It was a very sobering time during Jesus Christ’s last Passover meal with His disciples, when He gave instructions that were heavy on His mind. Among them was a warning of future persecution. This was not the first time they had heard this warning. Jesus had told them before that they would experience many blessings in this life, but those blessings would be seasoned with persecutions (Mark 10:29–30). When He sent out His disciples, He warned them that they would be like lambs in the midst of wolves, and that if He were called Beelzebub, how much more they could expect to be falsely accused themselves (Matthew 10:16–26). And during that final Passover night in 31ad, Jesus soberly reminded them, “A servant is not greater than his master,” and explained, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Persecution can come in many different forms, and slander is one of them. Today we have more than slander—we have slander on steroids: the Internet. We all know the Internet can be a tool for good, but also for evil, and there is an evil spirit being who is promoting the latter.
When I refer to the Internet, I’m using an umbrella term to cover a variety of ways people communicate electronically: websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texting and any other form of information quickly transferable through computers, smartphones and other devices and applications.
The Work of God uses a number of these technologies and programs to preach the Gospel to this dying world and to warn it of what is coming, but the Adversary uses the same technologies to hinder the Work of God. He, too, uses webpages, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
Every minister of the Church has run into people who are “on fire” for the Truth one day but who somehow lose all interest overnight. We know that some of this is the result of their reading something negative about the Church on the Internet. How many are turned off this way we can only guess, but we know it happens. We also know that some unscrupulous “Church of God” organizations actively leech off the others. They deliberately target other churches by paying to have their own website come up when people are searching for other organizations. Look for information about a “Church of God” group on a search engine, and, instead, the other organization’s false site comes up first, masquerading as the one being searched for. They then use the false site to discredit the “Church of God” organization the individual was originally trying to find.
Of course, every business, social group or church will have a few disgruntled and unhappy individuals who are eager to trash the object of their dissatisfaction. When was the last time you found a hotel online that had 100 percent happy reviews? You cannot please everyone all the time, especially if part of your mission is to call upon people to change their behavior (Isaiah 58:1). Human nature being what it is, we have a tendency to believe the worst, especially if there is a bit of colorful sarcasm and wit thrown in.
Some Protestant groups distort our teachings and call the Church of God a cult, even meriting whole chapters in some books. There is nothing new about distortions, misrepresentations and name-calling (Acts 24:5), but the Internet in all its facets spreads such misinformation and epithets more swiftly and to a wider audience than was ever possible before through books and tracts. There is sometimes some element of “truth” but always with a twist and misinformation that distorts the “truth,” turning it into a lie. Since Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), it should not surprise us that he would use this tactic, as seen in the temptation of Christ recorded in Matthew 4. The devil accurately quoted from Psalm 91: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:6). But he took these passages totally out of context.
In Great Company!
Paul told Timothy, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). However, it is encouraging to see that we are in good company. Ancient King David experienced slander and lies: “For I hear the slander of many...deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me” (Psalm 31:13–15).
David did not lack enemies. In Psalm 64 he wrote, “Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the rebellion of the workers of iniquity, who sharpen their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows—bitter words, that they may shoot in secret at the blameless; suddenly they shoot at him and do not fear. They encourage themselves in an evil matter; they talk of laying snares secretly; they say, ‘Who will see them?’ They devise iniquities: ‘We have perfected a shrewd scheme.’ Both the inward thought and the heart of man are deep. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly they shall be wounded. So He will make them stumble over their own tongue; all who see them shall flee away” (vv. 2–8).
The prophet Jeremiah also experienced hateful slander and lies. “Then they said, ‘Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah… Come and let us attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words’” (Jeremiah 18:18). Asaph wrote about those who claim allegiance to God, but slander others: “But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver’” (Psalm 50:16–22).
Yes, it is hard to find in Scripture an example of a significant servant of God who did not suffer persecution by false accusation. The Apostle Paul was a special target for the “bloggers” of his day, who falsely accused him of lying and encouraging sin. “For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?—as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say” (Romans 3:7–8). Some in Antioch of Pisidia used slander and false accusations to stir up people against Paul and Barnabas: “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50). It is evident that Paul had to continually defend himself against false accusation (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 11:16–28, 31).
The Dynamics of Slander
It is important for us to understand the dynamics of slander. I certainly don’t need to remind you of the source of this sin. How many times have we read Revelation 12:9–10, where it tells us that Satan is the accuser of the brethren—but do we really get it? Do we understand that when we falsely accuse others we are letting him do his evil work through us? Do we understand that he has a whole army in Internet-land working day and night to discredit God’s Work and His servants? Do we follow these workers of iniquity, just a little, just to find out what may be going on that we “haven’t been told”?
Some years ago, I was aware of two men going around saying, “Mark my word, there will be no Living Church of God in six months.” They were trying to sell people on the idea that we would merge with another church group. Eventually, these men left to help form their own group. Nearly ten years have passed since that time, and the Living Church of God still exists. On the other hand, the very small group they created has become smaller and smaller and is, for all practical purposes, doing nothing.
It is Satan who stirs up slander, and he has no regard for the truth. He can be sarcastic, funny and charming in the way he sells his lies. How many times have we read John 8:44? And yet do we, as human beings, really get it? Jesus said of certain ones, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
Satan specializes in one particular kind of lie, as we read near the beginning of this article. He mixes truth with error and by doing so is able to deceive gullible people. A perfect example of this is found in Matthew 26:61 where Jesus was charged with saying: “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” Did Jesus actually say that? Yes, and no. Notice that He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), but He was not referring to the physical temple in Jerusalem, as they accused Him of doing. When Christ used the words “this temple,” John explains, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (v. 21). It was a subtle but important difference, and even though the accusation contained some of His actual words, it was totally false! What He intended to say was ignored, and those accusing Him were more interested in winning their case than they were in the truth.
Here is what Mark 14:55–59 adds to the account: “Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, ‘We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.”’ But not even then did their testimony agree.”
Of course, Satan is not averse to making up outright lies, as seen in Genesis 3 where he told Eve, “You will not surely die,” even though God had told Adam they would. Just as with Eve, some people naïvely believe a total stranger more than someone they have known for a long time—and that is one of the problems with the Internet. Unknown and unrighteous individuals who have accomplished little, but who have lots of time on their hands, can become a “somebody” overnight. Sadly, there are plenty of people who will believe whatever they say, especially if they say it dogmatically, along with a tiny bit of truth mixed with falsehood.
Instead of preaching the Gospel to the world and warning Israel and all mankind about what is coming, these individuals are content to tear down and slander those who are doing these jobs, and they are often “equal opportunity” slanderers. It isn’t just the Living Church of God they are eager to destroy. They have animosity toward any group that teaches anything about the Sabbath, the Holy Days and the Kingdom of God. Why?
It should be obvious that they have an agenda, and even if everything they report were true—which it never is—their passion is not for God. How anyone can expect to enter the Kingdom of God by such behavior is beyond comprehension, and maybe that tells us something about what truly motivates them. But the answer to the question of “why” is given by Paul: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Some of these Internet hate-bloggers are weighed down with their own sins and prefer pointing fingers at others rather than repenting. You may consider this when you read 2 Timothy 3:1–7, as it perfectly describes those whose sole identity and purpose in life is wrapped up in gossip and tearing down others. Which one of us can honestly conclude before God that this pleases Him?
So why is Satan so successful? We must be honest with ourselves: too often our human nature loves dirt! It loves to hear some “juicy” tidbit, and it is in our nature to trust ourselves and our ability to separate truth from error. Have we learned the lesson of Genesis 3, or are we still choosing to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Personal arrogance can lead us to believe we can sort through a garbage heap and come out clean. And the more we do so, the more this becomes an ingrained habit. As the Feast of Unleavened Bread teaches us, sin is bondage. It is addictive!
But we need to come to grips with other aspects of our human nature, as well. How easy is it to justify passing along an evil report about someone you don’t like? Perhaps it’s someone you really don’t know but about whom you’ve heard bad things, someone with whom you’ve had a run-in, someone who offended you, or simply someone whose looks you don’t like. Emotionally, we “know” that negative report “must” be true, but logically that does not follow. Whether we will repentantly admit this to ourselves, or continue in our self-deception, the truth is that when we actively indulge in slander we want to hurt that person or group. We exalt the self by tearing down others.
The Apostle John reveals to us: “But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). That is how someone can justify indulging in slander and passing it along. That is how someone can justify participating in another man’s sins by feeding the slanderer with tidbits of information, and that is why this article is written for the converted, who are sincere but occasionally come up short. Those who have hatred in their hearts are blind to their own sinful nature, and such an article will have no effect on them whatsoever.
That the Bible condemns slander is not in question. Among many scriptures that we could turn to are Proverbs 16:27–28, Proverbs 14:5–7, and Proverbs 17:9. Proverbs 6:12–19 goes so far as to tell us God hates behavior that sows discord among brethren, and Proverbs 10:18 tells us, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.”
Gossip and slander have always been a problem, but today instantaneous electronic communications magnify the problem and present each of us with a real challenge. We must avoid taking part in such behavior. But more than that, we must also guard our hearts and minds from those who deliberately try to destabilize us by sowing discord. We must be spiritually wise enough to understand that those whose sole purpose is to tear down others are bringing a very strange doctrine indeed, and John tells us how to deal with such individuals: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10–11).