What does it mean to speak evil against someone?
Let me get specific.
We speak against others when we speak words that are intended to hurt not to help.
When you speak against someone your words are like soldiers that you send out to do war. The term James uses here literally means to speak down on. When you speak down on someone what are you doing? You are speaking to crush them, to hurt them, to punish them, to pummel them, to put them in their place. Why do you do that? At that point, your words certainly aren’t motivated by love. 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, that we are doing just what James forbids.
We speak against others when we speak words that are produced by pride not humility.
Notice in the second part of verse 11 James expands his thought. “He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother…” This is basically the same activity just viewed from a different angle.
When we speak against others we are setting ourselves up as their judge. 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.
Some people get a little confused here, and they use these verses as an excuse.
Somebody confronts them in their sin and they say you know who are you to judge me, who are you to speak against me? That’s not the kind of speech James is talking about here. That’s taking this verse way out of context.
It’s not wrong for us to confront someone in their sin. We’re commanded to. You look over at Galatians 6, “Brethren even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted.” It’s kind of hard to do that without words. God’s not calling us to be namby-pamby, to be 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 to when appropriate use some strong language. If you flip back to 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…” You can’t say anything much stronger than that.
No, 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.
You know, we can get specific, and we should get very specific about exactly how we do this, but first we’ve got to start out in a very general way and just look at what motivates our words.
That’s really the issue here.
Next time you find yourself talking about people or talking to people, I just beg you, ask yourself, why am I saying what I’m saying?
First, is it even true? Or am I just assuming? And then even beyond that, what’s the point? Why am I talking about this? What is it that is motivating my speech?
To get a little more specific, sometimes we speak against others by lying about them.
As Exodus 20 puts it, we bear false witness. We say things that aren’t true. 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.
You wouldn’t think we’d have to point this out in church, but guys, the Bible makes it clear God does not want us to say things that aren’t true about others. That’s sin. And we do it all the time.
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.
But slander’s not just lying.
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. That too is slander.
This is such a powerful temptation. You’ve got to recognize that.
You know it must be a powerful temptation because there are at least three shows on television devoted to doing just this about celebrities. Britney Spears smoked a cigarette in Mexico, we’ve got pictures, whoo, come find out. And people just eat that stuff up. We love gossip.
But, God hates it.
As John MacArthur explains, “The Old Testament denounces the sin of slandering God or men more often than it does any other sin. In Leviticus 19:16, God commands His people, ‘You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people.’ It is the mark of a godly man that ‘he does not slander with his tongue;'(Ps.15:3) it is the mark of the wicked that they do slander others; (Ps.50:19-20; Jer.6:28; 9:4; Rom.1:30). The seriousness of slander caused David to vow, ‘Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor him I will destroy’ (Ps.101:5), and to pray, ‘May a slanderer not be established in the earth’ (Ps.140:11). Solomon wisely counseled against associating with a slanderer. (Prov.20:19) The New Testament also condemns slander. The Lord Jesus identified its source as an evil heart. (Mt.15:19) and taught that it defiles a person. (Mt.15:20) Paul feared that he would find slander among the Corinthians when he visited them (2 Cor.12:20) and he commanded the Ephesians (Eph.4:31) and the Colossians (Col.3:8) to avoid it. Peter also exhorted his readers not to slander others. (1 Peter 2:1)”
Gossip might taste sweet, but God says it is a poison.
A sweet, sweet poison.
Sometimes we speak against others by just being hypercritical. That’s what’s implicit 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.
I heard a story about David Simmons, “a former cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys which illustrates this kind of speech. His father, a military man, was extremely demanding, rarely saying a kind word, always pushing him with harsh criticism to do better. The father had decided that he would never permit his son to feel any satisfaction from his accomplishments, reminding him there were always new goals ahead. When Dave was a little boy, his dad gave him a bicycle, unassembled, with the command that he put it together. After Dave struggled to the point of tears with the difficult instructions and many parts, his father said, “I knew you couldn’t do it.” Then he assembled it for him. When Dave played football in high school, his father was unrelenting in his criticisms. In the backyard of his home, after every game, his dad would go over every play and point out Dave’s errors. “Most boys got butterflies in the stomach before the game; I got them afterwards. Facing my father was more stressful than facing any opposing team.” By the time he entered college, Dave hated his father and his harsh discipline. He chose to play football at the University of Georgia because its campus was further from home than any school that offered him a scholarship. After college, he became the second round draft pick of the St. Louis cardinal’s professional football club. Joe Namath (who later signed with the New York Jets), was the club’s first round pick that year. “Excited, “I telephoned my father to tell him the good news. He said, ‘How does it feel to be second?'”
We may not be that extreme.
But we do have to be honest, and recognize that for many of us it is easier to constantly be criticizing others than actually try to help them and encourage them and build them up.
Our words have power.
They can either build others up or they can tear them down. God doesn’t want us to use our words to tear others down.
That’s why James writes, “Do not speak against one another, brothers…”