The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is not true. Words can do a great deal of damage to those who have been slandered. Slander is making a false verbal statement that damages someone’s reputation. Slander differs slightly from libel in that libel is a written defamation of character; slander is only spoken. The Bible says a lot about slander, in both Old Testament and New (Proverbs 10:18; 1 Peter 2:1). Slander is so high on God’s list of wrongs that He included it in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16). The ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Bearing false witness includes slander because of the untruths being spread. Slander is simply lying about someone with the intent of causing others to view that person in a negative light.
Slander is malicious lying, and God hates lying (Proverbs 6:16–19; 12:22). Since God is the author of truth (John 14:6; 1 John 5:6), anything untrue is in opposition to His nature and therefore repulsive to Him. Both slander and gossip are wrong, and Scripture often condemns them together (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 16:27; 2 Corinthians 12:20), but slander takes gossip to a whole new level. Gossip collects someone’s secrets and passes them to others; slander makes up its own secrets and broadcasts them wherever they will do the most harm.
The New Testament references slander as part of our old sinful nature. Slander has no place in our lives when we become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Colossians 3:7–8 says, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Our words are to be dedicated to the glory of God, just as our bodies are (Romans 12:1–2; Ephesians 4:29). Those who know God have a responsibility to refrain from slander: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:9–10). Slander is one practice that must be put to death if we intend to follow Jesus (see Romans 6:11–14).
In Romans 1:28–32, Paul lists many traits of a depraved mind, and slander is included in this list (verse 30). When we slander others, we are choosing to step out of the path God designed for us. He will not participate with us in our attempts to destroy someone else with our words. Slander comes from the heart, and when we are tempted to speak untruths about someone, we should first examine our own hearts to see what ugly root is producing those desires. Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:18–19). God wants us to see that slandering someone is an indicator that our hearts are not right with Him. A desire to slander can spring from a root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15), from unresolved hurt (1 Peter 3:14–16), from unforgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10–11; Ephesians 4:32), from jealousy (Galatians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 12:20), or from other sins of the heart.
God’s solution for slander is to love each other (John 13:34). We don’t slander people whom we love (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). Love wants the best for others, and that means guarding their reputations as we do our own (Matthew 7:12). “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). When we focus on obeying the Lord by loving as He loves us, slander will not tempt us.