Bearing False Witness: How Do We Respond?

As Christians, how are we to respond when our names are dragged through the dirt? When the world is talking behind our backs, lying about us, or are spreading malicious rumors, how should we react? What if it’s about us personally, a loved one, our pastor, or our church? These are all questions that we may or may not have asked ourselves at some point. Undoubtedly, all of us have been on the receiving end of such treatment and all of us have had times where we have responded well and, ashamedly, not well. The Bible lays out quite directly the reason(s) behind such treatment, the punishment for treating others in such a manner, and the way in which the Christian ought to live in response to this treatment. Our God has not left us to fend on our own in the face of the world’s attacks which come from non-Christians and, sadly, from Christians alike. It is important to note before moving forward that Christians as well as non-Christians can both act in a sinful manner when it comes to spreading lies, slandering others, gossiping and the like. The key difference is, though the Christian can fall in sin, their sin was paid for by Christ while the non-Christian will have to pay for their sin themselves. One has the beautiful reality of eternal security despite their failings while the other (if they never come to a place of repentance and belief) has only eternal judgement awaiting. For the Christian, the consequences can include a loss of fellowship between them and God and between themselves and the person(s) they are sinning against. There can even be physical consequences: lawsuits, loss of a job, and so forth. For the non-christian engaged in such sin there cannot be a loss of fellowship between themselves and God (for they never had fellowship to begin with), but they can experience the same consequences in terms of earthly relationships and physical consequences. For the non-Christian the other penalty, if they die in their sins (never being “born again”), they will also pay for their sins themselves forever spending eternity under the judgement of God. When looking at the Christian and non-Christian, these should be sobering and encouraging thoughts: in both the Christian and non-Christian sinning against us we have an opportunity to show the power, love, and grace of almighty God to them.

So to really understand why people slander us, lie about us, gossip about us, or generally spread rumors and falsehoods about us we must understand the general idea of sin. Sin, at its simplest, is rebellion against God and it is sin to which man’s heart is drawn. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are incapable of doing anything but sinning. This is the state of natural man, those apart from Christ. However, if we are in Christ we are now indwelled by the Holy Spirit and are capable of not sinning. This doesn’t mean that a Christian will not stumble and sin but it does mean that we do have the ability through the Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to sin. The temptation to sin through lying, slander, and gossip all stem from a rebellious heart. A person is either unregenerate and living in constant rebellion to God, or they are regenerated and struggling with the temptation of rebellion against God. From either one of these positions comes the potential to sin; as Jesus Christ puts it, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18–19). The Christian should always be on guard against giving in to the urge to slander or lie or gossip; especially when it is being done against us. Retaliation in kind is never the answer.

When it comes to slander, lies, gossiping, and rumor spreading how are these sin? Quite simply, God commands that we do not engage in such behavior. The idea that we are not to engage in slander against one another, lie, or spread falsehoods is so important that the command is found in the Ten Commandments, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This topic is of such importance to God that he verbally tells Moses during the giving of the law upon Mt. Sinai. If it is that serious to God then how serious should we take it? Proverbs 6:17 and 12:22 both call the act of lying an “abomination” to God. Why is this the case? It goes against the very nature of God himself, John 14:6 and 1 John 5:6 both speak to the idea that God is the author of truth as it is a part of his very nature. Therefore, anything contrary to his truth, his very nature, would be in direct opposition and direct rebellion to him. As Christians we have even further commands in regards to such things. Colossians 3:8 tells us, “now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” So for the Christian, we should not engage in such behavior because we are commanded by God and because we should be striving to live in a manner that glorifies him. In our old nature we were sinful, wretched, rebellious people. Upon receiving the gift of salvation we become heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) and we begin a life in which we are called to be Christ-like. We begin to be sanctified through the Holy Spirit by being cleansed by the blood of Christ and being set apart in him and he works in us so that we can be obedient to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2). This obedience to Christ, though not always perfect in execution, should be something that we desire as children of God, for the sake of an easy explanation: when we become regenerated and receive the gift of salvation our new nature is one that seeks for God. Though we stumble and trip up and fall, the Christian should be striving to live in obedience to God which, when discussing the specific ideas of slander, lying, and gossip, should mean that the Christian is striving not to engage in such things.

Now that we’ve briefly looked at what the Bible commands in terms of these things and what the general punishment or consequences are for such things we need to look at how we are to respond when we are being lied about, slandered, gossiped about, or have rumors spread about us. Sadly, as has been made clear, those in the world and even fellow Christians will, at some point, make us the target of their falsehoods. 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 gets things started with a very simple formula for how we are to respond to such behavior, “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” To simplify this verse into the modern vernacular: when people revile (use abusive or scornful language) we bless, when persecuted we endure, when slandered we entreat (make an earnest request of). Proverbs 15:1 states that “A soft answer turns away wrath,” and 1 Peter 3:9 tells us “do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” Then for good measure we must include a verse about forgiveness, “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). Taking a moment to unpack these verses, which while not necessarily always addressing slander, lies, or gossip directly, do handle what our response should be when we are sinned against. We are to pray for our accusers, we are not to judge them, we are to forgive them, we are to faithfully endure, we are to seek to be a blessing.

All of those things are easier said than done but all of those are things that we should strive to do when we are sinned against in any way. However, you should take solace in the fact that it is not for you to take vengeance or retaliate in the same manner in which you are being attacked; the retribution upon the sinner will come directly from God, himself. Paul spells it out for us in scripture and says, “beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:20). Just to be clear though, this does not mean that you should not work to restore your name or reputation, that you should not answer your accusers, or that you should not strive to proclaim the truth and provide clarity and context to the situation. However, each situation and each response necessary must be viewed through the lens of scripture. What it does mean is that you respond in a manner which, ultimately, honors Christ and you do them in a manner that proclaims the power and majesty and kingship of Christ. You are to be a faithful witness for Christ through your hardship and, hopefully, through your love (which does sometimes mean being firm and steadfast) they will see the glory, grace, and power of Christ. Let it be our faithful prayer that the next time we find ourselves spoken about falsely, our church dragged through the mud, or our good name tarnished that we endure as faithful witnesses to Christ. While it may create very real hardship for us, let us strive to emulate Christ and live to proclaim Christ in the midst of the turmoil.

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