In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:11-13)
I'll always remember years ago while leading a Bible study for young people, one of the young girls answered a question and I casually joked about her answer at which point she burst into tears!
I begged for forgiveness. It was a great reminder for me, as I trained for ministry, that careless words can have a devastating effect on people.
The reference in these verses to "their wives" is open to two interpretations. The original Greek literally says "the women" and so some translate this as "women deacons" while others prefer "deacons' wives". Either way, the requirements listed are important for any person holding a position of leadership in the church.
As we saw previously, there is some repetition between this list and the qualifications of an elder, but what we'll focus on here are the words we speak.
The first requirement is not to slander; that is, to not say anything about someone that is not true. Most of us would avoid outright lies about others, but it's possible to slander simply by giving a wrong impression about someone, or sharing information selectively in order to make that person appear worse than they really are.
This temptation is particularly appealing when someone criticises us. When we lead, criticism comes with the territory, and when we receive it, the human tendency is to want to build our own army against that person by telling others our version of events.
My toughest leadership experience came at a time at which the youth ministry I led was struggling. A number of experienced leaders had moved on and we were in the process of establishing new leaders. A group of people in the church became very critical of me and it was all I could do to resist the temptation to fight back and speak ill of them or their teenagers in order to get people "on my side".
Throughout this difficult experience, God taught me, mostly through the Psalms, that He was my shield and defender and would justify me in the midst of criticism that tempted me to fight back and slander others.
A second way in which our words can cause harm is through gossip. While not explicitly mentioned by Paul here, slander and gossip are often mentioned in the same breathe in Scripture (2 Corinthians 12:20; Romans 1:29,30). As a leader, there will be times when young people will trust you with personal information.
Again, maybe you're not tempted to outright gossip about them and what they've said, but it can be tempting to tell others how you're helping them in order to make yourself look good or feel important. Additionally, we can sometimes share personal information under the guise of requesting prayer, when our real reason can be more self-serving.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to slander and gossip is to ask yourself two questions: Firstly, is what I'm saying something I'd say about the person to their face or if they were eavesdropping? This question stops me gossiping, passing on information about others that they'd prefer I keep to myself.
Secondly, I ask myself, am I speaking with a pure heart, wanting only the person's highest good? This question ensures that what I'm saying is fair, and that I'm not misrepresenting someone in a way that suits me and my version of events.
Sticking by these guidelines requires self-control which is an indispensable quality of a leader and needed in so many ways. As James rightly reminds us, "Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check." (James 3:2)
In what ways are you tempted to use words in destructive ways rather than constructive ways? In what situations do you need to carefully guard against slander or gossip? Ask God to give you self control and to be wise in what you share and don't share.