Acts 21:15-26: Paul was repeatedly lied about; falsehoods, which if believed would forever slam the door shut for the evangelization of Jews in Jerusalem. His response to the slander is a lessen for us all.
In an article entitled Dr. R. C. Sproul writes:
Has anyone ever said something unkind to you or about you? I think we all have had that experience. Becoming victims of slander or malicious gossip can be difficult to bear. However, God calls us to exhibit a very specific kind of response in such circumstances.
Years ago, I received a letter from a friend who is a pastor at a church in California. In it, the pastor included a copy of an article that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Although the article included a photo of him standing in his church and holding his Bible, it was basically a vicious personal attack against him.
When I saw that picture and read that article, I felt a great deal of empathy for my friend because I had recently had a similar experience. A person I believed was my friend made some very unkind statements about me publicly, and word had gotten back to me. My feelings basically vacillated between despondency and anger, even though I knew I needed to respond with joy (Matt. 5:11–12).
I believe the greatest book ever written about the virtue of love in the Christian life is Jonathan Edwards’ classic Charity and Its Fruits. In this book, Edwards included a chapter on how we are to respond to false charges. There, he makes the biblical point that such attacks should not surprise us; rather, we should expect them:
Men that have their spirits heated and enraged and rising in bitter resentment when they are injured act as if they thought some strange thing had happened to them. Whereas they are very foolish in so thinking for it is no strange thing at all but only what was to be expected in a world like this. They therefore do not act wisely that allow their spirits to be ruffled by the injuries they suffer.
Edwards’ point is that if the Christian expects to be slandered and keeps his eyes focused on God when it happens, he will not be depressed over it.
Edwards reinforces the concept that other human beings can harm only my worldly pleasure. A person can injure my body, steal my money, or even destroy my reputation. However, all of these things have to do only with the cares and pleasures of this world. But we have an inheritance that is laid up in heaven, a treasure no one can steal or defile (1 Peter 1:4). It is protected by the Lord Himself.
We might be tempted to think that Edwards was a spiritual giant who could handle personal attacks with ease, while we are “ordinary” believers. How, then, can we not be distressed when we are hurt by people we thought were our friends? Yet while it is true that it is part of our human nature to respond to personal attacks with sadness, anger, or bitterness, these feelings are part of our fallen humanity. They are not fruits of the Holy Spirit. This means that Edwards, as great a saint as he was, was not calling “ordinary” Christians to do anything extraordinary. We are all called to bear our injuries with joy, patience, love, and gentleness.
This kind of response is required of all of us because the Christian life is about the imitation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). We are being molded into His image, so we are to strive to live as He lived. Our Lord was slandered and falsely accused of all kinds of offenses, but He opened not His mouth in protest (Isa. 53:7). Like a lamb, He accepted these vitriolic attacks, and, in the very moment of His passion, He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were attacking Him (Luke 23:34). This is how we are called to react to our enemies (1 Peter 4:13). Therefore, every false accusation, every slander, every ill word spoken about me is an opportunity for me to grow in my sanctification.
Edwards helped me see that I had allowed my soul to become distressed, and that was sin. Instead of seeing the attack on me as an occasion to imitate Christ and to grow in my sanctification, I had resisted God’s Spirit, who had brought this painful event into my life for my edification, that I might remember where my treasure is.
The key to responding to attacks and insults as Christ would is to nurture love for God. Edwards writes:
As love to God prevails, it tends to set persons above human injuries, in this sense, that the more they love God the more they will place all their happiness in him. They will look to God as their all and seek their happiness in portion in his favor, and thus not in the allotments of his providence alone. The more they love God, the less they set their hearts on their worldly interests, which are all that their enemies can touch.
We need to keep Edwards’ insight in mind as we deal with the inevitable attacks and insults that come our way in this life.
Octavius Winslow – from “The Power of the Tongue”
The slanderer is not merely the idle gossip, he is more. He is the inventor, or, what is equally criminal, he is the propagator of calumny itself! Envious of a rival, resolved upon shading the luster, or bent upon the total extinguishment of a star circling in a wider and brighter orbit than his own, he either coins, or propagates a lie injurious to the character of some public servant of God, or the reputation and happiness of some private individual moving in the quiet and unobtrusive walks of usefulness.
Is there not death in this unhallowed use of the tongue? Is there not ‘slaying power’ in that false report, that base insinuation, that cruel surmise, that “Soft buzzing slander, that eats an honest name”? Most assuredly! The treacherous moth is not a more insidious and dangerous foe to the beautiful fabric it secretly and slowly destroys; nor the worm a more searching and wasting enemy of the costly vellum whose heart it pierces and devours, than he whose tongue is sharper than a sword, “Cutting honest throats by whispers.”
It has been remarked that against slander there is no effectual armor of defense. Nothing is easier than to invent a slander, and nothing more difficult than to annihilate it. It generally selects for its victims the most good and worthy, as the birds peck at and destroy the best and loveliest fruit. I do not think that Tophet boasts of a darker fiend, or man can deplore a fouler foe than he who deals in it. Like the Indian, it dips its arrows in deadly poison; like Judas, it betrays the innocent with the kiss of villainy. Assassination is its employment, the guiltless its victims, ruin its sport, and the loud laugh of hell its reward!
It is a moral pestilence veiled in darkness; a thousand fall beside it and ten thousand at its right hand, so unmercifully and deeply wounded as often never to recover the anguish of heart it has occasioned.
The backbiter is the destroyer of the absent one. Of all evil speaking this is, perhaps, the lowest, the most cruel and dastardly. Taking advantage of the defenseless position of his victim, asserting behind his back what he would not dare to utter before his face; by dark insinuations, by mysterious innuendoes, by a tragic tone; the backbiter will give affected importance and authenticity to what all the while he knows to be unfounded in truth; and by this despicable means do serious and, perhaps, irreparable injury to the character and good name of an innocent, and, it may be, useful servant of the Lord; who, by his absence, is precluded from either defending his innocence or confounding his calumniator.
How sad and unenviable the character of the slanderer, the whisperer, the backbiter, the talebearer, the gossip! What are all these but domestic pests; propagators of a social moral plague?
“Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.” Psalm 120:2
HT: Rain Smith
“There will come a day when the Lord will wipe off all the dust and filth that wicked men have cast upon the good names of his people. There shall be a resurrection of names as well as of bodies; their names that are now buried in the open sepulcher of evil throats shall surely rise again. ‘Their innocence shall shine forth as the light, and their righteousness as the noon-day’, Psalm 37:6. Though the clouds may for a time obscure the shining forth of the sun, yet the sun will shine forth again as bright and glorious as ever—’The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance,’ Psalm 112:6. Though the malicious slanders and false accusations of wicked men may for a time cloud the names of the saints, yet those clouds shall vanish, and their names shall appear transparent and glorious. God will take that care of his people’s good name—which the infamy, calumnies, and revilement which are cast upon it, shall not long stick.
Well! Christians, remember this, the slanders and reproaches that are cast upon you—they are but badges of your innocence and glory—Job 31:35, 36, ‘If my adversary should write a book against me—surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me.’ All reproaches are pearls added to a Christian’s crown! Hence Augustine—he who willingly takes from me my good name, unwillingly adds to my reward! And this Moses knew well enough, which made him prefer Christ’s reproach before Pharaoh’s crown, Heb. 11:25, 26. That God who knows all his children by name, will not allow their names to be long buried under the ashes of reproach and scorn; and therefore remain silent before the Lord. The more the foot of pride and scorn tramples upon your name for the present, the more splendid and radiant it will be, as the more men trample upon a figure engraved in gold, the more lustrous they make it. Therefore lay your hand upon your mouth. But, …The Lord has been a swift and a terrible witness against such who have falsely accused his children…”
John Piper, page 63:
“In the end, the only “good name” that matters is not how men feel about us, but how God feels about us. The ultimate slander came on the cross. “Let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43). If? There is no question. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is the only good name that matters in the end. This is true riches. This is the glory of Christ.”
Commenting on Psalm 91:5 “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler,” C. H. Spurgeon wrote:
Note, once more, that sometimes the fowler, when he faileth to take his bird by deceit and craft, will go a hawking after it-will send his hawk into the air, to bring down his prey. It often happens, when the devil can not ruin a man by getting him to commit a sin, he attempts to slander him; he sends a hawk after him, and tries to bring him down by slandering his good name. I will give you a piece of advice.
I know a good minister, now in venerable old age, who was once most villainously lied against and slandered by a man who had hated him only for the truth’s sake. The good man was grieved; he threatened the slanderer with a lawsuit, unless he apologized. He did apologize. The slander was printed in the papers in a public apology; and you know what was the consequence. The slander was more believed than if he had said nothing about it. And I have learned this lesson-to do with the slanderous hawk what the little birds do, just fly up. The hawk can not do them any hurt while they can keep above him-it is only when they come down that he can injure them. It is only when by mounting he gets above the birds, that the hawk comes sweeping down upon them, and destroys them.
If any slander you, do not come down to them; let them slander on. Say, as David said concerning Shimei, “If the Lord hath given him commandment to curse, let him curse;” and if the sons of Zeruiah say, “Let us go and take this dead dog’s head,” you say, “Nay, let him curse;” and in that way you will live down slander.
If some of us turned aside to notice every bit of a sparrow that began chirping at us, we should have nothing to do but to answer them. If I were to fight people on every doctrine I preach, I should do nothing else but just amuse the devil, and indulge the combative principles of certain religionists who like nothing better than quarreling.
By the grace of God, say what you please against me, I will never answer you, but go straight on. All shall end well, if the character be but kept clean; the more dirt that is thrown on it by slander, the more its shall glisten, and the more brightly it shall shine. Have you never felt your fingers itch sometimes to be at a man who slanders you? I have.
I have sometimes thought, “I can not hold my tongue now; I must answer that fellow;” but I have asked of God grace to imitate Jesus, who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again,” and by his strength let them go straight on. The surest way in the world to get rid of a slander is just to let it alone and say nothing about it, for if you prosecute the rascal who utters it, or if you threaten him with an action, and he has to apologize, you will be no better off-some fools will still believe it. Let it alone-let it keep as it is; and so God will help you to fulfill by your wisdom his own promise, “Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler.”
And now, ere I close this point, let me observe once more, the fowler, when he is determined to take his birds, uses all these arts at once, perhaps, and besets the bird on every side. So, you will remember, beloved, it is with you. Satan will not leave a stone unturned to ruin your soul for ever.
“Amidst a thousand snares I stand,
Upheld and guarded by Thy hand.”