TEXT: James 4:11,12
In 2011, the New York Times ran an article about a small town in Missouri called Mountain Grove, population 5,000.
Gossip and rumors had always existed in that tight-knit community.
Before the days of anonymous social media sites, people in Mountain Grove traded stories at the local diner.
At the local diner, you could usually find a dozen longtime residents who gathered each morning to talk about the weather, politics and their neighbors.
As time went on, the people in Mountain Grove started shifting from sharing the latest news and rumors from the local diner to a social media Web site called Topix.
Apparently, using the Topix website one can write and read negative posts about one another and remain anonymous.
Topix users can use fake names.
According to the waitress at the diner, this website has provoked fights and has caused divorces.
The owner of the diner called the website, Topix, a cesspool of character assassination.
Some people have actually moved away from Mountain Grove to escape the slander.
When medieval monks compiled a list of the 7 deadly sins, they included pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and laziness.
Conspicuously absent from that list was the sin of slander.
Apparently, slander did not rank very high on their list of sins.
I’m afraid that if we were to make a list today of the most serious sins, slander, just as in medieval times, would not rank very high.
In fact, slander is so widespread in our society that we have learned to live with it.
Despite our casual attitude toward the sin of slander, it remains as a particularly destructive sin.
In the 1828 edition of his dictionary, Noah Webster defined slander in this way:
“A false tale or report maliciously uttered, and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens, by exposing him to impeachment and punishment, or by impairing his means of living.”
Slander strikes at people’s dignity, defames their character, and destroys their reputation.
One’s reputation is one of the most valuable earthly assets one can have.
Proverbs 22:1 = A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (NIV)
Our civil laws recognize the harm that slander can bring.
The laws in our land do allow those whose good name has been slandered to sue for defamation of character.
Most sins require a particular set of circumstances before they can be committed.
The only thing required for slander is a malicious tongue driven by hatred or jealousy.
Because it easy to commit slander, it is widespread.
David in the Old Testament knew what it felt like to be slandered.
In Psalm 41:7 = All my enemies whisper together against me; they imagine the worst for me . . .
In another Psalm, David wrote: With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. Psalm 109:3 NIV
The Bible has much to say about slander.
The Old Testament condemns the sin of slandering God or men and women more often than any other sin.
In Psalm 15 we see that the mark of a Godly person is that he or she does not slander.
Psalm 15:1-3 = Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue. . .
The New Testament also condemns slander.
Jesus said: . . . out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’ . . .
Matthew 15:19 NIV
The Apostle Paul wrote this in Ephesians 4:31: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
The Bible gives many illustrations of slander.
In Genesis 31:1, Laban’s sons slandered Jacob by saying: “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.”
And then in the next verse, we read the following: And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.
Slander against someone does affect what people will think about the person being slandered.
In this case, God intervened and moved Jacob out of that situation.
Another example is Saul’s servant Ziba.
Saul’s conniving servant Ziba slandered Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth to David, falsely accusing him of plotting to overthrow David’s throne, a charge that Mephibosheth strongly denied. (2 Samuel 16:3; 19:25-27)
Another example is the wicked queen Jezebel.
At the instigation of Queen Jezebel, two worthless men slandered righteous Naboth, bringing about his execution.
(I Kings 21:13)
One of the most striking illustrations of the catastrophic damage the sin of slander can cause is found in David’s war with the Ammonites and their Aramean allies.
This war involved several nations resulting in more than 40,000 deaths on the losing side alone.
This war was brought about by the Ammonites’ slanderous lies about David.
Slander originated in the Garden of Eden, carried out by Satan.
It is interesting that Satan’s other common title, the devil, means “slanderer”.
The key to Satan’s successful temptation of Eve was his slanderous misrepresentations of God’s character and motives.
There are some things we can do to avoid slander.
We can avoid slander by examining:
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. (James 4:11a,b)
To slander is to make false charges or misrepresentations that damage a person’s reputation.
The Greek word that is translated “slander” in v.11 is actually a broader term.
It is saying “Do not speak against one another.”
Don’t bad-mouth each other.
What is being said may be true in its content but the way in which it is being said may be harsh and unkind.
The grammatical construction of this statement in the Greek indicates that speaking against one another was an existing problem at the time the book of James was written.
The audience to which this letter was originally addressed had fallen into the habit of criticizing one another.
So James writes “Do not slander one another” or “Do not speak against one another.”
The reason he gives is that the one who criticizes or judges his brother “speaks against the law and judges it.”
The law referred to is probably the command of Leviticus 19:18: Love your neighbor as yourself.
The word “brothers” in verse 11 in our text reminds us of the family relationship we share with other Christians.
Slander is just the opposite of what is expected and acceptable in a family, whose members are to love, support, and protect each other.
Christians should not be surprised when slandered by those outside the church.
But slander within the church is unacceptable.
Paul wrote this to the Christians in Galatia:
If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 5:15 NIV
Closely associated with the sin of slander is that of being judgmental.
James writes: Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.
After cautioning his readers not to speak against one another, James warns the one who is judging to stop.
When James speaks of judging here, he is not referring to evaluation.
He is referring to condemnation.
What we have here in James reflects what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5.
This passage in Matthew and the passage in James we are looking at today may be the most familiar, the most misunderstood, the most misapplied passages in the Bible.
Part of the problem is deciding what we mean by judging.
In both Greek and English, the word has a multitude of meanings.
Sometimes it means a simple evaluation.
Sometimes it means censorship.
Sometimes it means condemnation.
Is Jesus saying it’s wrong to judge a cake-baking contest?
Or a talent competition?
Is it unChristian to give a recommendation for a student who wants to go to college?
Is it sin to evaluate someone who applies for a job?
Are employers wrong in giving their employees job reviews?
What did Jesus mean when He said “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
MOTIVE is the key to understanding what it means to judge.
Why do we judge someone?
Do we do it because we want God’s best for that person or because it will elevate our position?
When Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”, He was saying that as His followers we must not have a spirit of condemnation toward other people.
We are not to have a spirit of harsh criticism, a spirit that puts other people down.
The Bible also forbids hasty judgments that do not have full knowledge of the heart of an individual.
It is so important to get all the facts before evaluating any person or situation.
Proverbs 18:13 = He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.
Things are not always what they appear to be.
The bottom line in this area of judging others is the question “Why am I doing it?”
“What is my motive?”
Am I doing it to make myself look better or am I doing it because I sincerely want to help that person?
Fellow believers are people for whom Christ died, who are loved by God and with whom we will spend eternity in heaven.
We need to honor, love, respect and protect them.
We can also avoid slander by examining:
Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (James 4:11b,c)
Since loving others is the heart of the law and slander is failing to love others, slander, therefore, is a violation of the law.
Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
God gave His law to teach people to love Him and their fellow human beings.
James, then, does not condemn slander only as a violation of basic human kindness.
Slander is a violation of God’s holy law.
To speak against our neighbor is to violate this law.
The person who does so places himself above the law.
By placing himself above the law, through his action, he is declaring that law to be a bad law or an unnecessary law.
Rather than submitting to it and keeping it, he passes judgment on its validity and sets it aside.
We can also avoid slander by examining:
III. What we think of God.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. (James 4:12a)
By placing himself above the law, the one who slanders also attempts to place himself above the only true Lawgiver and Judge, which is God Himself.
This is the same foolish mistake that Satan made.
Satan tried to usurp God’s throne and authority.
Satan’s five “I wills” in Isaiah 14:13,14 express his desire for the place of supremacy:
The desire to usurp the place of God is the essence of sin.
Sin seeks to dethrone God.
Sin seeks to remove Him as supreme Lawgiver and Judge and rule in His place.
Sin is ultimately against God.
James goes on to say in v.12 that God is able to save and destroy.
God is able to save those who place their faith and trust in Christ.
And He is able to destroy unrepentant sinners.
That is how He applies His law.
The angel told Joseph that Jesus would save His people from their sins.
Jesus Himself described His mission as “to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Paul wrote that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
But God will destroy those who refuse to repent.
Destroy is translated from a Greek word which refers to eternal destruction in hell.
Destroy in this case does not refer to annihilation.
Destroy does not mean to eliminate.
It is not speaking of making one extinct.
It refers to ongoing suffering.
Matthew 25:46 describes it as eternal punishment.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 tells us this about those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus:
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
Everlasting means ongoing.
We can also avoid slander by examining:
But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?
James 4:12b NIV
The writer James, in a very blunt way, crushes any right his readers may have claimed to sit in judgment over their neighbors.
This does not rule out civil courts and judges.
Instead, this warning seeks to eliminate the harsh, unkind, critical spirit that continually finds fault with others.
What James is saying is “Who in the world do you think you are, sitting in condemnation over someone else?”
In Romans 12:3, we read . . . Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought . . .
In the fall you will see geese heading south for the winter, flying in V formation.
Science has discovered why they fly that way.
It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplifting current of air for the bird directly behind it.
By flying in V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation.
The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
When a goose gets sick or is wounded by a shot and falls, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him.
They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead.
Then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group.
When the church is flying in formation, much can be accomplished.
Judging and slander keep the church from flying in formation.
Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
To be the church that God calls us to be, we need to fly in formation.
To do that we need to examine what we think of others,
What we think of the law,
What we think of God,
What we think of ourselves.