By Mike Willis
The writer of the 64th psalm had been driven to the throne of God for relief from slanderous words spoken against him. The psalm is instructive in showing us how slander injures another and how victims of slander are to defend themselves.
David was the victim of wicked men in Saul’s court who spoke lies against him. This is seen from the incident when David cut off a portion of Saul’s robe at Eingedi. After revealing himself to Saul, David approached Saul saying, “Wherefore hearest thou men’s words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” (1 Sam. 24:9). David was the victim of slanderers whose aim was to see David’s reputation and David himself destroyed. The lies drove David to the throne of God with his complaint (Ps. 64:1). He asked God to protect him from fear of his enemy.
David faced Goliath in battle. He fought with the bear and the lion. He was no coward. Nevertheless, he asked God to deliver him from the “fear of the enemy” (Ps. 64:1). Men who are slanderers are to be feared.
What Slanderous Words Do To Another
1. Slanderous words are weapons used to destroy another. David de- scribed these words as swords and arrows. He said that his enemies “whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: that they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not” (Ps. 64:3-4). Men who would never think of taking a gun against their enemy are willing to attack those whom they consider to be their enemy with slanderous words.
2. Slanderous words are used as snares against one’s enemies. “They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?” (Ps. 64:5). Just as hunters lay traps for animals, men plot the destruction of their enemies using carefully planted words. The intentional nature of the sin is exposed in the plotting and planning of the attack.
3. Slanderers search out one’s iniquities to use them against him. “They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep” (Ps. 64:6). Men who wish to destroy another or his influence will search out everything in one’s past to find some piece of dirt that he might use to destroy the man. Whether or not the sin has been repented of and confessed to God and man makes no difference to those who wish to sling mud to destroy another’s reputation. Any misstep into sin will serve the purpose of the slanderer. Sometimes the mere charge that one was guilty of sin is enough, without regard to whether or not the charge is true.
William S. Plumer wrote, “The ingenuity of man has been wonderfully tasked and exercised in two things, destructive weapons of war, and devising various methods of ruining men by wicked words. The list of the former is found in military writings. But the various forms of evil speaking can hardly be cataloged. Evil speakers have ar- rows, sharp, barbed, dipped in poison. They have ‘swords, flaming swords, two-edged swords, drawn swords, drawn in anger, with which they cut, and wound, and kill the good name of their neighbor.’ Sins of the tongue are commonly very cruel. When slander is secret, as it commonly is, you cannot defend yourself from its assaults. Its canons are infernal. One of them is, If a lie will do better than the truth, tell a lie. Another is, Heap on reproach; some of it will stick” (Studies in the Book of Psalms 639).
Slanderous Words Are Bitter
1. They spring from a bitter source. James spoke about such sinful speech saying, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (Jas. 3:11). The fountain that issues slander is a bitter fountain. It is full of hatred toward its brother, the kind of hatred that Jesus identified as the cause of murder. Jesus rebuked this hatred in the Sermon on the Mount saying, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).
2. They are bitter in the result they produce. Slanderous words injure the one against whom they are spoken. They cause pain and anguish to the innocent.
The Defense Against Slanderous Words
David knew how to fight the lion and the bear; he knew how to fight against Goliath; he knew how to lead the armies of Israel against the Philistines. He was a mighty warrior who won the respect of the nation of Israel. But David did not know how to fight against the slander of man.
The manner in which David dealt with man’s slanderous words was to take his complaint to the just God of heaven and lay out his petitions before him. He was convinced that the impartial God would rise up in his defense. “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away” (Ps. 64:7-8).
About the only defense one has against slander is to trust himself to the providence of God. A godly man cannot win a mud-slinging contest because his opponent will stoop to things he will not do. Consequently, his best defense is his own righteous life and the providence of a just God.
Some Things That Are Not Slander
One is not guilty of slander when he replies to the preaching of another whom he believes to be teaching error. One is commanded to “try the spirits” to see whether or not they are from God (1 John 4:1). A public teacher should not think that his character has been slandered because another examines in a public manner what he has taught. If we ever lose our willingness to have what we have preached tested by the standard of God’s word, we will have lost one of those things God has given to protect us from apostasy.
One is not guilty of slander by making available to others the public writings of a man which writings demonstrate what he believes. Sending out a packet of photocopied articles containing the articles of a man as a means of documenting what that brother is teaching is not slander. If it is, then the one writing the articles is slandering himself!
Vicious Assaults Still Occur
Vicious verbal assaults against the character of men are still going on among men and, unfortunately by some who are preachers. We call attention to these assaults in the hope of better conduct in the future.
Brethren do speak slanderous words against each other. I recently had breakfast with a brother whom I love and respect. He and I were discussing some of the differences that have arisen over Christianity Magazine’s series of articles advocating unity in spite of serious moral and doctrinal differences, including the position that brother Hailey had preached on divorce and remarriage. I explained that I had made four efforts to meet with the editors of Christianity Magazine face to face to discuss our differences and had been turned down on each occasion. This brother replied that one of the editors had explained their unwillingness to meet. The explanation offered attacked the moral integrity of those who were asking for the meeting. Men have spread this report from one end of the country to another. I know the moral integrity of the men who have responded to this series of articles. They are not liars. They are sincere, morally upright men who conscientiously oppose what they perceive to be false doctrine. They have given a lifetime to the propagation of the gospel, raised godly families, and conducted themselves honorably before God and the brethren. To defend one’s unwillingness to meet with one’s brethren to discuss their differences by assaulting the moral character of these men is slander! I for one take offence at the charges and, like David, will commit myself to the providence of a just God to answer such false charges against my moral character.
A man is guilty of slander when he reports the conduct of a brother who stumbled into sin many years ago as a means of destroying his reputation. One report published among us charged that one man who had stumbled into sin was being used as a preacher/writer even though he had “brought no fruits of repentance.” The report failed to mention that the man repented of his sin, confessed his sin before more than one church, and has lived many years subsequently in honorable conduct. Another brother’s sin which was committed nearly 20 years earlier was mentioned in the same article, although that brother too had repented of his sin, confessed it to God and man, and lived many years of morally upright conduct. But their sins were dug up and broadcast in an effort to destroy their reputations and the reputation of those associated with them. Like the enemies of David who slandered him, slanderers today “search out iniquity” (Ps. 64:6) and for the same reason. Slander is sometimes tolerated if the slander is against the right person. Some will not tolerate the least possible offence against their friends but have no concern for how their enemies are treated. One’s friend is sinned against when his public teachings are photocopied and sent to another, but one’s enemies are not mistreated when one digs up sins long ago repented of and confessed and reports them far and wide. It just depends upon who one slanders as to whether or not it is tolerated with some! Brother Harry Pickup, Jr. says that one of the tests of a man’s character is how he treats his enemies! Slander is slander without regard to whom its victim is and godly men will always oppose those guilty of slander, backbiting, whispering, and such like conduct.