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.
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).
To slander someone is to violate that perfect law of love James referred to earlier in James 1:25. Jesus set this law before us in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:14-15: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
James does not mean that you are never to hold any opinions about people. James also does not mean that you should entirely suspend your critical evaluations of people or their beliefs, or that you should refuse to discern between truth and error. The very nature of man as created in the image of God includes the ability to make value-judgments. What James is saying here is that in your judgments of people be very careful not to violate law of love by putting them down before others.