SCRIPTURE: James 4:11-12, NLT
11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. 12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
I also like the NCV on this text…11 Brothers and sisters, do not tell evil lies about each other. If you speak against your fellow believers or judge them, you are judging and speaking against the law they follow. And when you are judging the law, you are no longer a follower of the law. You have become a judge. 12 God is the only Lawmaker and Judge. He is the only One who can save and destroy. So it is not right for you to judge your neighbor.
First of all, I want to make a confession. In my study, preparation and preaching of this series in James, every passage has been convicting. When I started previewing these two verses, I hung my head in shame. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am guilty of judging others. When we speak evil of another brother, we make ourselves Judge and Jury. In so doing we become law breakers instead of obeying the law ourselves. We assume a responsibility that God has not given us. It becomes a sin of arrogance and presumption. We did not create the law: there is one law giver and that is God. We are under the law the same as everyone else. We put ourselves above the law when we judge.
In preparing the message, I noticed something as I was reading a new translation that I got last week: Whereas I have separated verses 7-10 from 11-12, I now see a connection. I spoke to you last week about four admonitions but there are more, many more in this passage.
- Don’t flirt with the world
- Don’t give in to pride: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves!
- Don’t compromise with the devil: resist him and he will flee from you.
- Don’t dabble in sin: confess and repent of sin. Wash your hand you sinners.
- Don’t carry a hidden agenda: purify your motives. Don’t be hypocritical and double-minded.
- Don’t make light of sin: there should be tear, sorrow and deep grief about your sin and those that are hurting others.
- Don’t exalt yourself: humble yourself and let God do the exalting.
- Don’t speak evil against each other dear brothers and sisters.
- Don’t criticize or judge each other.
- Don’t assume God’s responsibilities: its His responsibility to judge, nor ours.
There are three things I want to point out about tonight’s text:
I. I WANT TO LOOK AT THE WORD TRANSLATED ‘SPEAK AGAINST’ OR ‘SPEAK EVIL’.
- NASB– Do not speak against one another
- NLT–Don’t speak evil against each other
- NCV–Don’t tell lies about each other
- VOICE–Don’t assault each other with criticism
- NIV–Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.
- MSG– Don’t bad-mouth each other
- HSCB–Don’t criticize each other
The Greek word is katalaleō to speak against one, to criminate, traduce. To traduce is to speak maliciously and falsely of; slander; defame: to traduce someone’s character. It is a compound word coming from kata [against] and laleō to speak. You can see why the NIV translated it slander.
William Barclay says that katalaleō means to speak evil of someone else in that person’s absence, to criticize, to insult, to slander someone who is not present to defend themselves. It was this very thing that the writer of Psalm 50 was addressing…
The heavens proclaim that God is righteous, that he himself is Judge…..
19 “You are always ready to speak evil;
you never hesitate to tell lies.
20 You are ready to accuse your own relatives
and to find fault with them.
21 You have done all this, and I have said nothing,
so you thought that I am like you.
But now I reprimand you
and make the matter plain to you.
There is a very interesting verse in Psalm 101:5…Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy;
No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure. [NASB] In 1 Peter 2:1, we have another strong admonition….Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander [katalaleō].
There is a point to all this scripture–the sin of slander, malicious gossip is condemned in scripture and carries very strong warnings. We would do well to remember what God things of slander and gossip. My advice, when you find yourself in one of these small groups that meet secretly to discuss things that are not their responsibility is to either rebuke them or get away from them. God does not take lightly the evil of destroying another person’s reputation.
II. THE SECOND THING I CALL TO YOUR ATTENTION IS RATHER OBVIOUS: JAMES IS ADDRESSING BELIEVERS
Verse 11…Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law.
We would expect the world to operate like carnivores but not the church. Again, I want to point out that 99% of our problems go back to verses 1-2…What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.
The word envious in NASB is the Greek word zēloō which means to burn with zeal, to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, or anger. It is translated most often as jealous. We don’t here it confessed but it is a huge problem in the church and the source of evil speaking.
As I said up top, this passage convicts and frighten me because I am guilty of judging others and of being too critical. At the same time, I have been the victim of slander on more than one occasion and I am telling you from my own experience that it hurts deeply. Don’t be naive, lies are powerful. The mess we are in today goes back to a lie told some 6,000 years ago. Hitler used the lie; he believed in propaganda just like the democratic party of today. Everyone knew that Bill Clinton was a liar and yet many professed believers voted for him. Sometimes we had rather hear a lie than the truth. Penny told me Sunday, “Bro. Jack, you are losing weight–your getting thin.” Ruth overheard what she said and she chimes in…”He is not skinny, he is fat–look at that gut.” Someone got on to her and she said, “Well, he looks pretty good to be his age.” Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth.
Almost 40 years ago, I was in another place serving a small rural church just outside a very small town. I had become friends with some of the pastors in the area and one is particular was doing a very good work. He had taken an old traditional church and revitalized it to the point they had outgrown their space. So they got into a building program and ended up with the nicest building in town. As a part of their growth, the church hired a secretary. They made a critical error in allowing members to fill out applications for the job and it boiled down to two women in the church. This thing had disaster written all over it. Of course one got the job and the other did not. About a year later, a vicious rumor spreads like a fire that the pastor and the new secretary were doing more than taking notes. It was hotter than the soup opera’s, practically everyone was talking about it. I wasn’t one of them; in spite of my youth, I understood there are two sides to everything and this is something you do not discuss unless you have proof and even then you discuss it with the right people.
The pastor called me and asked me to come to his office. He told me the entire thing, not about hiring the secretary but about the rumor. He was heart broken and ready to through in the towel. He was 15 years my senior but I advised him not to resign. I asked him how he found out about the rumor. He said a friend told him. I said, “go to the friend and find out who told him, then go to that person and find out who told them, keep doing this until you find the source.” He took the advice and began tracing the rumor. Guest where he landed, on the door step of the woman who did not get the job. She got even with both parties with one malicious rumor. There is some good news: guilt was eating her alive and she confessed and not just to the preacher but to the church. He did not resign but things were never the same afterwards. A traducer is the master of innuendo. They know how to plant doubt in your mind. When the truth comes out, it does not remove all the doubt. The man’s reputation was damaged.
I had rather a person kill me as to defame my character. I’m not leaving wealth behind but I want my kids and grandkids to have good memories. They think I am an honest man and I want to keep it that way. If someone were to destroy their image of me with a malicious lie, it would be worse than death.
You’ve all heard the story of Naboth. Ahab wanted his vineyard and Naboth would not sale. Naboth was an upstanding man in the community but wicked Jezebel organized a plot based on the lie that Naboth had blasphemed God and the King and he was stoned to death. The poor man didn’t even know why he died. They asked him to come so they could honor him and then they murdered a good man and then stole his property. Don’t underestimate the power of a lie nor the judgment that is coming on those who defame and destroy others with the lie.
III. THE THIRD THINGS THAT I DO NOT WISH TO POINT OUT BUT MUST IS THE PROHIBITION NOT TO JUDGE.
12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
It is never wise for us to assume a undeligated responsibility: it always leads to added stress and worry. The think about judging others is…
- We are flawed ourselves: as my mother would say, “People who live in glass houses don’t need to throw rocks.” If I have time to find fault with you; it might inspire you to work a little overtime looking into my life. Remember Jimmy Swaggart: he hired a PI to dig up dirt on a competitor and then his competitor did the same.
- Only God has the facts. We do not know background, motives or all the details. We are just not in a position to judge.
- God is the Judge. When we assume the role, it is a slap in His face. It is the same as saying, “LORD, you need a little help. You are not doing this the right way. I’m going to show you how to do it.” I love James Russell Lowell’s poem… “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
I think we have the same problem with justice that we do with answered prayer: we want an immediate response on both and God does not work in this way. One of the greatest Christian virtues is to ‘Wait upon the LORD.” He will do it in His time and His way and it will not be anything that we have imagined or envisioned.