Being defamed, we intreat.…
— 1 Corinthians 4:13
When we were first starting our work in the former Soviet Union in the city of Riga, Latvia, Denise and I labored around the clock to teach people the Bible and get newly saved people established in the truths of the New Testament. We were working harder than we had ever worked in our lives!
However, as we poured our energy into seeing the Church established in this spiritually barren land, hostile forces began to resist our message of truth with insidious tactics. We were constantly engaged in intense spiritual warfare as we proclaimed the message of the Gospel to the people of Latvia. Those early years were a time of both great triumph and great struggle. Yet despite the best efforts of the enemy to thwart our ministry, we kept seeing the powers of darkness pushed back and the glorious light of the Gospel shine into broken lives that had long been held in the darkness of Communist atheism.
The church in Riga grew rapidly, and every week we witnessed numerous people give their lives to Christ. Once held in bondage, their lives were being made whole by God’s grace. It was a thrill to see families restored, sick people healed, and addicts set free from debilitating drug and alcohol addictions. Watching the work God was doing in this region was absolutely precious, and Denise and I were so thankful that He had called us to minister to this part of the world.
*[If you started reading this from your email, begin reading here.]
However, one day when I went to the store to buy a few groceries, I noticed a strange-looking article on the front page of a national newspaper that was displayed on a rack by the door. The artwork that accompanied the article looked so unique that I reached over, picked it up, and started to read to see what it was about. To my utter shock, the article was about me! Sadly, it was an article designed to attack, defame, and vilify the work that God was doing through our ministry in that city.
The artwork was an artist’s rendering of a man with a dazed, stupefied look on his face, mindlessly staring off into space with empty eyes. A massive hand rested atop his head with elongated fingers that curled over the front of his forehead and gripped his flesh like a giant claw. It looked awful. The bold words of the headline said: “DO WHAT I TELL YOU TO DO!” It was so compelling that I picked it up to see what the article was about. It was only as I began to read the article that I realized the claw-like hand was supposed to be my hand!
The article stated that I used hypnotism to control people who were coming to Christ, and that I even used hypnotism to control people through the television as they watched our TV programs. When I looked to see who wrote the article, it was one of our fiercest adversaries — a journalist and committed atheist who fought to resist us with every ounce of his being. This man despised Christianity and was even trying to make a name for himself by defaming us and our ministry. He was doing everything he could to smear our reputation and besmirch the Gospel. Once I had encountered this journalist on an airplane, where he approached me and in a condescending voice asked, “Are you still preaching those ‘fairy tales’ from the Bible?”
When I read what had been written about me in this national newspaper, I wasn’t thrilled, of course. It’s never pleasant to think that people all over a nation are reading derogatory, false, and hateful words about you. But on the other hand, I rejoiced because it put me in good company with countless other believers who have been attacked for doing the Lord’s work. My mind went to First Corinthians 4:13, where Paul wrote, “Being defamed, we intreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.”
As believers, we live in a world today that is filled with scoffers who are becoming increasingly aggressive in their stance against those who preach the Gospel. More and more, we find our message and ourselves at conflict with the world around us when we espouse the principles of the Bible. In fact, if we take a stand that’s biblically right but not politically correct, we almost certainly will find ourselves on the receiving end of a vitriolic attack. Because this hostility is becoming ever more blatant, it is imperative that we as believers know how to respond when we are lambasted by attacks from the enemy.
Paul addressed this very issue in First Corinthians 4:13, saying, “Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” When he wrote these words, Paul was speaking from his own personal experience.
Throughout his missionary travels, Paul had to contend with principalities and powers that constantly tried to thwart his ministry at every turn. Commonly, these attacks took the form of vicious smear campaigns that sought to destroy his name through false accusations. These malignant character attacks were a regular occurrence in the lives of Paul and his apostolic team. Therefore, we should pay close attention to Paul’s words in First Corinthians 4:13, for he told us not only how he responded to these attacks, but how we as Christians should respond as well.
Paul began by saying, “Being defamed, we intreat….” This word “defamed” is crucial to our understanding of Paul’s message because he carefully chose it to let us know what he had endured from his critics. It is the Greek word dusphemeo, which means to slander, to slur, to smear, or to vilify. It literally means to maliciously malign someone’s good name. In today’s language, we would say the Greek word dusphemeo depicts someone who deliberately does a hatchet job on someone’s integrity, character, or name. This attack is done with the purposeful intention of damaging someone’s reputation in the eyes of others.
By using the particular Greek word dusphemeo (“defamed”), Paul confirmed that he and his traveling companions had been victims of malicious and nasty character attacks on numerous occasions. But how did he respond when this occurred? Did he become bitter and wounded? Did he become angry and react aggressively against his attackers? Did he respond by waging a counter attack?
We find insight into how Paul carried himself in these situations in what he wrote next in First Corinthians 4:13: “Being defamed, we intreat….” The word “entreat” is from the Greek word parakaleo, a compound of the Greek words para and kaleo. The word para means alongside, as in one who comes up close alongside of another person. The word kaleo means to call, to beckon, or to beseech. But when these two words are joined to form the word parakaleo, it presents the picture of one who has something so important to say that he pulls right up alongside his listener, getting as close to him as possible, and then begins to plead with him to take some course of action. This person urgently calls out, pleading with his listener to hear what he has to say and to do what he is suggesting.
Because the word “entreat” — the Greek word parakaleo — is plural in this particular verse, we know that when these kinds of attacks occurred against Paul’s ministry, he and his team pulled together to “entreat” each other. That means they looked each other in the eyes and spoke words of strength and encouragement to each other. The word parakaleo in this context can even mean they consoled one another.
Carefully consider this fact: The caliber of people who surround you is especially important when you are under attack. The people you confide in during these moments will have great impact on how you respond. They will affect your emotions, your thinking, and your resolve.
- If you are surrounded by people who are angry and retaliatory, their words and reactions may incite you to react in anger or with other negative and non-productive emotions. Stomping, screaming, and making threats won’t help you. In fact, that kind of behavior always just makes situations worse!
- On the other hand, if you are surrounded by people who encourage you, saying, “Let it go! God will vindicate you. Forgive these people who are being used by the devil to assault you” — this will help you trust God and forgive the wrongdoing of your attackers.
Thus, the character of those you have around you is very important when you are under attack. That’s why you must take care to surround yourself with patient, steadfast, forgiving men and women of God.
There was another military usage of the Greek word parakaleo (“entreat”), which conveys a powerful message in the context of Paul’s message. In the ancient Greek world, before military leaders sent their soldiers into battle, they called the troops together in order to address them. Rather than hide from the painful reality of war, the leaders would speak straightforwardly with the soldiers about the potential dangers of the battlefield and the glories of winning a major victory. They came right alongside their troops and urged, exhorted, beseeched, and pleaded with them to stand tall; throw back their shoulders; look the enemy straight on, eyeball to eyeball; and face their battles with courage. This is the essence of the word parakaleo.
Because Paul used the word parakaleo (“entreat”), we know that when he and his team were assaulted with false accusations and vicious slander, they quickly began to encourage one another to be strong in the middle of the fight. Like fellow soldiers, they looked into each other’s eyes and exhorted and encouraged one another to remain faithful, regardless of the war raging around them. They knew that discipline and a steadfast, committed warfare mentality was required for them to come through the battle they were facing victoriously!
I can almost hear Paul and his team proclaim to each other, “This is warfare! We must be good soldiers and be faithful to the end regardless of what people say or do to us! Let’s not get bogged down with hurt feelings. We have to trust God, forgive these people, and let it go!”
Paul’s words in First Corinthians 4:13 could be interpreted:
“When people assault our integrity, our character, or our name, we begin to exhort and encourage one another….”
When this horrible article about me appeared in the newspaper many years ago, I was surrounded with the right team! Just as Paul’s team did with him, the members of my own team exhorted and encouraged me to let it go, overlook it, forgive the man who wrote the horrible article about me, and trust God to vindicate my name and character.
As a result of this God-honoring response, the article had little impact. But had I taken a different approach and retaliated against the journalist who wrote the piece, it probably would have stirred the waters and made the situation much more turbulent. Going through that experience helped put steel in my spiritual backbone. It was the first major attack, but certainly not the last! Taking this approach helped me stay on track regardless of what people said, did, or wrote about us. As a result, we were unhindered in taking the vision God had given us to the next level, again and again, no matter what opposition we faced in the following years.
It’s never comfortable to know that people are saying untrue or unfair things about you. If you are currently in this situation or have been in this situation before, you know how badly the flesh wants to rise up in defensiveness and fight back. But it’s your responsibility to respond according to God’s ways and His love. You must keep your heart free from anger so the devil cannot bog you down in an emotional battle.
If you are being attacked by what people are saying or doing to you, allow your friends or team members to exhort and encourage you to be faithful. When you are defamed, it is time for you and those around you to remind one another, “This is warfare! We must be good soldiers and be faithful to the end regardless of what people say or do to us! Let’s not get bogged down with hurt feelings. We have to trust God, forgive these people, and let it go!”|
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I receive Your grace to help me mature to the point where I trust You to protect my name and vindicate who I really am when people say things about me that are untrue or unjust. I refuse to react emotionally with retaliation because of my hurt. Instead, I choose to obey Your Word by keeping myself in the love of God so my faith will not fail. You’ve promised me that no weapon formed against me shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against me in judgment or false accusation, I will prove or demonstrate to be in the wrong (Isaiah 54:17). Lord, You have assured me that if my ways are pleasing to You, Lord, You will cause my enemies to be at peace with me (Proverbs 16:7). So, I thank You, Father, for helping me to remember that this is warfare with Satan’s unseen forces. I will never forget that You are ultimately in control and that if I respond in a Christ-like manner when facing an attack, it will smother the fires and give You the freedom to bring about the outcome You desire in my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that when the devil uses people to falsely accuse me, malign my name, or to do injury to my integrity, character, or name, I will respond as Jesus did and pray: Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. Just because others act like the devil doesn’t give me the right to react like the devil. I choose to yield to the spirit of life in Christ Jesus that keeps me free from sin. Therefore, I make up my mind that I will walk in love and forgiveness, regardless of what people do to me or say about me. I will be a faithful soldier, and I will stay in the fight regardless of any attack that comes to assault who I am. Jesus is in me, and He is greater than anything that could ever come against me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of a time in your own life when your integrity, character, or name was purposely and maliciously attacked by someone who wanted to hurt your reputation?
- If this has happened to you, how did you respond to that attack? Did you trust God and let it go, or did you allow the devil to drag you into a war of words? If you fell into a war of words, what was the result?
- Now that this situation is behind you, evaluate your reaction. What did you learn from your response to this situation? Did your reaction make it better, or did it make the situation worse?