The backdrop of Leviticus is explaining purity from God’s perspective to a very impure and rebellious group of people. It lays out the Jewish laws for two types of purity: moral and ritual. Reading through the chapters on ritual purity can feel laborious since they symbolize something that has already been completed, Christ’s blood being spilt and therefore purifying us and cleansing our sins. There are also sections on moral purity though, which points to God’s heart on how we should be living day to day versus a future cleansing of our sins.
In the middle of Leviticus 19 there is a section on loving your neighbor as yourself. As we’ve already seen in the New Testament (Matthew 22:36-40), of the 613 laws recorded by Moses, Jesus declared that loving our neighbor as ourselves is second only to loving God with our entire being. As I was reading this chapter in my devotions yesterday, this section stood out to me since this was the law and portion of Scripture He was referring to.
First of all, I love how God’s heart requires His people to be giving. There were specific laws telling farmers to leave corners of their fields/crops for the poor and travelers, making sure to provide for everyone. There are also directives that we are all familiar with as kindness. We shouldn’t lie to one other; we shouldn’t steal from one other; we should reason frankly with one other; we shouldn’t hate or curse one other; we shouldn’t hold grudges against one other. The list goes on.
The one that stood out to me the most was in verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” This portion stands out to me because of another passage of Scripture that I’ve been meditating on over the past month. Titus 2:3 specifically points out to older women to not be slanderers and to teach the younger women to do the same. By definition, slander entails false words (or maybe true words taken out of context) spoken that hurt someone’s reputation.
Today as I was thinking on this during my long car rides, I started piecing together the antonym of slander. It is one thing to be told not to slander, but to be told to replace slander with the opposite action gives us something proactive to work on. The best phrase I have been able to come up with as the antonym is “building bridges.” The opposite of hurting someone’s reputation is to help build that person’s reputation.
To avoid slander and gossip, at times the best option is to not say anything, but wouldn’t it be awesome if we did talk about people to others about the good they’ve done? We have all met people before that we instantly have good standing with because they have heard something good about us. We have opportunities to be building bridges like this everywhere we go.
During my child psychology courses back in college, one area of study I found fascinating to read about is how much the opinion of a teacher has been proven to affect the success rate of individual students. Statistically speaking, if a teacher thinks a student can succeed, he will, but if the teacher thinks the student will fail, he will. Obviously this isn’t true 100% of the time, and there are many possible variables that can affect the outcome, but as a teacher I tried my best to “plug” my ears when I was getting negative opinions on students and talk freely and repetitively on the positive. This wasn’t me trying to be naïve, this was my effort to help students build a bridge to where they needed to be rather than burning bridges (giving up).
As believers, first of all we can help build bridges for other people by building up their reputation in others’ eyes. This doesn’t mean lying of course, but it does mean we can share their strengths with others to help connect relationships and make those strengths a stronger part of their identity.
Secondly, when negative things do come up in conversation, a great way to build a bridge in that moment is to help that person refocus their attention on the positive and not the negative as an intermediate. I would like to think that if someone were frustrated with me, then that person could come to me and talk through it. Since realistically speaking that can’t always happen, the second best thing in my mind is for them to talk through it with someone who knows me well and will help restore that relationship: as long as that person speaks with a bridge builder and not a slanderer of course.
These are two great ways of building bridges and killing slander. Nothing will kill relationships faster than slander and gossip, and as believers we should have no part in either. It is very easy to get caught up with talking about how different people are than what we would like. As for myself, I love figuring out the psychological side of people: their MBTI, their love languages, their rationale, or whatever makes them tick. This has been a good reminder for me on the importance to use these things to build bridges rather than possibly hurt reputations.