Stopping the Sick Sin of Slander
Doing the work of the devil with the sin of slandering–James 4:11-12
Slander is definitely one of people’s greatest fears in 2022–why? We live in the time of the cancel culture. We live in a society where Instagram, Facebook and social media give the most immature, the most vindictive, the fleshly, the naïve, and the phony Christian a voice to slander. The worst in the Church and the hate of the worldly have a platform on social media to destroy. They have a podium to slander others. Anything can be said about anyone.
Feel this tension, friends, over trivial things–a student who doesn’t like a teacher, an employee who doesn’t like his employer, a Christian who doesn’t like a ministry leader can overstate, attack, raise questions, undermine confidence, or destroy their authority. Half-truths, distorted facts, filtering evidence with an agenda, elevating one negative aspect of their personality or emphasizing one small negative aspect of their character and ignoring their heart, overlooking their intention, dismissing the focus of their entire life–slander can kill.
Slander is alive today. Slander is destroying people, believers, missionaries, and ministries–and the father of all slander loves it. Many today are doing the devil’s work and they are doing it the devil’s way. You protest and say, “Well, what’s the big deal? Everyone does it–get used to it. You just have to develop tougher skin. Don’t be a wimp.”
Friends, it’s not about being tough-skinned. God expects Christians to live in such a way that points to Christ. God expects character to matter to believers in order to influence for Christ. God expects all Christians to live above reproach. What does that mean? Not that they are perfect, but that there are no glaring character flaws, no massive aberrant violations of Christ-likeness, no obvious areas of moral violation. All Christians are to Philippians 2:15, “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” And all elders, 1 Timothy 3:2, “must be above reproach.”
Today is a dangerous day to live. I have thirty grave stories, but let me share two. I know a pastor who is super enthusiastic. People would say, “My favorite color is green,” and he’d say, “Yeah, I love green.” Then someone else would say, “I love blue,” and he’d say, “Blue is cool.” Then, when he wouldn’t perform the marriage of a Christian daughter to a declared unbeliever, the prominent parents attacked the pastor, calling him duplicitous. They said, “He tells some people he likes green, then other people he likes blue–he is duplicitous,” when the reality is, he was just an agreeable, enthusiastic guy.
The real issue was the unbiblical marriage, but the slander turned the focus off of a compromising family, and onto the character of the teaching pastor, who wasn’t the issue at all. At no time was he not above reproach–but slander did its dirty work. The verbal attack finally forced him to leave the church, which never fully recovered from his departure. All because sick slander was allowed, then embraced by enough.
There are steps you can take to prevent slander from bearing its evil fruit of ruination, but even these steps are not foolproof. Never counsel a woman alone, never drive alone with a woman (except my honey), try not to be alone with people when you counsel them or deal with difficult issues, talk often of your love for your bride and make certain its real adoration, be deathly honest about my many weaknesses, flaws, shortcomings, sins and struggles. Work hard to hide nothing, be open about everything–no matter what the cost. Live the same, act the same, talk the same everywhere you are. Do all we can to be filled with the Spirit and not allow the flesh to dominate our discussions. Why? Because slander is so destructive. If allowed to flourish, slander will poison Christ’s body and can ruin a church.
Slander is typically not about what is true, but about what accusations actually stick, whatever tidbits people embrace, believe, or begin to question–then slander works. The enemy will use people to keep throwing out hard questions, unfounded attacks, or raising issues, until one of those statements sticks. Once it does, where people think that might be true–then slander, once embraced, destroys unity, trust, respect, community and spiritual health. Satan does not want you to hear this–so listen up.
When Satan attacks the Church, what he will do is to get his tares to attack and God’s children to naively repeat slander. The enemy will keep throwing out accusations, ideas, questions, or exposing weaknesses until something is said which sounds plausible. Once a slander statement sticks and people think, “Hey, that could be true or is true,” then the result is destruction, people are destroyed, leaders are in question, people are not trusted, and their reputation is ruined and their ministry weakened. Slander is devastating.
Now slander does not have anything to do with healthy confrontation of sin. There is a difference between slander and discipleship. Compare the difference. Slander is to speak about someone, confrontation is speaking to someone privately first. Slander is to condemn others, confrontation is to correct others. Slander is to destroy others, confrontation is to disciple others. Slander is blasting others, confrontation is building up others. The moment you don’t talk to someone but talk about them, you are in danger of being a servant of Satan. The moment you condemn instead of privately confront, you are damaging others and doing the work of the devil.
This is why James 4:11 to 12 boldly instructs all Christians, “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; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” James is telling you several strong truths you must take to heart.
#1 Slander is an ATTACK against Christians
Verse 11a, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother,”–James commands all Christians to not speak against other Christians. Did you notice that James uses the words brethren, brother and brother here? James is reminding you and I of the family relationship we enjoy with other Christians. And that slander is the opposite of what you are to enjoy in God’s family–which the Lord suffered and died for in order that we would love, support and protect one another.
James is talking to so-called Christians, who speak against other so-called Christians. What does this look like? Scripture gives several examples. Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman (Numbers 12:8). Israel spoke against God by complaining about their conditions in the wilderness (Numbers 21:5). Psalm 50:20 says a wicked person will speak against his brother, slandering him with lies. Job’s buddies spoke against Job, crushing him with their words (Job 19:1 to 3).
James is telling every one of you Christians that if you speak against your family in Christ, you belong to that biblical register of rebellious mumblers, moaning grumblers, deceitful slanderers, crushing insulters, and wicked slanderers in the Bible. You are in the worst company. You know how the game works–you talk down against the other person in the ears of the hearer, hoping to lower their estimate of that person (and in the process, hoping to make yourself look all the better). Of course, you have to cover up your malicious intent with creative sentimentality, so you begin your statements with, “Now stop me if I’m wrong, but …” or, “Now, I don’t mean to be critical, but …” or, “Perhaps I shouldn’t say this about him or her, but …” or even, “I really like so-and-so as a person, but …”
The singular main point of verses 11 to 12 is the command in verse 11 to not speak against brothers or sisters in Christ. The meaning of the Greek verb speak against simply means to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself. Speak against is a compound verb to speak down on–like running someone down, pushing others down in order to lift yourself above them in comparison. “I am better than they.”
The verb “speak against” is seen whenever there is a willful accusation, exaggerating someone’s faults, even by the needless repetition of their real weaknesses. The focus of this compound verb is that it contains the preposition down or against–describing a malicious attack down on another, making a harsh statement against others, deliberately calling attention to someone’s imperfections, pointing out their weakness while minimizing their strengths. It is a hostile verb to put others down. To erode the position, character or trust of a Christian. It is doing the work of the devil, the slanderer.
From something as seemingly innocent as passing on tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not present to defend themselves, to the intentional ripping apart others with accusations against them. Slander is evil. Slander is condemned by God. Slander must be avoided and stopped. This is what the churches were doing to create verse 1, “quarrels and conflicts.”
The verb “speak against” is the only command imperative in this section. It is in dramatic contrast to the commands in verses 7 to 10, calling unbelievers to turn to Christ in humility. And the present tense of this command is telling you that this sin was an ongoing problem with certain professing Christians in the churches. So don’t forget, James is presenting the tests of determining whether you have a genuine saving faith or a phony faith.
In verses 6 and 10, James just taught that the mark of genuine faith is humility, now he reveals that one-way humility is not seen. Yet phony faith is manifested when so-called believers defame one another. Those who slander as a way of life, those who are characterized by condemning others, are exposing an unregenerate, or massively unrepentant heart.
Think about what slander does–then remember what Jesus teaches about how important it is to never harm another. Matthew 18:6, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Better to suffer a horrifying death than to damage another Christian via slander. What makes slander so bad?
#2 Slander is ARROGANCE of heart
Verse 11, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother…” now verse 11b, “speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.” James tells us in verse 11b that to slander a believer is two things—1) a breach against God’s law, and 2) an infringement into the rights of God Himself.
For slander speaks against the law, meaning slander is contrary to God’s Word–but in what way? “Speak against the law” doesn’t seem to be the Law of Moses or the additional laws of Judaism–no, James is referring to the law he has been advocating throughout this letter. The Royal Law, the law of liberty, which is to love your neighbor as yourself. Slander breaks the law of love. If you love your neighbor as yourself, if you do unto others as you wish them to do to you, then you will not slander them. You don’t love someone you speak against. You don’t love someone you intentionally or unintentionally tear down or discredit.
If you do, then James says you are not a doer of the Word, but above the Word. When you slander, you set yourself above the law. You have made yourself a judge of the law. But your nature as a true Christian, and your calling as a born again believer is not to judge the law but to obey the law, love the law and follow the law.
James here brings up the horrible habit of judging others. These two go hand in hand–speaking against a sister and judging her, slandering a brother and condemning him. The Bible repeatedly condemns speaking against others, especially by judging their heart motives. Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Do you know what that means? Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
And Paul wrote, Romans 2:1, “For in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Primarily, the judging you and I are to avoid is guessing someone’s motives. You are not technically judging when you say, “They’re a thief,” after they’ve robbed a bank. But you are judging someone when you say, “They only did that because they were jealous.” You don’t know what is in someone’s heart, nor why they did what they did–only God does.
Slander is often an accusation of motive, an assigning of evil motive, an attack on a person’s inner character, or a focus on their weakness, while ignoring their life commitment. Anyone who speaks evil of his neighbor has appointed himself as a judge of the law and given himself the right to break the law, and therefore they stand condemned–why? You are the ultimate hypocrite. Saying you love God’s law because it reflects His nature, but you do not obey God’s law as it relates to loving others.
The law says love your neighbor–but if you slander, you violate that law and at that moment, you are showing utter disregard for God’s perfect will, setting yourself up as superior to God’s perfect will, not bound or submissive to God’s law as your authority. James is saying when you slander, you are disrespecting God’s law to the point where you see God’s way of living, His law, as unworthy of your obedience, affection and submission. James is saying to slander is to blaspheme God. Which leads Paul to say . . .
#3 Slander is ACTING like you are God
You are advancing oneself above God. You are assaulting God’s authority. Verse 12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” The Bible tells us to run from self-serving, malicious judgment, while encouraging you to run to wise, righteous discernment. Jesus said in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
And Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:12 and 13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” So be clear–James isn’t teaching you to be gullible or permissive, letting people walk all over you. But James is teaching there’s a big difference between confrontation for the purpose of building up, and condemnation for the purpose of tearing down.
By placing himself above the law, the slanderer attempts to elevate himself above the only true Lawgiver and Judge–God Himself. This is just like Satan, who expressed his pride by exalting himself with the five “I will”s in Isaiah 14–like “I will ascend to heaven,” “I will raise my throne above God,” “I will make myself like the Most High.” The desire to usurp the place of God is the essence of pride and the core of all sin. Sin seeks to dethrone God, to remove Him as the one we are accountable to. To negate God as the only lawgiver and judge is dismissing our responsibility and coming requirement that you and I will answer only to Christ for our entire lives. To minimize Christ’s role as lawgiver and judge is to try to rule in His place.
Remember, the Bible teaches that sin misses the perfect character of God and violates God’s perfect law. But slander takes sin to a whole new level–it seeks to establish the sinner as God. So James pointedly declares literally–one is the “Lawgiver and Judge”–just one, not you. He is God and you are not. He is the only one who can make the rules we answer to and the only one who is capable of righteous judgment. Christ is the one who puts the law into place and the one who applies the law.
God alone gave His law and God alone will judge people by His law. Only God knows the hearts and motives of men and only God can perfectly apply the law. Verse 12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” God alone is able to save those who put their faith in Christ, bringing them home to Heaven. And God alone is able to destroy all unrepentant sinners in the torments of Hell forever.
Don’t ever forget, Christian–only God knows all of the facts. Only God knows the motives driving any person. Only God can lay down the law. Only God has absolute power of life and death, Heaven or Hell. How foolish is it for us to think we can determine fully what is going on? That is why you and I must give people the benefit of the doubt. Even in our modern court system, people are innocent until proven guilty. Christians must be equally charitable to our brothers and sisters in Christ–innocent until proven guilty.
Focus on the strengths of others, esteem the differences of others. Look at each Christian as a part of the whole body, a spiritual organ in the body of Christ. The liver is ugly, dark and squishy-gooey–but wow does the body need a good liver. If you’re saved, you may be ugly and gooey, but you are needed in the body of Christ. And though you may be filled with weirdness like a liver, we need you to function in order to grow healthy.
Thank the Lord for the contribution of those who are different, for His glory. Yes, talk to others (not about others, but to) concerning issues which are disturbing or wrong, or those things you can’t get over or you think might be damaging to the Church. But never allow issues to exist between you and others–as far as it depends on you. Go to them–but never, never, never talk about them. James is not unclear here. He is telling you that the sin of slander is no trivial matter. Slander is brazen treason against the sovereign Lawgiver and against the only Judge of the universe, Jesus Christ Himself. So James concludes this pointed challenge with . . .
#4 Slander is ASSESSING Motives
Verse 12b, those who slander expose their own heart. Slanderers have an elevated view of their own importance. So James nails slanderers to the wall with the end of verse 12b, “but who are you who judge your neighbor?” This final indictment packs a personal punch in Greek. James is saying, “You there! Who are you to judge your neighbor?” We might paraphrase this final indictment this way, “Who do you think you are?” Even, “Who made you God?”
Romans 12:3 said, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” Then added in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Judging the motives of others and putting down others in slander is the opposite of humility, which James just told us was necessary for genuine salvation in verses 6 and 10. Who do you think you are, speaking down at a person Christ died for? Those who habitually slander, gossip and judge others cast a strong doubt as to the genuineness of their salvation. This passage needs to transform your heart and change your behavior from this day forward.
A FEEL the fear of being a TOOL for the Slanderer
The father of all slander uses make-believers and foolish believers to destroy Christians and churches with slander. The name Devil means slanderer. Fear ever being the devil’s tool. Most often, it is the proud, self-righteous thinking they are standing for what is right, who do the greatest damage of all. Thinking their cause is just, they feel justified in talking about someone, and free from the biblical command to talk to someone.
Never forget, Christian–even though you are born again, you are capable of doing great damage. Talk to people, never about them. Disciple don’t destroy—encourage, don’t extinguish. Confront others personally, but never condemn others slanderously. The slanderer wants to use you. Fear becoming his hitman, using his gun of slander.
B THINK about others BIBLICALLY
Every true believer is a saint who sins. True Christians flee sin and pursue the Savior. The great apostle Paul called himself present tense, right now, currently, the chief of sinners. If you love someone, the Bible says you will trust them, for love believes all things. But in trusting others, never forget—no one is above sinning or doing evil. How does that work out practically?
Accept one another, believe the best of believers. Work at focusing on their strengths and not their weaknesses. In your mind, celebrate their giftedness—meaning, how they uniquely put Christ on display and serve Him. But never forget, even the best relationships are messy. Family and friends, brothers and sisters will hurt you. They will let you down. That is why Christ forgave you for your horrific sins–so that you could learn to forgive others for their lesser sins. No Christian has arrived. No believer is above hurting you. No saint will ever be perfect.
This is not negative–this is life in the Church on Earth. Don’t be paralyzed, be free. Trust everyone, be thankful for God’s grace in their life, focus on the way the Spirit uses them for His glory in the Church and in the world. And fully embrace one another, until through their mouth or actions they give you reason not to. Then what do you do? Then talk to them–not about them.
And never forget, you are the same–you and they are in process. You will fail, you will disappoint, you will mess up–even pastors. So forgive each other. I personally assume the worst about all of you and I never forget the potential you have for sin and slander. But how I live is to focus on what is best about each of you. You are easy to love–only until you show me something different. Think about others biblically.
C DO guard your mouth from slander and STOP slander when you hear it
Ask—“Did you go to him? Did you speak to her personally?” If not, stop talking. Or better, be like my Pilipino pastor friend–when anyone in his church would come to him about someone else, he’d grab them by the arm and go find the person they were trying to talk about–then say to that person, “Hey, Alfred here wants to talk to you.” Then the pastor would walk away. Make a commitment to guard your mouth from speaking slander and guard your ears from hearing slander–it’s a difficult but crucial commitment.
D KNOW that Christ alone can free you from SIN now and forever
You can’t live for Christ without Christ, and you can’t grow in maturity without dependance upon the Holy Spirit, while walking in obedience to His Word. The biggest problem in the churches James writes is the biggest problem in the Church today–phony, self-deceived non-Christians who profess to be Christians. Don’t be that guy or that gal. To know the joy of Christ, you don’t just pray a prayer–you must pursue Christ. Make certain you have Christ. Turn from your sin and depend on Christ. Let’s pray.