Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12, NIV).
If we are living for God through Christ we will not slander one another. That is pretty clear isn’t it? No matter what translation you prefer—do not slander one another, do not speak against one another, or do not speak evil against one another—none of them can be reconciled with living for God through Christ.
You can’t slander one another and at the same time be devoted to one another (Romans 12:10).
It does not honor one another (Romans 12:10).
It is the opposite of accepting one another (Romans 15:17), loving one another (Romans 13:8), and living in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16).
When you slander one another you aren’t in the position to instruct one another (Colossians 3:16), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2), submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), or to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
In essence it is impossible to be living for God through Christ while we are engaged in slander.
Now I will be surprised if anyone reading this thinks that slander, speaking evil or speaking against one another is okay. I don’t think there is any need to prove that such talk is wrong. That begs the question though, if it is so clearly wrong why is it such a common problem in the church today? I don’t know a family, church, or business that has not had its struggles with this at one time or another. So how do we avoid it?
We need to admit that it can be very easy to rationalize that what we are saying is okay. When our emotions are running high and hot it is easy to convince ourselves that we should just say whatever comes to mind. When we are jealous, scared, or feel threatened, or hurt, or feel like we are being attacked, we often rationalize that we are being defensive, protecting ourselves, or justifying our position or decisions. For instance, it was jealousy for Daniel’s position and envy for his favor with Darius led the administrators to find a way to slander him and remove him from power.
Sometimes it is our own religious and moral zeal that we allow to rationalize slander. A great illustration of this is the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the Lost Sons. After the younger brother comes home and the father welcomes him back and begins to celebrate, the elder brother refuses to come in and join them. We read in Luke 15:28-30 (NIV) that the older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ He is not only speaking against his brother, but slandering his father as well. “What kind of father are you to reward him? That fattened calf was rightfully mine! I earned it! He had no right to it, you had no right to give him part of my inheritance!”
Here are some examples of elder brother type things I have heard throughout my pastoral career:
- You know why he is on the finance committee? So he can control the money! I just know it!
- That family needs to find another church to mess up.
- Why should her opinion count, when has she ever done anything to help?
- Why would I want to help someone who was stupid enough to get into that mess in the first place?
`I am sure we have all heard similar things. When people talk like this, it is not likely they hey are thinking “Ahh! This is a good opportunity to engage in some slander or evil talk.” No. We rationalize that it is OK by convincing ourselves we are just standing up for ourselves, calling people out, setting things right, or standing up for what is right. But remember, the definition of rationalize is to tell yourself rational lies. When we slander one another or speak against one another we are acting more like Satan the Accuser than like Christ.
We need to pay close attention to James 1:19 (NIV) Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak. I don’t know about you, but I have been learning that not taking the time to think about what we are going to say, and why we are saying it before we say it, is the biggest reason we end up saying the wrong thing.
We need to think about what we are going to say. Words are powerful. How powerful? Proverbs 18:21 (ESV) says that Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Words can bring life or they can bring death. Which will it be? Once words are spoken they cannot be taken back. We need to be mindful of what we say to one another. If it is loving it will build them up, encourage them, and show that you care for them. If what you are going to say is not going to communicate God’s love and your love, you shouldn’t say it.
We need to think about why we want to say what we want to say. We need to think about our motives. Why do we need to say it? Is the goal to help them do good or is it to make ourselves look good? Is our motive to build them up or is it to tear them down? Are we operating from a humble and meek spirit or are we motivated by a critical and judgmental spirit? The right thing done with the wrong motive, makes it the wrong thing. If you point out someone’s sin to them, be it privately or publically, and your motive isn’t right when you do so, then you are guilty of speaking against your brother. Even if you are sure you are right, if you know that your desire to tell them the truth is more for your good than their good, you should refrain from speaking because when you speak it will be speaking against your brother or sister.
What we say should show that we are devoted to one another and that we honor one another. What we say should show that we accept one another, love one another, and that we want to live in harmony with one another. What we say should instruct one another, serve one another, show that we are willing to bear with one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, and that we desire to encourage one another.