“But now rid yourselves [completely] of all these things: anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene (abusive, filthy, vulgar) language from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 AMPC).
The Biblical prohibition against slander is something that is found in both the Old and New Testaments. For instance, Psalm 101:5 tells us, “I will not tolerate anyone who secretly slanders his neighbors…” (TLB). We then go on to read the following in the New Testament epistle of James…
“Brothers and sisters, stop slandering each other. Those who slander and judge other believers slander and judge God’s teachings. If you judge God’s teachings, you are no longer following them. Instead, you are judging them” (James 4:11 GW).
We should note the correlation between slander and judgment here in James 4:11. Remember that slander involves an intentionally false assessment of one’s character or motive. Therefore, we can view slander as a form of judgment. So in addition to the Biblical prohibitions given to us above, we can say that an act of slander also violates the standard given to us by Jesus in John 7:24: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24 NKJV).
We can avoid slandering others by making an effort to separate an individual from his or her actions. For instance, let’s take the example of someone who has made a foolish decision. While we might choose to refer to such a person as a fool, it is far more preferable to separate the individual from his or her decision and say, “You acted foolishly.” In this manner, we limit our judgment to the action of the person involved and avoid judging (and potentially slandering) another human being who is made in God’s image.
This verse then closes with a reference to “obscene talk” (ESV). Translators have employed a number of word-pictures to help communicate this idea for the benefit of modern-day audiences including…
- shameful speaking (ASV).
- foul talk (RSV).
- filthy language (CSB).
- abusive speech (NASB).
- insulting or cruel things about others (CEV).
This general directive would include things like immoral jokes, suggestive comments, or double entendres that are unsuitable for a person of God-honoring character. So in considering these prohibitions against malice, slander, and filthy language, we would do well to consider the warning issued by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew…
“I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 NET).