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.
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.
Most of us are unaware when we slander others. We just don’t see that we are talking others down. We are blinded to this as a problem in our lives. Instead we honestly perceive ourselves to be doing nothing more than analyzing or commenting.
But it is a common problem we desperately need to recognize! The reason we need to recognize it as a problem is because its consequences are so serious.
Several years ago Dr. Albert H. Cantril, a professor at Princeton University, conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how quickly rumors spread. He called six students to his office and in “strict confidence” informed them that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were planning to attend the university dance. Within a week, that completely fictitious story had reached nearly every student on campus. Eventually city officials called up the university, demanding to know why they had not been informed. Press agencies were frantically telephoning for details.
Dr. Cantril later wrote: “This was a pleasant rumor. A slanderous one travels even faster.”
No wonder Mark Twain, who was perhaps quoting the great Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while truth is still lacing up her boots.”
Bernard Joseph Saurin said, “Slander is a vice that strikes a double blow; wounding both him that commits it, and him against whom it is committed.”
Tyron Edwards noted, “The slanderer and the assassin differ only in the weapon they use; with the one it is the dagger, with the other the tongue. The former is worse that the latter, for the last only kills the body, while the other murders the reputation.”
So, to slander is “to talk down,” and it is a serious problem.
II. Why Is Slander Such a Serious Problem? (4:11b-12)
But, second, why is slander such a serious problem?
James answers that question in verse 11b, “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.”
What law is James talking about here? If you will look at the end of verse 12 you’ll notice that James uses the word “neighbor.” That word “neighbor” seems to confirm that the law James is speaking of in verse 11 is that great commandment of God set before us in the Old Testament and quoted by Jesus in the New Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39).