Feedback and Slander

Summary

Arguably the largest instigator of discord in churches, nations, and families is people thinking they are constructively criticizing (II Timothy 4:2) when they really are slandering (II Corinthians 12:20). Feedback, similar to a rebuke, admonishment, constructive criticism, and correction, is given after the other person expressed interest in hearing something negative (Proverbs 27:6; Matthew 18:15). Slander, similar to insulting, disrespect, ridiculing, mocking, and maligning, is given after the other person rejected a desire to hear something negative (Matthew 5:22). Insults are given out of an angry desire to condemn and destroy (James 4:11), but feedback is given out of a loving desire to help a friend (Galatians 6:1). Correction is not about blaming someone for their wrong: it’s about telling them what they are not doing that is right (John 20:29). This topic is closely related to agreeableness.

Endorsements

GotQuestions recognizes a difference between rebuking and slandering. Craig Groeschel of Life Church believes strongly in a high-feedback culture, winning Glassdoor’s “Best Place to Work” award.

Concepts

Feedback is asked for; slander is forced.

What turns criticism into slander is not respecting the other person’s desire to not hear your negative opinions (Proverbs 17:4). Insulters think that others are required to hear their opinions (Proverbs 12:15), but God tells us that we don’t have to listen to those we deem are wicked (Proverbs 29:12). Slanderers are like bullies, who verbally poison the confidence in others (James 3:8). Criticism, though, is always given like a gentle grandmother (Galatians 6:1; II Timothy 2:25). The definition of gentleness is to not force anything, to only give when the other person wants (I Corinthians 4:21).

Feedback is built on trust; slander is by enemies.

When we correct someone, they need to be like a close brother, not a stranger on the internet or a political adversary (Matthew 18:15). They need to be like a friend, not an enemy (Proverbs 27:5-6). This is because friends and brothers are trusted to be doing it out of love (Proverbs 17:17), not a desire to condemn (James 4:11-12). Criticism can also come from church or governmental authority (Titus 2:15) because God gave them their power (Romans 13:1). Evil enemies, on the other hand, take enjoyment from mocking you (Matthew 5:39).

Feedback builds up; slander destroys.

Only among brothers is there a foundation to bear each other’s burdens, the goal of criticism (Galatians 6:1-2). We shouldn’t criticize someone and walk away; if we criticize, we must also help them overcome their sin (Romans 15:1-2). We must be like Christ and take their reproach on ourselves as if we did that sin (Romans 15:3). Slander, on the other hand, is from the devil, who wishes to destroy us (John 10:10). We think we are justified in speaking evil of others, but if they don’t want to hear it, we are actually not judging their character (Matthew 7:5) but hypocritically condemning their soul (James 4:11). Only God has the right to condemn someone who doesn’t want to hear it (James 4:12).

Feedback focuses on growth; slander focuses on fault.

Slanderers focus on fault because they want to blame and condemn (James 4:11-12). While Christians must find fault with themselves in repentance (Luke 5:32), building each other up is about love that grows the person (Ephesians 4:16). It encourages positive behavior for the future (I Thessalonians 5:11). Focusing on fault can be pointless when neither side can know the truth (I Corinthians 8:2; I Corinthians 13:12). The goal is to figure out a solution that works for both parties, because unity starts not with agreement but with patience (Ephesians 4:2-3). 

Feedback gives hope; slander gives despair.

When the Bible commands us to encourage one another (I Thessalonians 5:11), and reproving is a form of encouragement, they want us to encourage with affirmations of truth (Philippians 4:8). A great example is Jesus correcting Thomas. Instead of saying what Thomas did, “Fruitless are those who see to believe” (John 20:25), He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). This is because thinking about the affirmation of the truth is more powerful than thinking about the negation of a lie because hope is fulfilled in truth (Colossians 1:5). It is ok to speak the truth in the contrapositive (James 1:16), so long as you affirm the truth in the same argument (James 1:17).

Examples

Do not give feedback during a debate.

When you are debating someone, most of the time it’s not someone who trusts you. Even if it is, feedback can feel harshly personal when the debate is supposed to be focused on a topic. Try to leave the criticism until after both sides are satisfied with the debate’s conclusion. 

FAQ

What is the difference between all the biblical words used for feedback?

Notice how we are never commanded to fault, blame, or rebuke anyone, as this would be condemning them (James 4:11). Instead, we are commanded to humbly yet confidently exhort, admonish, correct, refute, reprove, teach, and train. All of these words are talking about the logic, not the person.

  1. Blame (mōmēsētai)–faulting a person or group (II Corinthians 8:20)
  2. Fault (memphetai)–something that is wrong (Hebrews 8:8; Romans 9:19)
  3. Rebuke (epitimēson)–to correct and order with authority and control (Luke 4:35); this word is only used once regarding Christians (II Timothy 4:2) and is meant for demons and people you have authority over, not for anyone you disagree with
  4. Harsh Rebuke (epiplēxēs)–rebuking but without gentleness (I Timothy 5:1)
  5. Exhort, Encourage (parakaleson)–to bolster faith with the truth (Hebrews 3:13; I Thessalonians 4:18)
  6. Comfort (paramythoumenoi)–to reduce pain (John 11:31; I Thessalonians 2:12)
  7. Admonish, Warn (noutheteite)–telling of punishment or evil that will happen unless they do what’s right (I Thessalonians 5:14)
  8. Correct (epanorthōsin, yōsêr)–explaining why something was wrong (II Timothy 3:16)
  9. Refute (elenche, elenxon)–give logical arguments for why something was wrong (Titus 1:9; Matthew 18:15)
  10. Reprove, Convict (elegmon, tōwḵaḥaṯ)–give logical arguments (or proof) for why something is right (Proverbs 10:17)
  11. Teach, Instruct (didaskalian)–to explain further about a topic for greater understanding (Romans 15:4)
  12. Train, Discipline, Chasten (paideian, mūsar)–asked to do something painful to learn a lesson (Hebrews 12:5,11; Proverbs 3:11)

How do I correct someone without blaming them?

Read in this FAQ about the different words used for feedback. These verses show us that we should address the logic, not the person. For example, you can “admonish” someone’s actions you deem are lazy (I Thessalonians 5:14) by stating the facts of the sin (Matthew 18:15) and pointing out relevant Bible verses, but you cannot judge them as a lazy person (Romans 2:1; James 4:11). Calling them lazy is “blaming” them or finding fault which only Jesus as the Judge can do because only He knows their heart (James 4:12). We are called to just speak the truth, which is not our opinions of their character. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16).

Aren’t we supposed to tell people their faults (Matthew 18:15)?

The Greek word for fault in this verse is “elenxon,” always elsewhere translated as “refute.” (The actual word for fault is memphetai.) We are to point out how the Bible defines certain actions as sin (II Timothy 3:16) without blaming the person for that sin, also known as enacting judgment (Romans 2:1; James 4:11).

Should I give feedback to co-workers or authority?

The Bible only mentions giving feedback if they asked for it (Proverbs 12:15) or if they know you, either personally or as a fellow Christian (Proverbs 27:5-6). You can always have a 1-on-1 to see where they stand on these 2 requirements (Matthew 18:15). Oftentimes, people’s ego will get in the way, especially with nonbelievers, so make a decision if you should stay or leave.