The Impulse

I have an impulse I'd like to tell you about. It is an impulse to defend myself when I am charles simeon.jpgslandered. Sometimes that impulse is appropriate as evidenced in the Apostle Paul. Other times that impulse is laden with sin.

If you are a pastor then you almost certainly know what it is like to be slandered. People have said or written things about you that are untrue and intended to harm. If you are a pastor and this has not happened to you then hang on. It's coming.

Through his epistles we know that Paul underwent harsh treatment at the hands of those who opposed his ministry. We see this particularly in his letters to the church at Corinth. The church was being influenced by so-called super apostles. They could probably best be compared to the prosperity preachers of our own day. They caused Paul great grief. And the church, for embracing these men, broke his heart.

We gather, from both direct and indirect references, some of the things that were being said about Paul. These super apostles criticized Paul's appearance. Imagine what Paul must have looked like after multiple scourgings, beatings, and a stoning? They said his preaching was weak and his message foolish. They accused him of seeking sexual favors from women in the church. They accused him of using his ministry to enrich himself financially.

There were times when Paul responded directly to the slander and refuted it. For instance in 2 Corinthians 6 Paul acknowledges that he and his fellow apostles have endured, among other things, being slandered:
"...through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).

Notice how Paul does not flinch from proclaiming his innocence. He is not what his detractors have claimed.

In chapter four of 1 Corinthians Paul points out to the Corinthians the error of their own attitudes. He does this with a bit of sanctified mockery by aping their high opinion of themselves and their correspondingly low opinion of him:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things" (1 Corinthians 4:8-13).

He goes on to call them away from their fascination with the false apostles and instead become imitators of him. He even threatens a bit of fatherly discipline: "What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21).

In chapter nine Paul challenges the slander that he is profiting in unethical ways.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (1 Corinthians 9:1-7).
Again Paul does not allow the slander to stand.

Other times, however, Paul did not respond to specific slanders. Such is evidenced in his epistle to the Philippian church. Apparently there were some rival preachers who were saying things about Paul which were intended to increase his suffering in prison. But Paul's response to these particular slanderers is quite different than his response to the super apostles in Corinth. Rather than responding to their treachery he gives thanks that at least they are preaching Christ. These were not good men. But the content of their message was faithful. So Paul gives thanks.

So how do we know when to refute a slander and when to keep silent? Paul's pattern seems to have been to refute slander when it had a direct impact on the validity of his ministry and message. Paul's defense of his reputation in Corinth was directly connected to the spiritual health of the church. This is so because the teachers that had replaced Paul were leading the church into error. Slander was a technique used by these false teachers to undermine the preaching of Paul so they could replace his message with their own.

We can safely assume that there was much slander to which Paul refused to respond. How difficult this is. Certainly it is not a sin to be dismayed, hurt, disappointed, even indignant when we are slandered. However, because we are sinners, righteous indignation often morphs into self-indulgent anger.

If a pastor is blessed to be surrounded by an excellent session, as I am, then he has a ready sounding board and source of wisdom in determining whether or not to respond to slander. Whatever the case I would urge my brother pastors to not make the mistake I have made so often. I would urge them to wait and pray and wait some more before responding to any slander. If nothing else the time and prayer will mitigate against any sinful passion.

Charles Simeon was a pastor who was greatly battered by slander and harsh treatment. His counsel, while not applicable in every conceivable situation ought nevertheless to be something of a default position for us. In 1821 during a time of great opposition he wrote:
"My rule is - never to hear, or see, or know, what if heard, or seen, or known, would call for animadversion from me. Hence it is that I dwell in peace in the midst of lions" (Moule, 191).

* For the sake of clarity - I am happy to serve in a wonderful church where the pastors are treated with respect. To my knowledge I am not the object of slander in my wonderful church family, Covenant Presbyterian Church.