What is the difference between criticism and slander?
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). Criticism, similar to rebuking, admonishing, and correcting, 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 criticism is given out of a loving desire to help a friend (Galatians 6:1).
Criticism 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).
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 have a foundation in the mindset of the person being criticized that it’s being done 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).
Criticism 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).
Do not criticize or slander in a debate.
When you are debating someone, most of the time it’s someone who is not a close friend. As such, you don’t have the right to attack them personally (Matthew 18:15). Here are some examples of what not to say:
- I will pray for you. (This is a passive-aggressive way to say that because you are right, the opponent needs God’s help.)
- You’re a false teacher!
- You’re lying.
- Why can’t you handle the truth? (Arrogantly assuming you’re right while insulting his strength)
- Why are you so sensitive?
Indirect mocking is slander.
Any form of disrespect is considered slander when the person doesn’t ask for it (II Timothy 2:25). Here are some examples:
- It’s absurd to think that…
- [Meme or picture that insults someone or their argument]
- [Rolling your eyes]
- [Bad tone]