Brad Libolt speaking on James 4:11-12. He spoke about slander and how it effects the way we view ourselves, others, the Law and God.
- In 2 Samuel chapter 2 there is a story of David and the Ammonites. The Ammonites were famous enemies of Israel. They were always fighting against each other, and this chapter tells of another war between the two. What is interesting about this story and what I want to draw our attention to is how it started.
- The king of the Ammonites died, and so his son Hanun took his place. When David heard about this he decided to show the new king some kindness, so he sent some servants with gifts to console Hanun about the death of his father. But when the servants got to Ammon, some princes lied to Hanun, and told them that David’s intentions were evil. They told him that instead of David being kind, like he intended, the servants told Hanun that David was there to spy out the land and plan an attack. Hanun believed the lies of the princes and shaved off the beards of David’s servants and cut their pants off. So David’s servants come back humiliated, and because this is a lie about David’s character, he isn’t too happy. The Ammonites see that David is angry, so they hire mercenaries and create a huge army. The army comes to Jerusalem to fight the Israelites and Israel kicks major butt. It says that the Syrians who were with the Ammonites lost 700 chariots and 40,000 horseman. In the end, the Ammonites and Syrians lost around 50,000 men and became subject to the Israelites, all because of a lie. It was all because the Ammonite princes spoke evil of David.
- This kind of lying is called slander. It is when you maliciously say something false about someone else to damage their reputation. The princes of Ammon told a lie about David’s character and his reputation and what resulted was a violent, bloody war where tens of thousands of people lost their lives.
- Nothing good ever comes from slander. There are multiple stories throughout Scripture of people slandering, and there are also numerous times when slander is mentioned as a detestable sin.
- Perhaps the worst case of slander not only in the Bible but in the entirety of history was at the death of Jesus. When Jesus was on trial before the council Mark says that they couldn’t find anyone to testify against him, so they used false witnesses to make claims against Jesus that weren’t true. The witnesses at the trial of Jesus lied about his character and reputation, and what resulted was the death of God’s own son, the savior of the world.
- Slander should be taken very seriously. We have talked a lot about the power of our words, and how we should speak to and about others. James has a lot to say about slander in these two verses, and he tells us a lot about sin in general in the process.
- It is very clear in the first sentence what James wants his readers to do. Do not slander. What James also does is tell us why we shouldn’t slander and how we can keep ourselves from slandering.
“11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
- James is straightforward that we shouldn’t speak evil against one another. So how do we do this? When we are speaking evil about other people, it is not merely a problem of what we say but what’s in our heart. The key isn’t to just watch what we say, but what we see.
- There are four things that James points out in these two verses. Four things that we view wrongly when we slander, and when we fall into any other kind of sin. Notice what word comes up three times in the first couple sentences: brothers.
- The first thing we view wrongly is other people. When we slander, we have a wrong view of others. James wants us to see those around us as brothers. If we view each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, then we view each other as children of God. It is clear throughout Scripture how God views his children. In Isaiah 43 we get a beautiful picture of how God views his children. He says they are precious and loved, he will do anything, give up anything to have them come to him. He will bring them from afar, from the very corners of the earth, because he loves them. God would do anything for his children. Then In Matthew 18 Jesus says that it would be better for someone to have a millstone tied on their neck and be thrown into the sea than for them to offend one of his children. God cares so much about his children, and Jesus is saying that it would be better for someone to die a horrible, slow, painful death than for them to offend one of his children. Jesus also says that if we receive one of God’s children we receive him, and likewise if we reject one of God’s children we reject him. So when we offend or speak evil against brothers and sisters in Christ, we are offending and speaking evil against Christ. When we gossip or talk bad about or lie about a brother or sister in Christ, we are gossiping, talking bad about, and lying about Christ. We have to see one another for who we truly are, children of God. Children of a God who loves and cares for us so deeply, that he would never want to see us lying about or to each other, bringing each other down. When we see other people the way God sees them, the harder it is to speak evil of them.
- The next thing he wants us to view correctly is the law. James says that the one who speaks against a brother or judges a brother also speaks evil against the law and judges the law. So think about the law. In the Old Testament the law was given to the Israelites, and there were hundreds of specific laws that the people had to follow. Then in the New Testament, we know that the fulfillment of the law, the law summed up by Jesus, is to love God and love our neighbors. So the law is a law of love: loving God and loving others. So if we are speaking evil against our brothers or condemning them then we are not loving them. We are breaking the law because we aren’t loving our neighbor. So if we are breaking the law, we are disregarding it, we are saying we don’t need it. We are saying we are above the law. If we don’t love people we don’t love the law. If we speak evil against people we speak evil against the law. And the law was put in place by God. God has given us the law, he is the one that tells us to love him and our neighbor. So if we are saying we don’t need the law, we are disregarding the law, we don’t love the law, then we are disregarding God. We are saying we don’t need God. We don’t love God.
- So the next thing we need to view rightly is God. If you judge the law, and you judge the law by judging people, then you are no longer a doer of the law but a judge. So think about it, if you aren’t doing the law, then you become the judge. You become above the law, the one who determines what the law says and how it is to be followed. You elevate yourself above the law, into the place of God. Look at verse 12, it says there is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who has the power to save and destroy.
“12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
- God is the one and only judge. There is no room for you or me in the judge’s seat, just God. He is the creator and giver of the law, and he has the power to deliver punishment according to the law, but also the power to save from that punishment. We need to see God for who he is. The creator of the universe, the creator of the law, the originator of what is good and evil. When we slander others, when we speak evil against others, remember, we are speaking evil against Christ, against God himself. We are speaking evil against the creator of the universe, our own creator, the one who created and gave the law to his people. And this creator has the power to destroy. To send us to hell, where we deserve to go when we sin.
- But he also has the power to save. And that’s what makes this message so incredible. God, the creator of the universe, the giver of the law, the originator of good and evil, has the power and right to destroy us all. We have all sinned against the law. We have all failed to love God and our neighbors. We all deserve destruction. But, even in our sin and our failure to obey God’s law, out of his love for us he sent his son Jesus to take the penalty. He sent Jesus to be destroyed by his wrath in our place. And it is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that you and I can be saved.And that brings us to the fourth and last thing that James is trying to get us to see correctly.
- We need to see ourselves rightly. Look at the last sentence. James says who are you? In other words, who in the world do you think you are? What makes you think that you can put yourself equal with God? What makes you think you have authority over God’s law? What makes you think you have the power to save and destroy all of creation? Who are we to condemn and speak evil against our neighbor? We have to see ourselves rightly to understand sin and our need for God. We are in desperate need of a savior. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to perfectly love God and our neighbor. No matter how hard we try to control our tongue, slander and lies will still slip out. No matter how hard we try, we will still deserve destruction. When we realize this, when we see ourselves rightly, then we can truly humble ourselves and receive the grace God has to offer. When we see how great God is and how not great we are, when we see how holy God is and how unclean we are, when we see how glorious God is and how unrighteous we are, then we can drop to our knees and cry out to God to save us. When we do that, like we talked about a couple weeks ago, God is faithful to respond and give us grace.
- So it would be one thing to read these two verses and leave trying not to speak evil against other people. But it’s a whole other thing to leave today viewing others, the law, God, and ourselves rightly. Controlling our tongue isn’t primarily something we do, but it is very much something we see. What we see, what we believe about others, the law, God, and ourselves will determine what we do, what comes out of our mouth, and how we treat others.