How serious of a sin is slander? Just words? Sticks and stones and all that?
Or is it murder with words?
Thomas Watson writes,
You may kill a man in his name as well as in his person. Some are loath to take away their neighbor’s goods – conscience would fly in their face; but better take away their corn out of their field, their wares out of their shop, then take away their good name. This is a sin for which no reparation can be made; a blot in a man’s name, being like a blot on white paper, which will never be got out. God will visit for this sin. (The Ten Commandments, p.171-72)
We may not give it much thought, but sins of the tongue are deadly serious. They are not easily undone, and they do great harm. A ruined reputation can ruin a person’s business. It can ruin his or her standing in a community. It can destroy families. Watson was right – you really can “kill a man in his name as well as in his person.”
The New Testament is full of warnings against the sin of slander (e.g. Matthew 15:19; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1, etc.), so we would be wise not to take it lightly; and we would be wise not to assume that we are incapable of such sin.
No wonder Paul tells us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31 ESV) And what is our motivation for putting away such sins of temperament, attitude, and speech?
In the very next verse he writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you“ (v.32). The forgiveness of sins that we have in Jesus Christ through faith should transform our relationships with other people, even (especially?) those with whom we differ, disagree, or just can’t seem to get along.
If we have been forgiven by the Lord for all of our sins, the very least we can do is show a similar (even if far lesser) kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness to others.