Christians need to be reminded how to treat one another and behave in our relationships with all people. The apostle Paul tells Titus to remind the Cretan believers to be good citizens so they might influence their unbelieving neighbors for Christ: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2, ESV).
These are worthwhile goals, but are we truly supposed to speak evil of no man? It would seem so, judging by Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31, NKJV). The apostle Peter also encourages Christians to lay aside “all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” (1 Peter 2:1, NKJV).
Let’s consider what the Scriptures are actually saying here. In the King James Version, Paul’s directive is to “speak evil of no man,” but other translations say, “slander no one,” and “they must not slander anyone” (NLT). The words speak evil in Titus 3:2 are rendered from the Greek term blasphēmeō, from which we get the English verb blaspheme. In the most transparent language, speak evil of no man means “do no charge falsely or speak against someone with malicious intent; do not attack someone’s good name and reputation.” With this understanding, we are to speak evil of no one.
Slander is a severe offense in the Bible. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people,” declares the Lord in Leviticus 19:16. Slander includes insulting and abusive speech, defamatory comments, spreading rumors and giving “false testimony against your neighbor” in a court of law (Exodus 20:16; cf. Deuteronomy 5:20).
Slander is conduct identified with the unsaved and unregenerated people of the world (Proverbs 11:9; 17:4; Romans 1:29–31; 1 Peter 2:12; 3:16). James instructs, “Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11–12, NLT).
Jesus lists slander among sins that come from the evil within a person’s heart and defile him (Mark 7:21–23; Matthew 15:19–20). Evil speaking of others often arises from hatred (Psalm 41:7; 109:3). It seeks to elevate oneself at another’s expense (see 1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Slander is forbidden in both the Old and the New Testaments (Exodus 23:1; Proverbs 3:30; 30:10; Colossians 3:8). In Proverbs 6:16–19, the teacher lists seven things God hates, with “a false witness who pours out lies” being one of them. That the Lord hates slander should come as no surprise since slinging false accusations is characteristic of the devil, “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10).
The Bible gives us compelling reasons to speak evil of no man. Participation in slander and gossip separates friends (Proverbs 16:28; 17:9), inflicts deep wounds (Proverbs 18:8; 26:22), breaks up families (Proverbs 6:19), and can lead to murder (Ezekiel 22:9). The apostle Peter reminds believers of Scripture’s promise to “enjoy life and see many happy days” if we keep our tongues from speaking evil (1 Peter 3:10).
James describes the tongue as one of the most destructive members of the human body and the most challenging to tame. He calls it “a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6–8). James also writes, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Jesus Himself warned, “I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36, HCSB). It’s no wonder we need reminding to control our tongues.
When we consider the seriousness of slander and its potential to bring ruin on us and destroy the lives of others, then, yes, we really ought to speak evil of no man.