Why isn’t my church in the 21st century more like the early church of the 1st century? Where are the 3,000 baptisms in a single day? The opportunities to preach the gospel to kings and governors? Now, if we’ve got open eyes, we can see that God is doing some amazing things in our churches today too. And we’ll notice that the churches back then had their share of problems too (which is why Paul and Peter and John wrote so many letters).
Here’s another similarity: Both the early church and our church know what it’s like to be slandered. “Slander” is a lie meant to hurt.
I personally have never been physically or financially hurt over my faith. But I do know what it’s like to read and hear hurtful lies about us.
- We have been called narrow-minded because we believe Jesus is the way to heaven.
- We have been called cruel because we believe Jesus taught the existence of hell.
- We have been called fanatical fundamentalists because we believe the Bible came from God.
- We have been called anti-science because we believe the world came from God.
- We have been called bigoted and hateful because we believe God created sexuality, marriage, and gender, and because we try to base our beliefs about sexuality, marriage, and gender on what the Bible teaches.
Examples of Slander in the Bible
If slander is lies meant to hurt, we get slandered all the time. And so did the early church. Here are some examples of slander against the early church in the book of Acts:
Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, “We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” (Acts 6:11, NIV)
They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.” (Acts 6:13, NIV)
“This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law.”
But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:6-7, NIV)
“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:13, NIV)
“Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:28, NIV)
“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.” (Acts 24:5-6, NIV)
Christians have known slander from the beginning.
Atheistic Incestuous Cannibals
The slander didn’t stop in the book of Acts. We read in other books of the next centuries of how Christians were called atheistic, incestuous, and even cannibalistic.
Atheists? They were called atheists because Christians didn’t believe in the numerous Roman gods. We Christians just believe in one God, the Creator of all things.
Incestuous? Christians were said to be incestuous because they called each other brother and sisters, and they said they loved each other. The Roman world would say to themselves, “We all know what that means. . .” Christians would get together and have love feasts together, eating meals in each other’s homes. Since the Roman world had trouble finding accurate categories for this depth of brotherly and sisterly love, they said, “Oh, it must be incest.”
“They were called atheists because Christians didn’t believe in the numerous Roman gods.'”
Cannibals? Yeah, because Christians have always had a feast in which they were said to partake of the body and the blood of their leader.
So, people slandered Jesus, his apostles, and the early church. And increasingly our culture is slandering us—recording and publishing statements about us that aren’t true and are hurtful. They give us labels that don’t fit but yet still stick and still sting—labels meant to make us look like idiots and feel like jerks.
It doesn’t look like slander against Christians will be stopping anytime soon. It’s been a thing for a couple thousand years, and it seems to be rising in the increasingly post-Christian Western world. The New Testament shows us 5 responses Christians ought to have when slandered, and since slander’s not going away anytime soon, let’s learn these and practice these:
#1 – Look back and remember our spiritual ancestors.
As we look back over biblical history, we see many of our spiritual ancestors slandered for their faith. Seeing that helps us see that, far from being something weird, being slandered can be an indicator that we’re on the right track. Here’s how Jesus put it:
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:11-12, NIV)
“Falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” is the best definition of anti-Christian slander I’ve ever heard. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and so on—these prophets all got slandered for their faith. People didn’t want to hear the truth back then. A lot of people don’t want to hear the truth now. Getting slandered is no fun, but it’s no surprise. So, look back and remember with gratitude those who kept following God because they focused on his voice calling them forward over the voices calling them to drop out.
“‘Falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me’ is the best definition of anti-Christian slander I’ve ever heard.”
#2 – Look ahead and live right.
Since we know slander is going to try to attach to us, we can look ahead and try to prevent the slander from sticking. How? By living right. The apostle Peter gave this encouragement:
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)
By your words or your actions, you can make hurtful lies about Christians implausible. This is because people who have come to know you know from experience that you’re not a jerk or an idiot. Look ahead, anticipate slander, and live in such a way that the slander won’t stick.
#3 – Look within and remind ourselves Jesus is Lord.
When you are slandered for your faith in Jesus, it’s an opportunity to pause, look into your heart, and remind yourself why you’re following Jesus in the first place. It’s a great time to remind yourself that Jesus is Lord. Peter explained it this way:
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:14-16, NIV)
#4 – Look out there and show kindness.
How should we feel about the people who slander us? When we look out there at our slanderers, what should be our response? According to the apostle Paul,
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” (1 Cor. 4:11-13a, NIV)
Why respond to our slanderers with kindness? It’s because, when we were God’s enemies, he showed kindness to us. We’re passing along what we’ve received.
“When we are slandered, we answer kindly.”
#5 – Look up and trust God.
When we find ourselves lied about, labeled unfairly, or treated unkindly, it’s a great time to look up and pray. After Peter and John were jailed overnight for healing a person and preaching about Jesus, they were let out with a warning not to preach any longer in Jesus’ name. When Peter and John returned to their fellow Christians, they prayed this prayer:
“Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’ . . . Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:24b-25, 29, NIV)
In the face of slander and threats, they asked God for confidence and kept trusting him. The result of their prayer: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31, NIV).
Have you ever felt slandered for your faith in Jesus? You ever feel discouraged because of the unfair labels? Nervous because of the hostile mood some people have toward Christians?
There’s the path of revenge—finding something hurtful to hurl back—but that is not a path open to followers of Jesus. This is because, when you are slandered and you slander in return, the slander wins. When you’re hated and you hate in return, hate wins. When you lash out in anger in return, anger wins. Slander against Christians becomes most believable when Christians return the favor.
“Slander against Christians becomes most believable when Christians return the favor.”
What’s our path? When we’re slandered, we
- Look back & remember our spiritual ancestors.
- Look ahead & live right.
- Look within & remind ourselves Jesus is Lord.
- Look out there & show kindness.
- Look up & trust God.
May we slice through slander by trusting in God and doing what’s right. As Peter said, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19, NIV).