Nothing destroys a Christian's faith faster than his own tongue. James, therefore, spends two out of the five chapters of his epistle dealing with the sins of the tongue and the damage created by these. Before, he talked about teachers and the heavenly or earthly source of the wisdom that guided their speech. Now, in chapter 4, he will address the sin of gossip that affects everyone, not only teachers.
Do Not Speak Badly About Others
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law;
- James 4:11a
There are many forms of gossip and speaking against another that take place in the church. For example, when we share our opinion with others about someone's perceived failings based on our particular assessment of their conduct. We notice, point this out and share this weakness with as many who will listen and agree. Sometimes it may be even be an imaginary thing that we assume they do, think, say or have overheard about them.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
- Luke 6:45
This sin is called slander or gossip. The real problem here is not with our tongues but with our hearts.
There are other versions of this evil. For example, when someone else is better than average (or better than we are) at something (more money, looks, opportunity, education, spiritual zeal, etc.) it can trigger a kind of passive-aggressive response where we deliberately reserve our praise, and choose instead to notice a weakness or negative thing which is secondary, and repeat this to others, or we remind everyone how undeserving the other is of their good fortune. Our own pride makes us afraid to admit that they may be better than we are, and so we elevate our personal worth by attempting to lower theirs. Jealousy makes us afraid that they will receive more love than we will because of their superiority in some thing. The antidote to all of this is, of course, love because as the Bible says, "perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). The practice of love negates any fear of not receiving love and dissipates any feelings of jealousy and pride.
Speaking Against a Brother Does Two Things
but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.
- James 4:11b
James declares that if you speak against or judge your brother (same thing) you are speaking and judging the Law itself. He is not referring to civil law or the Ten Commandments here but rather the law of liberty and grace that protects all sinners who rely on Christ for forgiveness and righteousness (James 1:25). This law says that we must love our brothers and forgive them 70 times 7 if necessary (Matthew 18:22). If you speak evil against brothers you speak against this law which protects this brother. You violate this law of love with your judgment.
In other words, you do not do what the law says (love your brother), you have decided to become a judge of the law (you do not agree with this law, you question it and change it), and in so doing remove the grace that protects the other.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy;
- James 4:12a
If you become a judge of the Law you have now taken a position as a lawgiver yourself. James says that you have no right to take this position, only God can be judge over the Law, and here is why:
- Only He has all the facts about a person's history and heart, which gives Him the wisdom to judge.
- Only He is without sin and thus has a right to judge.
- Only He has the power to punish justly and to save eternally.
but who are you who judge your neighbor?
- James 4:12b
Who do you think you are? God? Gossip is a terrible sin because:
- It destroys fellowship, produces arguments and division. Also, it is hard to have fellowship with someone you are speaking against to others.
- It destroys reputations: yours and the other's. Remember that whoever speaks to you against someone else will eventually speak against you to a third party.
- It destroys salvation. We are digging our own graves with our tongues when we gossip and slander.
Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.
- Psalm 101:5
Gossip is a difficult problem and we are all guilty of this sin at some time or another.
A. Learn to Help
If you see legitimate sin or weakness in your brother, love is your plan of action, not gossip. Do not be shocked, do not quit the church, do not snicker and gloat, do not talk against him or her to the others. Follow the biblical plan for dealing with a brother who has stumbled into sin: learn how to help. Paul shows the way in his letter to the Galatians.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;
- Galatians 6:1a
Paul advises that we should help (not gossip against) those who have fallen into sin by restoring them to their original position (of faithfulness and obedience) with gentleness, and without pride or self-righteousness on our part. The word "restore" here is used in a medical sense like the setting of a broken bone. There is no idea of judgment or punishment. There is a time and place to correct, discipline and even rebuke those in sin because of their refusal to repent (refusal to repent is what draws the rebuke), not the fact that they have stumbled into sin. Our first impulse should be to restore gently one who is caught in a trap (i.e. one has been seduced into sinfulness [the trap] and you are gently opening the trap in order to release them).
each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
- Galatians 6:1b
Paul also warns the one who is helping by telling him to keep an eye on his own weakness so that he will avoid the temptation to judge rather than provide assistance. Acknowledging our own weakness gives us the right spirit to deal with another who is caught in sin.
Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
- Galatians 6:2
Find out what you can do to make your brother's load lighter. It is usually easy to see where a person went wrong, what is needed is a solution not a confirmation of failure. Avoid the "I told you so" temptation since this provides no comfort or help. When you decide that you are going to see brother so-and-so about his problem, make sure you bring along your desire to help as well. Instead of thinking and saying, "here is what you need to do" arrive with the words, "what can I do to help?"
3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5For each one will bear his own load.
- Galatians 6:3-5
When you do make a judgment call make sure that you compare yourself to Christ and not to the other person. Compare your work to Christ's work. Compare your righteousness to His. When you do this you will find that you have no reason to boast or be proud, and no reason to despise anyone else for their weakness. Actually, this comparison stimulates thanksgiving and a desire to help others.
All of this does not mean that we cannot correct one who is caught in sin. When this is the situation we must go in order to save their souls. But we should be ready to go with the right attitude, otherwise we do better to remain quiet and mind our own business because we end up doing more harm than good.
When dealing with sinful brothers, instead of slandering them, learn to help them and...
B. Learn How to be Lifted Up
If you humble yourself, God will exalt you and you will not have to do it by speaking against others. Much evil communication is the result of frustration. We do not like ourselves, our progress, etc. and so we bring others down to a point where we actually start to look good in comparison to them. When we get in the habit of lifting others up through gracious words and kind acts, we will like ourselves more and be less tempted to speak against others.
C. Learn to be Like Jesus
When offended, gossiped against and unjustly treated, say nothing and leave the judgment and condemnation to God.
21For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
- I Peter 2:21-23
This exhortation does not mean that when we are improperly treated or spoken against that we walk off in a huff or refuse to interact with the other (silent treatment). The Christ-like response is to say or do nothing evil, and continue to do and say good things to the other person. You will either win them over in this world or provide a sure witness for their guilt in the next.
Talking against brethren is a major problem in the church. We sin when we do this because we refuse to put God's law of love and forgiveness into practice, and substitute our law of judgment and condemnation for it. The solution to overcome this problem:
- Learn how to approach a person who is in sin with a gentle, humble and empathetic attitude.
- Learn to raise our own self-esteem through love and service rather than through criticism. Gossip and constant criticism produces a vicious cycle where the more you criticize, the less you love, and the less you love, the more you criticize, etc.
- Learn to say nothing, and continue to do good when persecuted, slighted or humiliated, as Jesus did.
David reminds us of how wonderful good fellowship among the brethren can be:
1Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! 2It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron's beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. 3It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.
- Psalms 133:1-3
Peace among brethren is not only a delight but a sign of total blessedness within the assembly. It is like a perfume that fills the body at every point so that wherever you are and whoever you are with, you can sense its gentle fragrance. Do not, therefore, be the one to spoil the peace within the body through evil communication and criticism. Let there be peace, unity and brotherly love among us at all times and in every place.