Every Christian leader (pastor/elder/deacon, etc.), if they serve the Lord long enough, especially in the day in which we live, will face misunderstandings, slander, and even have outright untruths told about them. Some misinformation can be cleared up easily, but every once in a while there are those who maliciously seek to destroy the reputation of a Christian leader through slander and spreading either half-truths or outright lying. How is God’s servant supposed to handle and respond to intentional slander and defamation of one’s character?
Paul in his missionary travels experienced much mistreatment, both physically and verbally. He writes to the Corinthians, who had thrown a few verbal darts at Paul, how the Christian leader is to respond when verbal attacks occur. No one relishes in verbal assualts, especially if those words are outright lying. Yet Paul writes, “Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (I Cor 4:12-13). There is a lot in those two verses that needs to be examined.
In verse 12 & 13 Paul speaks of being reviled, persecuted, defamed, being regarded as filth and the offscouring of all things. Let’s examine these words. “Reviled” is the Greek word λοιδορέω (loidoreō) which means “to heap abuse upon.” The word was used in I Peter 2:23 to speak of how Jesus was treated, abuse being heaped upon him. “Reviled” is in the passive voice which means it is abuse that the recipient receives, the action coming from a source outside himself. “Persecuted” διώκω (diōkō) which means to “put one to flight, to drive away, to pursue in a hostile manner for the purpose of mistreatment or to harass.” It is also in the passive voice meaning the recipient receives mistreatment from others. “Defamed” comes from the Greek word βλασφημέω (blasphēmeō) which means “to be evil spoken of, to smear, slander, to blaspheme.” Once again, the verb is in the passive voice; Paul was having evil words intentionally directed toward him by others. Paul says his enemies regarded him as “filth” (perikatharma) which was a word used in a variety of ways: “of waste, of the most abject and despicable men,” and was used in paganism to speak “of criminals who were maintained at the public expense, that on the outbreak of a pestilence or other calamity they might be offered as sacrifices to make expiation for the state.” Lastly, Paul says he was regarded by his enemies as “offscouring” (peripsēma) which means “what is wiped off, dirt rubbed off, the off-scrapings, scum.” The word was used to speak of a dung cart that went through the city which people brought their waste. These disparaging remarks and attitudes were continual (“until now” – v. 13).
It is clear from Paul’s writings that he and those associated with him because of their faith in Christ had been victims of malicious, cruel, and hateful character assassination. The question is, in the face of such verbal abuse and the intentional spreading of lies how is the Christian leader to respond? Our natural tendency is to go on the defense, to become angry and react aggressively against those who spew out such venomous words about us, and even retaliate and “get them back.” But if we follow the example of Paul, how are we to respond? We are to respond in three ways.
First, Paul says being “reviled, we bless.” Instead of reacting in anger, we are to “bless.” The Greek word is εὐλογέω (eulogeō), which means “to invoke a blessing upon, to ask God’s blessings upon, pronounce a blessing on.” Wow! In other words, we are to pray for them. Isn’t that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless (the same Greek word Paul used for “bless”) them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44).
Second, Paul says, “being persecuted, we endure.” When others pursue us in a hostile manner, the Apostle says we are to endure. The Greek word for “endure” is ἀνέχω (anechō), which means “to hold oneself erect and firm against any person or thing, to sustain, to bear with endurance.” It is in the present tense which means we keep on standing firm. One’s malicious actions and words are not to persuade us to throw in the towel or to stop pressing forward for Christ. We must keep on keeping on. Is not that what Christ did, He endured in the face of the cross. The author of Hebrews tells us when you grow weary and want to retreat, think of Christ who endured unthinkable mistreatment. “For consider him that endured such mistreatment of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3).
Third, Paul says, “Being defamed, we entreat.” When evil is purposely spoken of us, Paul says we are to “entreat.” What does that mean? The Greek word for “entreat” is παρακαλέω (parakaleō), which literally means “to call to one’s side, to summon, to call for, to receive comfort, strength or consolation.” In Paul’s day the word parakaleō (entreat) had a military connotation, which painted a picture for his readers who might be undergoing verbal abuse and slander. Before a military leader sent his soldiers into the heat of battle, the captain would gather his troops together to address them. He would summon them together, come right alongside them, and exhort them, encourage them, and speak to the troops of the dangers ahead but if will they stand firm will experience the glory of victory. He would let his troops know that he would be standing with them and had their backs. That is the picturesque meaning of the word parakaleo.
What Paul is saying in the word “entreat” is that when “slander” comes we are to surround ourselves with people who like a military captain will come along side us and encourage us, pray for us and exhort us to be strong in the face of verbal assault. We are to “entreat” each other, exhorting one another that we are not to take matters into our own hands or attack back in like manner, but remember the battle is the Lords. If we spend our time rendering evil for evil we can’t be about our Father’s business. How wonderful to surround ourselves with people who will come alongside us and will encourage us to be strong and to leave the “settling” of the matter with the Lord.
Others may speak harshly of us, may speak untruths about us, Paul tells us to respond by (1) praying for them, (2) by enduring as Christ endured, and (3) by having others come along side us whereby we encourage and exhort each another. No one likes people speaking and spreading untrue rumors or remarks about them. The flesh wants to become defensive and attack back in like manner, but we must respond scripturally. When one is having half-truths being spread about them, it is in those times one needs to surround themselves with those who will “entreat” us, come along side us, and encourage us to continue being about our Father’s business. For the victory is mine, thus saith the Lord.