RESPONDING TO SLANDER (PSALM 140)
Good morning Trade River! I’m glad to be finishing up our Psalm sermon series here at Skonewood. Next week, we will continue in Nehemiah where we left off. Last week we meditated on the Lord’s faithfulness. We pondered why the Lord is faithful, when the Lord is faithful, and how the Lord is faithful.
Today we wrap up our series in Psalm 140. A common children’s rhyme goes like this, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, that rhyme is wrong. Words carry weight. Words can build up or tear down. Proverbs 18:21 captured the truth about words, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
So, when someone uses his words to hurt you, what should you do? More precisely, how should you respond when someone slanders you? According to Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” What do you do when someone robs you of your good name through slander?
That is the question we will be answering today, because that is the issue David faces in Psalm 140. People are slandering David and we need to learn from his response. I have three questions for us: 1) What is slander? 2) Why do we slander? And then 3) how should we respond to slander? What? Why? How?
What is slander?
First, what is slander? Slander is venom. Poison. Look at verse 3, 9, and 11 with me. In verse 3, David likens the evil speech of his enemies to venom from a snake, “They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps.”
Then in verse 9 David calls their speech mischief. “As for the head of those who surround me, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!” Finally in verse 11 David wants justice to fall on his enemies. Notice how David describes them (emphasis added), “Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!”
Slander is like the venom of a snake bite. The initial bite hurts and burns and stings. But then, the venom lingers. It takes hard work to remove the venom. Sometimes, if someone is bitten by a snake, they may experience long term effects. One friend of mine told me how his brother was bitten by a copperhead. After he recovered from the initial bite, his brother experienced ongoing symptoms: inflammation, food allergies, and a weird quirk when he speaks. The doctors link all of the health problems back to the snake bite. That’s slander.
Slander is speaking evil of others, especially behind their backs, and so defaming and even destroying their reputation. Or, slander is making false or damaging statements about someone. In Psalm 140, evil people slander King David to bring him down and destroy his reputation.
Look at verses 4 and 5. “Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me.”
How do we slander? Let me give you some examples: First, sensationalism: spinning what someone said to make it sound evil. Second, betraying confidence: using constructive criticism shared in private and telling a person not present what was said with an evil spin. This is usually done so that they will join in the brawl against another person. And third: not giving people the benefit of the doubt. We believe the worst in people and fill in the gaps with negative space instead of positive space.
For instance, maybe you heard that a married couple you know was seen at church, but only one spouse was present. Perhaps someone told you this. Then you tell someone else and add the extra tidbit, “They must be having marriage problems.” That is NOT giving someone the benefit of the doubt. That is slander and that is wicked and evil. It turns out there were no marriage problems, the husband just had a unique work commitment during the past Sunday and that was why they weren’t sitting together.
James captured well how much evil our tongues can cause. James 3:6–7 reads: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
And one of those deadly poisons is slander. Why do we do it? That brings us to our second question.
Why do we slander?
We slander because we have perverse and crooked hearts. Look at verse 2 and 8 with me. In verse 2 David tells us where his enemies plan their evil schemes (emphasis added): “who plan evil things”…where? “In their heart and stir up wars continually.”
Then look at verse 8: “Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked; do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!” Where do those wicked desires come from? A wicked heart!
Jesus reminds us that our words reflect what is in our heart. Matthew 12:23–25 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
Think of it like this. What kind of water do you find in a lake? Fresh or salt? Fresh. What kind of water do you find in the ocean? Fresh or salt? Salt. Now, what kind of speech will you find in an evil heart? Good or evil? EVIL! Just like you won’t find salt water in a lake, you won’t find righteous speech in a wicked heart.
I say all this because we love to play the victim card. I’m sure a lot of you wanted to hear me say what we should do when someone slanders us. And, to be fair, I will talk about that in the next question. But before we get there, I want you to take the log out of your eye first. We want to identify with David, but in fact, we should probably identify with those people who are slandering him.
In Romans 3 Paul quotes from Psalm 140 to support the idea that EVERYONE is guilty of sin, no exceptions. In Romans 3:9 Paul raises the question, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin…” Paul then goes on to quote multiple Psalms, including verse 3 from this Psalm 140, to support the point that ALL have sinned.
So, why do we slander? Let me offer three motives for why you might slander someone. First, jealousy. He makes more money than you, her life seems to be going so well compared to yours. She’s more attractive than you. Second, backstabbing. You want to get back because someone did something to you and you want to pay him back. And third, fear of man. This happens when you hear other people slandering someone, and you don’t want to be the odd one out. You want the group to like you, so you join in the slander.
How about you? Which motive ensnares your tongue? Jealousy? Payback? Fear of man? So, what do you do? How should we respond to our slander? And, how should we respond when we are slandered? As it turns out, the answer is the same for both.
How should we respond to slander?
How should we respond to slander? What is the antivenom for the venom of slander? The Lord. In both cases, you must cry out to the Lord to deliver you from your slanderous tongue and from those who slander you.
We see this in verse 1 and verses 6 through 7. Verse 1, David calls to Yahweh to rescue him from the slander he faces. “Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; preserve me from violent men…”
Then in verses 6 and 7 David continues to cry out to the Lord and reminds himself that salvation is found in him. “I say to the LORD, You are my God; give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD! O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle.”
We need antivenom for the venom of slander. What is antivenom? Antivenom is an antibody product that can disable a particular venom’s toxins. If injected quickly after a bite or sting, the antibodies in antivenom neutralize the venom, potentially saving the victim’s life or limb.
The antivenom for slander is the LORD himself. Notice how often David cries out to the LORD in Psalm 140. Verse 1: “deliver me, O LORD…”, verse 4: “Guard me, O LORD…”, verse 7: “Grant not, O LORD…” Over and over again David goes to the one person who can help. In short, when you people slander you, take it to the Lord, don’t take it to Facebook.
Moreover, when you face slander, learn from David’s humility. Notice verse 12, David refers to himself in the third person. Notice what he says: “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” He calls himself “needy”.
When slandered, remember the good news of the gospel that you are a sinner saved by grace. That means when someone says something bad about you, even if it’s false, it’s still true that you’re a bad person because of your sin. Here’s how Martin Lloyd-Jones put it, “When a man truly sees himself, he knows nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.”
So far I’ve addressed how to respond when someone slanders us, but what do we do when we slander? Remember, I said the answer is the same. Let’s return to James 3:7–8: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
NO man can tame the tongue. Why? Because no man can change the heart. Remember what Jesus said, out of the HEART the mouth speaks! So who can tame the tongue? If it’s not man, then who? The Lord! The Lord can change a heart, and therefore he can tame the tongue.
To close I want to speak to those who feel the guilt of their slander. We have an enemy who loves to slander and loves it when we slander. Satan is the chief slanderer. I wonder if he is slandering some of you right now. Satan would love it if your guilt crippled you from serving the Lord.
I want to encourage you with the words from Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. At one point Satan fights Christian. While they fight, Satan reminds Christian about all the times he has failed. But listen to Christian’s response: “All this is true, and much more which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.” What a friend we have in Jesus! All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Let’s do that now.