Every winter for the last several years, our neighbors have hosted an outdoor get together at the end of January. They build a bonfire, and serve hot chili and coffee while several of the guys build a huge snow sculpture. This year, they constructed an amazing, 100 foot long dragon. The bonfire was located right at the front of the dragon, so he appeared to be breathing out fire. Very impressive!
Dragons mean different things to different people– especially with some current popular movies that we associate them with, like the dragon Eustice in “Voyage of the DawnTreader” that we just saw twice. But invariably, a dragon represents evil, and for me specifically, unquestionably, a dragon represents slander, the most difficult evil to conquer– the “fire of the tongue.” The Bible is certainly blatant in its analogy:
“The tongue is a fire,” James 3 says, “a world of unrighteousness…It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people…These things ought not to be so!”
Imagining slander as a fire-breathing dragon is something we should certainly relate to, especially if we’ve known both sides of it, which everybody has. Everybody hates being the target of slander. Ironically, some of the nicest people I know have been the subject of vicious and ruthless slander! All of us have been tempted by it, and at some point, all of us have experienced it somehow. Yet the habitual practice of slander is the mark of a man-focused individual while it belies the character of a God-focused Christian.
Once, fresh out of college and in my first job, the elevator door opened and I stepped in to the sudden embarrassingly abrupt silence of several female coworkers already inside it. Normally, silence on an elevator wouldn’t have been unusual, but because of the character I’d regularly witnessed in these particular women, by their uncomfortable inability to make eye contact and the guilt on their faces, I immediately knew that I had just been the focus of their slander. My sudden appearance shocked them into unusual stoney silence– an uncomfortable lull where clearly, I was left standing in the ash heap, bits of smoke smoldering silently. It was my first conscious experience with being the target of slander, and it was miserable.
We know how devastating it is… yet why do we let such sin continue?
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of the English Language defines slander as: “a false tale or report maliciously uttered, and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens.”
Gossip, the cousin of slander, is defined as, “one who runs from house to house, tattling and telling news; an idle tattler.”
Were it not so widespread and destructive, the Bible would not have so often warned us against slander. But the Bible warns us–repeatedly, in fact– so intensely of it that we must seriously determine to grab our swords and conquer this horrid sin!
“Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly…who does not slander with his tongue…” Psalm 15:3;
“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” Psalm 101:5;
“Whoever utters slander is a fool” Proverbs 10:18
“If anyone thinks he is religious but does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless” James 1:26
Yet because of the intensity of it, and the dire discomfort over our guilt, there are two extreme reactions that inevitably surface, that neatly skirt the issue: the first is to immediately point to others who slander, but ignore (or justify) it in ourselves.
The second reaction is to immediately accuse others of slandering us when they attempt to correct us on issues that may be serious and legitimate concerns. Yet, always, we must learn to turn inward immediately, search our own hearts, cry out for God’s help, and repent. That’s the only way to tame the dragon!
This is pretty serious stuff. We squirm under our guilt, but as much as we’d prefer ignoring it or running from it, we have to face the dragon. Slander is a firey evil that has to be conquered.
Unfortunately, this seems to be such a very common pitfall for women particularly. It’s interesting that the great, very convicting passage of Titus 2 commands the older women to teach the younger ones how to be “self-controlled,” or as the Authorized Version says, “to be chaste.” Yet beyond ‘true to the marriage bed,’ the word chaste goes on to include in its definition, “In language, pure; genuine; uncorrupt; free from barbarous words and phrases.”
A true woman of God is marked by her conversation. “Let no corrupt communcation proceed out of your mouth,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29, “but that which is good for edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearer… Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, [along] with all malice… Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.”
The Proverbs 31 virtuous woman is chaste– She “opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Prov. 31:26.) A virtuous woman entertains no dragons. We ought to strive– grab the sword and fight for it– to be the virtuous woman that God desires.
As long as we are in this world, the dragon of the tongue will continue to intimidate us. Conquering it begins right here, with us. We can’t slay someone else’s dragon, but we must slay our own. As R.C. Sproul Sr. once wrote, “for the Christian, it is better to be lied to than to lie, to suffer broken promises to us than to break them, and to be slandered than to slander.”
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