Biblical Meaning of Evil Speaking (James 4:11-12) (Part 1)

1.0 The Statement

God hates all sin, but there are a few sins that are constantly and strongly condemned by Scripture – judging others by condemning, criticising, backbiting, gossiping, speaking evil, and talking about them – is one of the sins that Scripture never lets up on; judging others is severely condemned (Proverbs 6:19b “He that soweth discord among brethren.”). James also tells us not to criticise our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we criticise others, we are really saying that we are better than they; it is very easy to judge others, but it can do a lot of harm. It breaks up friendship and causes unhappiness and evil feeling between us and our brothers or sisters. There is strong tendency:

  • For the good person to judge and criticise the “evil” person.
  • For the gifted person to judge and criticise the less gifted.
  • For the energetic person to judge and criticise the lazy.

All of us are guilty of the sin of “speaking evil” of others. James 4:11-12 is closely connected with the thought of James 4:10. It should be understood as an illustration of what happened in a life void of humility. Disparaging (unfavourable) criticism of others is an expression of human pride. The person who indulges in it sets himself above both the person he criticises and the Divine Law which forbids it.  On the other hand, there is a connection with the entire preceding verses (James 4:1-10), as pointing up another way in which the worldly mind expresses itself:

  • Lust for pleasure and self-gratification (James 4:1-10) is one way.
  • Harsh criticism, one of bitter fruit of the lust which war in our member, must have contributed to, and been a part of, the feud and faction mentioned at the beginning of James chapter 4.

1.1 Evil Speaking

James 4:11 “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his borther, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge.” The verb “speaketh not evil” (James 4:11a) means to slander and twice as to “speak against” (James 4:11b & 11c). To slander is to speak against someone. Slander is:

  • To imitate the Devil, whose name “diabolos” means “Slanderer” (Revelation 12:9-10) – “Accuser of the brethren.”
  • A character of “old life” –   We need to recognise that slander belongs to our old life, and we need to be rid of it (Ephesians 4:31 – “evil speaking”).
  • Slander will not only hinder our spiritual growth, but it will ruin any testimony we may possess to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • It is impossible to be in a right relationship with God and at the same time to indulge in slander (1Corinthians 5:11).

James’ exhortation concerning slander needs to be applied not only to the Christian in his personal or one-to-one relationship but also to the corporate relationship in the Body of Christ. One group of Christians can so easily slip into the snare of slandering another, especially if they have a varying emphasis on some point of doctrine. We need to be on guard whenever the question is asked, “have you heard what is going on at present at such and such a Church?”

To “speak evil” of a person is to find fault with him, to speak disparagingly (unfavourably) of him, to gossip maliciously about him. To “speak evil” means “to talk against, to defame, to slander” – literally, “to talk down” another person; it is a sin mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as:

  • Backbiting (2Corinthians 12:20).
  • Slander (1Peter 2:1).
  • Romans 1:30 mentions it, along with other gross sins, as a trait of the reprobate (degenerated) mind.
  • Malicious talk (1Timothy 6:4) – “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 26:22).
  • Saying things that ought not to be said at all (1Timothy 5:13).
  • False testimony (Deuteronomy 5:20).
  • The spreading of false reports (Exodus 23:11).
  • The unhelpful repeating of stories about wrongs or offences (Proverbs 17:9).

1.2 The Consequences

James 4:11 “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his borther, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law; but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge.” James here equates it with judging our brother, a sin expressly forbidden by Christ (Matthew 7:1-5) Our Lord Jesus reminds us that the person who quickly judges others and speaks against them is the man who knows very little of himself and of his own sinfulness and is strongly condemned by Paul (Romans 14:4,10,13):

  1. Commands us not to speak evil (slander) one of another – “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (James 4:11a). The knowledge of our own failings makes us more and more hesitant about expressing any form of criticism of others. The man who knows himself learns an increasing silence before other people’s faults.

     Story, the dreadful effects of slander in the life of David Livingstone, the famous Missionary to Africa. To save his wife from some of the hardships that were inevitable in the initial stages of establishing a home for her with him, he left her in a secure place until he had prepared a home for her at Lake Nyassa. But people began to talk unkindly, suggesting that he and his wife did not get on well together and that Mrs Livingstone was not a help to her husband. Dr. Livingstone was so troubled by these insinuations that he sent for his wife, she came, only to become ill and die. What a dreadful responsibility rests upon those who indirectly caused her death with their gossips.
  2. Judging Others – Speaking evil (slander) is judging others – “He that speaketh evil of his brother and judgeth his brother” (James 4:11b). Slander and judging others are frequently linked; it is virtually impossible to speak against another person without falling into the trap of judging him. When we speak against a brother – which is slander – we are usually saying that he has either done something wrong or that he has left undone something that he ought to have done. We may pass our remarks off as simply the expression of our opinion, but the truth is that we are passing judgement on another person, judging him.

    Story, a story is toldof a Christian teacher of the 16th century who one day found himself faced with a woman who confessed herself to be a Slanderer, “do you frequently fall into this fault?” he inquired; “yes, very often,” she admitted. “Your fault,” he said, “is great but the mercy of God is still greater. Go to the nearest market and purchase a chicken, just killed, and still covered with feathers. You will then walk a certain distance, plucking the bird as you go along. When you’ve finished your walk, return to me here.”  The woman went to the market, bought the chicken, and set out on the journey, plucking it as she went alone, just as she had been instructed. In a short time, she returned, anxious to relate how exactly she had done what she had been told, and to see what it all meant. “Ah,” said her teacher, “you have been very faithful to the first part of my orders. Retrace your steps and gather up one by one all the feathers you have scattered;” “but,” explained the woman, “I cast them carelessly on every side, the wind carried them in every direction. How can I recover them?” “Well,” he replied, “so it is with your words of slander; like the feathers, they have been scattered. Call them back if you can. Go, and sin no more.”
  3. Violates God’s Law – Speaking evil of others violates the Law of God – “Speaketh evil of the Law” (James 4:11c). James says that when we speak against our brother and judge him, we speak against the Law, and judge the Law. If we fall into the snare of judging someone, knowing full well before hand that I ought not to do so, I am saying in effect that God’s Law – His Royal Law (James 2:8) which says that I must love my neighbour as myself – has no binding power on me and can be ignored. I act as if I judge God’s Law to be of no real consequence. To love my neighbour as myself must, at the very least, mean protecting his reputation as I would want my own to be protected. But if I judge my neighbour, I’m saying that God’s Law can be ignored. And that is the most serious violation. Charles Simeon says, “Let us sit upon the seat of love instead of judgement.”
  4. Acted as a Law-Giver – Speaking evil of others sets the person up as judge, as a lawgiver” – “But if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11d). The other way in which we speak against the Law and even presume to judge it by engaging in slander or speaking against our brother is that we are saying, in effect, that we don’t feel that we can wait for the Law and the Judge (God) to do their job. By our own word of judgement, we imply that we need to anticipate the Judge’s (God’s) action. By implication we are judging the Lawgiver as being either dilatory (slow) or inadequate; otherwise, why do we ourselves rush into judgement? For this reason, James adds the warning: “When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it.”  The person who “speak evil” of his brother and sister is breaking the Law which commands him “to love his neighbour as he loves himself – the Royal Law” (James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18).

    James says this person is really judging God’s Law; in effect he sets himself above God’s Law and declares that he is above God’s Law. Such a person removes himself from the category of “a Doer of the Law” and becomes “a Judge of the Law” (James 4:11c). Once slander has been spoken, it is virtually impossible to do anything about it; even to try and undo the harm that has been done may only aggravate the situation by drawing attention afresh to the false statement that has been made.

To be continued….. Stay Tuned…..

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