On Not Speaking Against Others

6 Jan

James tells us, “Do not speak against one another brothers…” (4:11)

What does he mean?

We speak against others when we speak words that are intended to hurt not to help.

When our words are motivated by hatred instead of love, when our words are motivated by a desire to tear others down instead of a desire to build them up, when they are motivated by a desire to hurt others not to help them, we can know for sure, we are doing just what James forbids.

We speak against others when we speak words that are produced by pride not humility.

In the second part of James 4:11, he expands his thought. “He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother…”

James is not talking about evaluating someone, he’s talking about condemning them. He’s talking about the kind of speech that flows out of a heart that is filled with pride, that comes from a person who is looking down on others, and thinks that he has the right to make disparaging comments about them because he is so much better than they are.

It’s not wrong to confront someone in their sin. We’re commanded to. God’s not calling us to be namby-pamby, spiritual “Barney’s” just going around with plastic smiles on our faces ignoring reality. It’s not even wrong to be passionate about the way we confront and when appropriate to use some strong language. If you look at Matthew 3 you see John the Baptist confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees, verse 7, “You brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the wrath to come…” Or you look at Paul in Galatians 3, and he writes, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…” Or over in Philippians 3:2, he’s warning the church about a certain group of men and he says, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision…” That’s passionate, strong language. Jesus Himself, who is perfect, confronts Peter and says “Get behind me Satan…”

When James talks about not speaking against others, and not judging others he’s not talking about lovingly dealing with someone’s sin; he’s not talking about closing your eyes to reality; he’s not talking about humbly going to someone and dealing with an issue. Really, at a fundamental level, he’s talking about selfish speech, speech that has one purpose, to make you look good and to make others look bad, speech that is motivated by selfishness, not selflessness, characterized by pride not humility.

To get a little more specific, sometimes we speak against others by lying about them. That’s actually how Noah Webster defines slander. He says it is 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…” A story that makes someone look bad.

Sometimes we do it in very blatant ways. We say things that we know aren’t true about other people just because we want to make them look bad. But most of the time, we’re not so obvious about it. We say things we don’t know are true about others just because we enjoy looking like we know something important. We’re quick to pass on that word of gossip. We hear something negative about someone, and what’s the first thing we do? Do we go to that person to find out the truth, to see if we can help? Do we get on our knees and pray for that person? No, we go out and we talk about it. We spread the word. And it could be we are just flat out lying because we’ve never taken the time to figure out the truth. Sometimes we just exaggerate a person’s faults. We paint a caricature of them.

A lot of times a spouse will do this. They’ll be talking with their friends about their husband or wife, and they will keep emphasizing their spouse’s bad qualities – and don’t tell their friends the whole story. Or sometimes when someone does something to hurt us, we’ll run and tell others about it. And we keep talking about the way they hurt us, only to find out later that we didn’t know the whole story, and they had a reason for saying what they said, or doing what they did. We just didn’t know it. And so we went out and lied. We slandered them.

Sometimes we speak against others by saying things that are true about them behind their backs for no other reason than just to put them down.

Sometimes we speak against others by just being hypercritical. That’s what’s implicit here when James talks about judging people. He’s talking about finding fault with others, constantly putting people down. We don’t just do that behind people’s backs, sometimes we do that right to their faces. Nitpicking at everything that person does. Whatever they do, it’s not good enough for you. Constantly standing in judgment on people.

The way we speak to one another matters. Our words have power. They can either build others up or they can tear them down. “Do not speak against one another, brothers…”

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