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"Speak No Evil"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
September 24, 2003
There are certain sins that we as Christians have no difficulty recognizing
as evil. In this morning's text, we find a sin being described that the
Bible condemns in terms as unambiguously or unsparingly as it describes
any other; but we as Christians typically react to this particular sin
in a far different spirit from the way we react to others. This is a sin
that we tend not to think of as being 'quite so bad'. It doesn't bother
us to find this sin in our midst quite as much as it does to find others.
In fact, it's a sin we enjoy (Proverbs 18:8, 26:22). It's the sin of speaking
evil of one another.
James' connection with the previous passage is that of pride; and pride
is at the root of this sin. Think for a moment why we deliberately set
out to speak evil of other people, and you'll see that such an action
is always rooted in prideful desire to elevate or advance our self in
a. We speak evil of someone in order to take revenge on them.
b. We speak evil of someone because we're envious of them.
c. We speak evil of someone out of self-seeking motives, in order
to gain some advantage over them.
d. We speak evil of someone out of a prideful desire to be an 'interesting
And so, we see that James' subject in this passage has a natural connection
with his theme in the previous passage. The sort of pride James had addressed
in the previous verses is at the root of gossip and slander.
This verse tells us what we do whenever we engage in evil speaking with
respect to a fellow believer ...
I. WE MAKE OURSELVES OUT TO BE AGAINST OUR BROTHER (v. 11a).
"Do not speak evil of one another, brethren ..."
A. James establishes our family relationship with each other
as Christians, "brothers" (and he uses the word for "brothers" three
times in verse 11 alone!) This is James' favorite word for his readers
in this letter. When he uses it, he reminds us that we have a common
Father (in the Person of the God who adopted us), a common Brother (in
the Person of Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son), and a common kinship
(in that we are brought together into God's family as His children).
B. Think of the forms that evil-speaking" can take toward one another:
1. Propagation of an outright lie about someone else.
2. Manipulating the telling of a truth into a lie (Genesis 3:5).
3. Hastily sharing something as true before we've really investigated
4. Sharing something that is in fact true and investigated, but
sharing it needlessly.
C. These are behaviors that are typical of the devil himself. He
lies (John 8:44), spins the truth (Gen. 3:5), and eagerly and continually
accuses the brethren (Rev. 12:10). How evil, then, for us to speak
evil of one another!
II. WE MAKE OURSELVES OUT TO BE ABOVE GOD'S LAW (v. 11b).
"He who speaks evil of a brother and judges a brother, speaks evil
of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not
a doer of the law but a judge of it."
A. James here draws upon Jesus' principle in Matthew 7:1;
"Judge not, that you be not judged." What Jesus meant - and what James
meant as well - was that we're not to judge the motives and character
of people in a way that's somehow distinct from God's commandments and
instructions, or somehow apart from any clear evidence of sin.
B. Why does James say that speaking against a brother or judging
a brother is tantamount to speaking against and judging the law? It's
because of two things:
1. When we speak against a brother, we are ourselves directly
breaking God's law (Lev. 19:16-18). Clearly, whenever anyone speaks
against his brother or judging his brother in the way that Jesus meant
(and that James says to stop doing), such a person is breaking this
primary commandment from God.
2. When we determine to speak against a brother or judge a brother
in this way, we are, in essence, telling God that His laws aren't
sufficient enough. We are presuming to know how to modify God's
for living and make them even better! We are actually claiming have
a better standard of judging people than God does!! And when we
judge our brother, we are sitting in judgment of God's law. And
when we willfully sit in judgment of God's law, we are not, ourselves,
doing it and are arrogantly unsubmitted to it (1:22).
III. WE MAKE OURSELVES OUT TO BE IN CHRIST'S PLACE (v. 12).
"There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who
are you to judge another?"
A. When we speak against our brother, we presume to be his
judge; and when we presume this, we are actually making ourselves out
to be in the place and authority of the One true Judge - Christ Himself!
We make ourselves out to be in the place that only Christ has the right
to occupy! (Deuteronomy 32:39; Matthew 10:28; 28:18; Acts 17:30-31).
B. Only Jesus - the God-Man - is qualified to be the judge of people:
1. He alone has full wisdom and insight into the thoughts
and motives of people (1 Sam. 16:7).
2. He alone knows how to deal with the sin of our brother in a
way that is perfectly balanced with justice and mercy (Ex. 34:6-7).
3. He willingly gave Himself as the sacrifice for sins on His
cross, and alone paid the full penalty for the sins of our brother
- making Him alone qualified to declare anyone who trusts in Him
"uncondemned" whenever a charge is brought against him (Rom. 8:33-34).
C. James' literal words in the Greek are emphatic: "But you - who
are you [who are] judging the neighbor?"
1. This reminds us once again of the great sin of Lucifer
(Isaiah 14:12-14). When we presume to be the judge of our brother,
we are behaving like Satan. We are, in essence, pridefully saying,
"I will create the standard of right and wrong for other men. I will
seat myself above the law of God. I will sit in the judgment seat
against my brother. I will make myself like the Most High!"
2. Walter Trobisch once said, "Every negative remark about someone
is a prayer to the devil, . . . and is fulfilled immediately." Did
you know that the root meaning of the Greek word for "devil" (diabolos)
is "the slanderer"? And when we are pridefully unsubmitted to God,
James tells us that we are in 'cahoots' with the devil himself.
* * * * * * * * * *
What should we do about this sinful tendency in us? First, we should
repent of the sin of gossip and slander. We must stop doing it. In the
grammar of the original Greek, James is literally saying, "Stop speaking
against one another, my brethren. He is assuming that it's going on already,
and commands that it stop. We need to ask God to show us where we have
offended Him and injured others in this sin; and allow His Holy Spirit
to apply His conviction to us in this area.
Second, we need to gently and lovingly - but firmly - confront it when
we see others doing it. When we hear open slander, we need to say, "I'm
sorry, but I must excuse myself from this kind of a conversation." Or,
when we hear gossip being shared with us about someone else, we need to
ask, "Have you discussed this matter with them yet?" (That question usually
puts and end to it!)
Third, as we look at the evil of this sin, we need to replace this practice
with what God would have us do instead. It helps to look at Jesus. As
God in human flesh, Jesus had more knowledge of people's personal 'dirty
laundry' than anyone. He displayed that He was intimately aware of even
the inner-most thoughts and private actions of the people He was in contact
with (e.g., Matthew 9:4; 12:24-25; John 1:48; 4:17-19, 29). He, as John
said, "knew all men" (John 2:24-25). And yet, nowhere do we find Him gossiping
or slandering specific people - not even His enemies. We find that He
grew up increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men
(Luke 2:52); and that people were wondering at the gracious words which
were falling from His lips (Luke 4:22); and that He was characterized
by a perfect balance - "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Even while
on the cross, surrounded by evil, wicked mockers, He didn't rail back
at His enemies - but simply prayed for them (Luke 23:34).
When we consider how the Son of God restrained Himself from speaking
evil of people, it puts us - who say we're His followers - to shame (Psalm
15:1-3; 50:16-20; Romans 1:28-32; 2 Cor. 12:20). May God make us more