Dealing With Slander
Have you ever been the victim of a malicious personal attack? If you haven't, count yourself among the lucky few! Most of us have at some point in our lives experienced the hurt and frustration associated with the defamation of our good name. It's true, that no one likes being criticized, but when the claims being made about you are untrue, it adds an additional layer of insult!
While no one would blame a person in this situation for being angry, how we choose to react can go a long way towards either escalating or squelching the conflict. This is the situation in which we find the Apostle Paul in this week's scripture lesson. In Acts chapter 24, Paul is defending himself against the false accusations of the the Jewish leaders before the Roman Governor Felix. We can learn much from how Paul responds to their slanderous attempts to discredit him in verses 10-21.
The first thing we see is that Paul remained calm. One of the most often overlooked fruits of spiritual maturity in Christ is self control (Galatians 5:23). In fact, it is my belief that self-control is actually the wellspring from which the other spiritual disciplines spring forth. Our ability to take captive every thought, feeling, and emotion and give it over in obedience to Christ is a monumentally important first step in achieving victory in the spiritual warfare that we wage on a daily basis. I think this is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 16:25 when he says we must lose our lives for his sake; or when Paul himself talks about putting on the new self in Ephesians 4:22-24. If we are honest, in most stressful situations our initial instinctive reaction is not one that we would describe as God-honoring. It requires that we set aside our fleshly desires (pride, selfishness, bitterness, jealousy, contempt, malice, etc.) in favor of something else...something better.
The second thing we see is that Paul spoke truthfully. Rather than putting a lot of effort into trying to discredit his accusers, Paul simply provided the truth and trusted it to speak for itself. Jesus taught that the truth would set us free (John 8:32). We live in a world that is full of a lot of noise. Social media has given everyone a voice and many people are using theirs to say something. In the midst of all of the talking, it can become difficult to remember that there is still something that is absolute and true. I firmly believe that, in time, the truth will always rise above all of the noise.
Finally, we see that Paul was a man of impeccable character. The things we say and do have a lasting effect. One need only look at our political system for examples of this. How many times have you seen some skeleton from a candidate's past rear its ugly head just in time to derail the momentum of their campaign? I'd be lying if I said I were proud of everything in my own past. We all make mistakes and we thank God that through the atoning death of his Son, those mistakes and missteps have been paid for on our behalf.
The fact that we have received forgiveness of our sins doesn't grant us license to simply say and do whatever we want though. It is important for us, as ambassadors for Christ, to carry ourselves in a way that is in accordance with the Lord and Savior we claim as our own. When Paul's enemies made false allegations against him, he trusted that his manner of living would validate the truthfulness of his defense. I can claim to be a man of integrity or I can live a life of integrity. Which one do you think has the greater impact...my words or my actions?
As believers, we will inevitably encounter opposition. A long history of hypocritical living has given our "tribe" a bad name in this world. When people spread gossip and slander about us, how are we to respond? We could respond with anger and accusations of our own, but where would that get us? Or, we could chose, like Paul, to respond with truth and trust that our gospel-centered manner of living will lay bare those who seek to oppose and destroy us. Like Paul, we are on trial...and the watching world is waiting to judge us. Which will you choose?
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Part 53 - Trials
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. Who is Felix?
2. What was Paul being accused of?
3. How does Felix respond to the gospel?