Summary: Speaking in condemning, critical ways seems to be second nature to us. However, James gives us reason and instruction to prevent this sinful behavior.
1. “No New Taxes” Illustration
Who said, “Read my lips. No new taxes”? "Read my lips: no new taxes" is the famous phrase spoken by then presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination on August 18th. Written by speechwriter Peggy Noonan, the line was the most prominent sound bite from the speech. This phrase has been repeated or quoted thousands of times; or variations of it. What part of “no” do you not understand? – We got new taxes, by the way.
2. James 4.11-12
Our text could say, “What part of “do not” do you not understand?”
3. Do not speak evil against – slander; backbite; mud-sling; bad-mouth – speak in a condemning, judgmental way
4. William Cowper (English poet) said, “He that slanders me paints me blacker than I am, and he that flatters me, whiter. They both daub[or blot/smear] me, and when I look in the mirror of conscience, I see myself disguised by both.”
5. Consider James’ practical words:
I. Revelation of Simple Instruction (4.11a)
A. Immediate Tension to Resolve
1. Don’t Judge – Matthew 7.1-2
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
2. Do Judge
a. Sinful behavior within the community of faith – 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5.12-13
b. Confrontation when wronged –
• 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18.15-17;
• “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. Leviticus 19.17
3. Which? – BOTH!
JUDGE – can mean discern; decide a court case; discern
a. “Fruit Inspection” – discernment of outward actions
b. NOT for condemnation or criticism but for construction
c. Learn to give the benefit of the doubt
B. Important Texts to Reflect:
• Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. Proverbs 20.19
• For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
• 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1.28-31
1. Sages Equate Condemnation/criticism/slander to murder – kill reputation and maybe life
2. God’s Standard
a. Hillel’s “Golden Rule”: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn" (Shab. 31a).
b. Yeshua’s (Jesus’) version – Matthew 7.12
c. Based on Leviticus 19.18
d. God is more concerned with how we treat one another than how we treat him!
II. Rationale for Submitting to the Instruction
Being Westerners, we need to have reasons to do what God commands;
A. We are to have Regard for Others – “Family” –
When a newspaper published a false and misleading account about a certain man, the man went to Dr. Edward Everett (American politician and educator from MASS – spoke in excess of an hour at Gettysburg before Lincoln) to ask what action Everett would recommend. After listening patiently to the man’s complaints, Everett said, “My dear sir, do nothing about it. Half the people who buy that paper never saw the article about you. Half the people who did see it failed to read. Half the people who did read it failed to understand it. Half of those who did understand it know you and refused to believe it. Half of those who believed it were people of no consequence anyway.”