Friday, January 9, 2009

Warning from James on evil speech in the Church

James 4:11-12 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

I am reasonably sure that every person reading this has experienced the effects of gossip and/or slander in family, work or church. Most of us can recall an example where unchecked speech lead to a nasty breach in a relationship. As it relates to a community of Christians (a church), I can think of no greater enemy to it's peace and witness than unchecked, sinful speech practices. There are several effects such speech practices will have on a church-

1. There will be breaches between friends (brothers and sisters) and fellowship.
2. People will be wounded, sometimes in irreparable ways
3. Strife and disunity will rip through the body at large (which is directly opposed to God's command for unity among believers).
4. Hatred will be fueled which could some day lead to the ultimate offense against another person- murder.

On a very practical level, a church that allows for the practice of sinful, critical speaking against each other fails at the most basic level of living out their professed faith in Christ. A fragmented, strife-laden church is a terrible witness before the watching world. If they (the world) will know we are Christians by our love (John 13), what will they know about us by our hateful speech toward one another?

James’ repeated address of the matter of what we speak must mean our speaking practices will be a constant challenge, especially within the community of believers. We have to be honest about our propensity to speak against one another.

I wasn’t in ministry very long as an intern before a member of the church took me to lunch and began to air their grievances against the current pastor. I was young, but not completely dumb. I stopped the conversation pretty soon after I could see where it was going. Several years later I became the pastor and my good friend Nathan came to be the associate pastor. He wasn't here very long before that same member of the church found time with him and aired their grievances against me. Being the good brother in Christ that Nathan is, he stopped the conversation short and actually challenged the person to have a meeting with me to discuss their concerns face to face. I can't help wondering how many people were poisoned by the evil speech of that person. Who knows how many others they gossiped about? In neither case did that person talk to the person they had a problem with, but instead talked to several people not in a real position to address their concerns. Clearly such a practice was not meant to honor Jesus or build up His church. Very bluntly, such gossip and slander is what James calls “speaking evil”.

I'm guessing that more churches are wounded and weakened by members speaking against each other than by any other means. I think realizing what the choice to gossip means, according to James in the above text, will help a genuine follower of Christ to resist the urge to slander another. Note what James says-

James 4:11b The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

I like what Douglas Moo says about this- “The act of judgment is an act of pride. It involves looking to our own store of knowledge, putting together a few facts, figures or fancies, and coming up with some sort of answer or solution to a given problem or situation. All too often it is the wrong solution or answer, and because of pride, we refuse to correct course. Judging others is an act of monumental pride - enormous pride, stupendous pride, galling, astonishing, fantastic pride. This should be understood. When you render judgment on another, you have taken upon yourself an awesome responsibility for making the correct judgment.”

There are so many things about other people that only God can judge- Let it remain that way!
Judging others with slanderous words takes us from being humble followers of the Lord Jesus and His Word and places us in to the role of THE Lawgiver Himself- God.

There are many ways the Church of Jesus Christ can have a profound impact on the world, I can think of few more fundamental ways than by how we speak to one another. It really does show if our profession of faith in Christ is genuine.


Jim said...

If there were just one command that the church on earth could implement, and this were it, just think of what church would be like.


Well, at least in the age to come.

Frontier Forest said...

There seems to be nothing more hurtful than to have fellow Christians speak badly or spread false rumors about you. You know the Lord sees and knows your heart, and you want to make a difference for Christ. You take a stand for truth, refuse to compromise, you strive to always “speak the Word in truth and love,” but they push you away. Some even laugh, make fun of you calling you a “intolerant, narrow minded, a religious fanatic!” You feel helpless, you feel hopeless, alone, you want to defend yourself, so you pray for an opportunity to set the records straight. But it’s not to be. You ask the Lord to “search your heart, to try your thoughts, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” But it doesn’t seem to help. You say to the Lord, “Why won’t they allow the truth to be heard? Why don’t they want to believe?” The cruel truth is, these “dividers” turn away from truth and simply choose to embrace lies.
But the Glory is His! For His surpassing peace surrounds about as we grow in our walk with the Lord. We realize, humility in silence is God’s justice, and a few words are futile justification. You can’t justify a lie anymore than you can justify the liers. Remember the tragedy of disbelief in Mark 6:4-6? He came to His hometown to speak the truth and they rejected Him! “Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And HE went away, amazed at their lack of faith.”
Like you said pastor, the most significant witness, is to follow our Lord’s example. Walk away and be amazed at their lack of faith.

Rick Calohan said...

To quote the Pastor Scott Sauls formally of Oak Hill PCA in a sermon regarding gossip he said, “If it’s not about me, and if I am not the problem or the solution, then I do not need to know.”