Sins of Speech (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Slander & Gossip
Leviticus 19:16, “You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people….”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Leviticus.
Analysis: What is slander? Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, defines it as, “the utterance in the presence of another person of a false statement or statements, damaging to a third person’s character or reputation: usually distinguished from libel, which is written.”

Psalms 50:19-20, “You let your mouth loose in evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.”
Context: God’s words to the wicked are quoted in this psalm.
Analysis: This verse defines slander much like Webster’s does — an act of deceit that God judges as evil.

Proverbs 10:18-19, “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Analysis: At first glance, this verse appears to tell us to reveal our hatred for others rather than conceal it, and that we are liars if we hate someone and fail to reveal that hatred. Naturally, such a message is inconsistent with the rest of the Bible. Since verse 19 speaks of using many words, the beginning of verse 18 may refer to flattery, where we conceal our disdain for another person while speaking as though we really like them, so that we may benefit.

Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”
Analysis: Like perverse speech, slander is divisive. Slander creates suspicion between friends and even relatives. If someone slanders a friend of yours, and you believe that lie, you become suspicious of your friend and think less of them. If the slander is widespread, so that everyone has heard it, you may no longer want to be seen with your friend, because you don’t want people thinking the same of you.

Proverbs 11:13, “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.”
Analysis: Some bibles translate the word “talebearer” as “gossip.” Secrets exist for a reason, and in many cases the reason is to cover up past sin. We are not called to reveal the past sins of others, but to forgive and forget them.

Proverbs 17:9, “He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.”
Analysis: Have you ever spread the news of a sin committed by someone you didn’t like? I know I have – lots of times. In my mind I was merely informing others, but in my heart I hoped to turn others against the sinners, because I hated them and wanted them to suffer socially. Had I obeyed God by loving these people as myself, I would have kept their sins a secret as this verse suggests.

Proverbs 18:8, “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down to the innermost parts of the body.”
Analysis: Like I stated earlier, the negative things we hear about others, even our friends, stick with us. We might even deny what we hear when we hear it, but the seed of suspicion has already been planted in the “innermost parts” of our minds. Therefore, we must be mindful of this effect when we are tempted to speak evil of others.

Proverbs 20:19, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a gossip.”
Analysis: This is a lesson that we all learn sooner or later: our friends who always gossip about everyone else gossip about us, too. Being friends with a gossip is the fastest way to revealing your vulnerabilities to the world.
Let’s not take this verse too far by totally shunning a gossip, but we must be wary of them. It might be best to inform such a person of the effect their gossip has on their relationships and encourage them to change.

Proverbs 25:9, “Argue your case with your neighbor, and do not reveal the secret of another, lest he who hears it reproach you, and the evil report about you not pass away.”
Proverbs 26:20-22, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer (‘gossip’ in the NIV), contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.”
Analysis: Gossip fuels division. When we learn that a friend has revealed our secrets or spoken evil of us to others, we rarely choose to keep that person as a friend. Resentment and lack of trust make it difficult to associate with that person in any way.

Romans 1:30, ‘…they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents….”
Context: Paul explains how God gave atheists over to sinful and self-destructive lifestyles.
Analysis: Romans 1 is well-known among Christians as the chapter that speaks in detail against homosexual immorality. However, it then goes on to list many other evils that God hates. It never says that these other sins are lesser evils than homosexuality, so we can conclude that gossip, slander and boasting are just as sinful.
Today, American Christians behave as though homosexual immorality is sin number one. The truth is that we Christians regularly commit acts of slander, gossip and boasting that are every bit as evil. Yet we excuse ourselves as less sinful and pass judgment on those who commit sexual sins that we don’t.

2 Corinthians 12:20, “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you not to be what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances….”
Context: Paul anticipates a visit with the Corinthian church.
Analysis: What do all of these evils have in common? They drive people apart. God’s goal for us is that we live in harmony with everyone as much as we possibly can. That’s impossible if we engage in gossip and slander and the other sins of speech listed here.

Ephesians 4:29-31, “Let no unwholesome word (‘evil talk’ in the NRSV) proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander by put away from you with all malice.”
Context: Paul educates the Ephesians on Christian living.
Analysis: Many Christians interpret this as a bad word verse. But as we can see in the NRSV translation, “word” means “talk” or message, not a specific word. For example, the “word of God” is a message from God, not a specific word like hello. The “unwholesome word” which these verses prohibit is a message of bitterness, anger, slander, etc.
Likewise, this verse requires that we use “such a word that is good for edification…” If we interpret the word, word, to mean a single article of speech, then this verse directs us to use a single word to build up others, and that makes no sense. It’s not as if there’s a magic word that automatically makes people feel better. We pretty much have to talk in sentences to encourage others; therefore, the word, word, as used in this passage, can only refer to a message.

2 Timothy 3:1-3, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good….”
Context: Paul warns Timothy about a future increase in sin among Christians.
Analysis: When we gossip, we don’t just commit one sin. In order to gossip, we must arrogantly love ourselves more than others. Otherwise, how can we speak evil of someone we view as an equal? In order to gossip, we must be ungrateful for how God has enabled us to overcome sin in our lives, so that we look down on those who commit sins we don’t. In order to gossip, we must be disobedient and unholy, because gossiping defies God’s instructions. In order to gossip, we must be unloving, because we look to build up those whom we love, not tear them down. In order to gossip, we must be irreconcilable, because we drive people apart when we gossip; we reconcile nothing. In order to gossip, we must be brutal and without self-control, because those who have godly self-control refrain from gossip. And finally, in order to gossip, we must, at least momentarily, be haters of good, because gossip is evil.

Titus 2:3-5, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good….”
Context: Paul instructs his understudy, Titus, on church management.
Analysis: Yes, even 2000 years ago, old women were known for gossiping. Sometimes, we use our years of experience that come with age to develop arrogant attitudes toward others who haven’t had the same experiences, and these attitudes fuel gossip. However, God commands us to use our experience to teach and help others rather than maliciously condemn them.

James 4:11-12, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one lawgiver and judge, the One who is able to save and destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Context: James encourages the recipients of this letter to put an end to the fighting and quarrelling among them that resulted from their own selfish desires.
Analysis: Brief paraphrase: In order to slander or gossip about someone, we must first pass judgment. Judgment is God’s right; it is never ours.

1 Peter 2:1, “Therefore, put aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander….”
Context: Peter explains the significance of being a Christian.
Analysis: Malice, guile, hypocrisy and envy tear people down and tear relationships apart, much like slander does.
Also, these sins inspire our slander. To be malicious is to desire to harm someone; slander accomplishes that. We often incorporate deception and scheming into our slander; that’s known as guile. We contradict the Bible we claim to follow when we slander others; that’s hypocrisy. And sometimes it’s out of envy that we slander others; we tear them down so that others will see us as better than they are.

3 John 1:10, “For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words….”
Context: John opposes the teachings of a man named Diotrephes who rejects the message of the apostles.
Analysis: “Unjustly accusing…with wicked words” is the definition of slander. Here John sought to overcome this slander with truthful arguments. While we need to be careful not to get into feuds with others, we do have the right, like John did, to defend ourselves from others’ false accusations.

Jude 1:16, “These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.”
Context: The book of Jude warns against false teachers in the church.
Analysis: Grumbling goes hand in hand with fault-finding and slander. Those who constantly grumble tend to complain about others as slanderers do, and they often do so without just cause, because few of us have it so bad that we have cause to grumble continuously.
Complaining once in a while is normal. We all find ourselves in bad situations, some of which are the fault of others. But to consistently find fault with our employers, churches, families, etc. requires us to lie and exaggerate as a slanderer would.
In Numbers 11, the Israelites grumbled against God for giving them manna with no meat. They complained that He was wrong to bring them out of slavery in Egypt and, in doing so, they passed judgment on Him. He, or course, punished them for their slander.