Summary: The wrong use of words is not a problem limited to unbelievers. The hard truth is that slander can also be a very serious problem among Christians. James addresses the issue of slander in today’s text.
Kathy Plate of Orlando, FL tells the story of the time she visited her neighbor. While there, five-year-old Andrew pulled out his kindergarten class picture and began describing each classmate: “This is Robert; he hits everyone. This is Stephen; he never listens to the teacher. This is Mark; he chases us and is very noisy.”
Then, pointing to his own picture, Andrew commented, “And this is me; I’m just sitting here minding my own business.”
We have such a tendency to slander others, don’t we? We smile when a five-year-old boy does it. We, of course, are much more sophisticated in the way in which we slander others. Nevertheless, it is just as destructive and just as sinful.
In today’s passage, James teaches us how to deal with the issue of slander. So, with that in mind, let us read James 4:11-12:
"11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 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)
What is it about slander that is so alluring to us all? 60 Minutes tried to answer that question not too long ago. They actually sent a news team to report on the remarkable sale of all the cheap grocery store tabloids. They started by interviewing people who were buying the paper at grocery store checkout counters.
The reporter asked one buyer, “Do you people really believe what you read in this paper?”
The reply came back, “No, but we like to read it anyway.”
Jesus once said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Slander is viewed by Jesus as a serious sin.
To read or tell or listen to a slanderous story, especially about a distinguished person, is a fascinating activity for many people. If you have some juicy bit of something you want to share and you want another person’s attention, use it with a name that is honored or respected by others, and you will have his or her fascinated attention for an extended period of time.
The wrong use of words is not a problem limited to the unbelieving, secular world around us. The hard truth is that slander can also be a very serious problem among Christians.
Nor is slander in the church a 20th century problem! In fact, it’s as old as the New Testament itself. It goes back at least as far as the first book written in the New Testament—the book of James—written in 45 AD.
James addresses this problem head-on in James 4:11-12. As we study this text today, I want to ask and answer three questions about slander:
1. What exactly is slander?
2. Why is slander such a serious problem?
3. How do you respond to slander?
I. What Exactly Is Slander? (4:11a)
First, what exactly is slander?
In James 4:11a the brother of Jesus writes, “Brothers, do not slander one another.”
The Greek word translated “slander” literally means “to talk down.” Slander is similar to gossip, which means “to pass on personal facts.” However, slander is not only passing on personal facts about another person, it is passing on personal facts in such way that the other person is put down and demeaned. Slander refers to the practice of talking down another person. It is impugning someone’s character or reputation by the way you talk about him or her. It is speaking of someone in a way that lowers that person’s reputation in the eyes of others. This practice usually takes place in their absence when they have no opportunity to defend themselves.
It doesn’t mean that what is said must be false. What is said might be absolutely true! It is very easy to talk about others behind their backs and not think it is wrong because what you are saying may be true. However, you can slander people by simply sharing true things about them, but with the intention of impugning their character or reputation.
If you are going to lower your listener’s estimate of another person, you have to do it very creatively. You must begin your statements with:
• “Now stop me if I’m wrong, but. . . .”
• Or, “I don’t mean to be critical, but. . . .”
• Or, “Perhaps I shouldn’t say this about her, but. . . .”
• Or, the notorious, “I have a prayer concern about him.”
• Or this devious one, “Let’s just keep this between us.”
Now, I don’t mean to imply that there are never occasions when we speak about someone else. However, on such occasions our goal must be to build up and our motive to glorify God.