveness for us can we begin to follow Christ by forgiving others and putting off slander.

So next time you feel the temptation to say nasty things about someone behind her back, remember your sin before God and how he freely forgave you and does not slander you, but presents you before God holy and blameless (Col. 1:22). May you do the same to one another.