Biblical counseling is, at its core, a ministry using the words of Christ that are living and active, to expose the innermost thoughts, desires, and intentions of the hearts (Heb 4:12). Words are the chief means God created for humans to use to relate to their Creator God and to enjoy a relationship with him. Additionally, words are the chief means God created for humans to love and serve each other. Words are powerful and they matter. Unfortunately, there are times we’ll need to be prepared to respond when others have used their words to hurt by gossiping and slandering.
Responding to Others
God entrusts us to appropriately care for each other. He intends that our interactions with others mirror his, whose every intent was for the good of each person involved and for the display of his glorious grace and majesty. Those who use their words to gossip, sharing personal or sensational information about the private lives of other people that are not part of the problem or part of the solution, or to slander, sharing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone, need to be stopped. While slander and gossip are closely related I’ll be focusing on addressing gossip through the rest of this article, although the same principle applies to both.
Real love and pursuit of holiness demands that gossip be responded to, so the person who hears the gossip needs to be the one to confront it. Let’s play this out in an example between two friends, Laura and Beth. Beth came to Laura and shared that she had heard their mutual friend John slandering Laura. It is Laura’s responsibility to gently but clearly urge Beth to stop gossiping about that situation with her since she’s not part of the problem and to return to have a conversation with John. Beth needs to urge John to stop slandering Laura and to begin using his words in loving and unifying ways. One of the reasons God teaches us to avoid gossip is because it makes such a mess in relationships.
Learning that you have been gossiped about or slandered will normally be distressing and possibly even disorienting. Begin by asking God to help you respond humbly and soberly, praising God for this opportunity to be further conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who was slandered by his own creation even though he was completely without sin. God believes it is so valuable to know him that he designed the process of dying to ourselves to allow us to share in his sufferings (Phil 4:10-11). Ask God to allow areas of your heart and life that need refining to be made known to you even through the malicious words of others that were designed to magnify and exploit weaknesses perceived in you. Additionally, ask God to strengthen your endurance as you are perfected (James 1:2-5), so that you will respond lovingly to being sinned against without getting pulled into a temptation to sin in kind or in response (Gal 6:2).
Additionally use the words of Psalm 37:3-7 to teach you how to respond when others treat you in evil, scheming ways. Psalm 37 teaches us that we are responsible to trust and take delight in the Lord and do good, committing everything we do to him. We are commanded to be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act, choosing to not worry about evil people who prosper and to not fret about their wicked schemes. It is the Lord’s job in this humiliating situation to make you live safely and prosper and to make your innocence radiate and the justice of your cause to shine. God is the only one capable of satisfying your heart, and no attempt at vengeance or retaliation will come close to satisfying you.
Determine to see the ways God is working in this trial for the display of his glorious grace. That will help you guard against angry responses in these bitter circumstances. Entrusting yourself to the God who judges all situations justly (1 Peter 2:23) will empower you to pay back good for evil (I Thess 5:15) even while helping to stop evil speech from spreading. God is an active agent bringing about our deeper understanding of his love even in the midst of such difficult private pain. Only he could enable us to love the people who hurt us even while enduring residual pain, and that magnifies him and the glory of his grace.
For more great help on growing in discernment during listening check out “Listening: A Key Skill For Counselors”