November 27, 2011

Words With Evil Intent

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 4:11–12


Words With Evil Intent

James 4:11-12
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

As you know, we here at the Grace Tabernacle are committed to teaching the Bible. If asked why, the simple answer is that it is commanded. This is God's church. He sets the rules. And He has chosen to speak to His church through His Word.

I enjoyed looking at the anonymous responses from the Newcomers Fellowship as to why many of these new attendees have chosen Grace Tabernacle. The predominate answer far and away was, "You teach the Bible!" Though it sounds strange to say, pure Bible teaching is becoming rare in churches!

The culture attempts to subvert the goal of the pulpit. They cry for entertainment (humor and stories) or pop-psychology (self-esteem and personal motivation) or softened messages (no mention of sin or repentance). This is the wisdom of the world we have learned to avoid from James 3. If we wish to be faithful, we must obey the command of God.

It is spoken so clearly in 2 Timothy 4: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

I have said it often that if I didn't teach the Bible, I am not sure what I would say week in and week out. I am also not sure why you would attend, since there would be better things you could do with your time. Yet you do faithfully come, and I pray your intent is to primarily hear the voice of your Shepherd. Remember, I am only a waiter seeking to bring you the best food available lovingly prepared by your divine Chef.

I admit it takes effort to listen to these sermons and I admit they are convicting. But speaking God's word and doing it His way will always be in our best interest. How can we call ourselves God's children and not seek to prioritize God's Word?

An interesting proof that the Bible is the Word of God is seen in its application for today. Words written over 2,000 years ago have just as much meaning for today as they did back then. A good example has been our study through James.

We have spent the last month looking at conflict. Conflict among people is at epidemic proportions. Our society has invested billions of dollars and has devised hundreds of ways to resolve conflict. Nothing has worked and the situation only grows more intense. Yet as we learned this past month, God's Word has the answer. The problem and the solution are right there in the Bible.

Another example is our message for this morning. James is going to talk about cruel words. Still a problem today? You bet it is! Can any of us say we have never been hurt by what someone said? Can any of us say we have never hurt someone else with what we've said? Again, God's Word is perfectly applicable today.

So this morning we will study this important topic. We will first look at the command followed by two cautions.


For the first point, the command is clearly stated in verse 11: "Do not speak against one another, brethren." The NIV version reads, "Brothers, do not slander one another." Yet the Greek word used in this verse ("katalaleo") implies much more than just slander. Literally it means to "speak against" another person. So from the get-go I want you to see that God forbids any negative talk against another person. As verse 11 continues, James takes it a step further to the motive that prompts hurtful words. Not only are we to refrain from speaking against another person, we are also to refrain from judging another person especially when such a person is a fellow member of the family of God.

Let me see if I can provide some practical application some based upon situations and questions I have witnessed over the past ten years as your pastor.

Number one, the commands to avoid sinning against another with your speech are all over the Bible. Let me just provide a brief sampling: Proverbs 16:28, "A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends." Proverbs 17:9, "He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends." Proverbs 20:19, "He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip." Psalm 101:5, "Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure." Colossians 3:8, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth." Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." 2 Corinthians 12:20, "For I am afraid that perhaps…there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances." 1 Peter 2:1, "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." Galatians 5:15, "But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."

You get the feel…

Number two; let's remember this command in James 4 finds itself in the context of church unity. Sinful speech was directly related to the conflicts this early church was experiencing. And I would not be hard pressed to say that perhaps all of our church conflicts today still come from words that are or are thought to be malicious. When we fail, as we learned, to fix our mind on the Lord Jesus Christ our hearts pursue desires that are contrary to God. Our words, as Jesus said, are simply the overflow of these improper heart desires (Mt. 15:19-20), like jealousy, anger and self-righteousness. Lives are often shattered in the wake of our comments.

I can remember one pastor that told me how he dealt with gossip that was causing extreme disunity in the church where he ministered. He called it the 24-hour rule. Whenever he heard someone speak negatively of another, he told the individual that he or she had better make things right with the person because in 24 hours he would call the person and share all the comments he just received. As you can well imagine, that put an end to church gossip abruptly!

Number three, this command also finds itself, as we learned last week in the context of humility. Gossip, critical words, slander, judgmental comments and a list of other sinful speech is all rooted in the opposite of humility - something called pride. Why do we speak this way toward others? Pride! Perhaps it is because we were slighted and we want revenge. Perhaps it is because we are jealous over the success of another. Perhaps it is because we are a busybody overly consumed with the affairs of other people. Perhaps it is because we have a self-righteous attitude. Perhaps we think knocking others down will elevate self. All of it stems from pride.

Number four, our goal should be to find ourselves on the construction crew and not the demolition crew. This poem will explain what I mean:

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a heave-ho and lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled,
As the men you'd hire if you had to build?"
He gave me a laugh and said, "No indeed!
Just common labor is all I need.
I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken a year to do."
And I thought to myself as I went my way,
Which of these two roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan,
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Author Unknown

While it is easy to find the faults of others and it takes no effort to tear another down, our energy should be directed toward encouraging each other and building each other up in the faith. Every pastor has witnessed these people. Rarely if ever a positive word, but always assertive to point out a mistake. They are people who before Christ had a critical spirit, but now with Jesus refuse to repent and use their Christianity as a justification for their cynicism. The Bible condemns the repeated negativity as "fault-finding" (Jude 1:16) and their exasperated spouses and children and congregations know exactly what I am talking about. Beloved there is a place for constructive criticism (and I'll get to that in a moment), but with all there is to weigh us down, the church had better dominate on the uplifting side! Satan is the accuser (Rev. 12:10). Jesus Christ is the advocate (1 Jn. 2:1). Let's be more like Jesus!

Number five, gossip can be defined as speaking negatively about someone with motives to damage their reputation in the eyes of others. If flattery is something you say to a person's face that you would never say behind their back, gossip is something you say behind a person's back that you would never say to their face. And despite people who have argued to the contrary, gossip is still gossip even if the remarks made about an individual are true. Again, if there are comments you would be ashamed to make in a person's hearing, you shouldn't say them behind his or her back.

And don't fall for the subtle church games in an effort to sanctify gossip: "Have you heard…?" "Did you know…?" "They tell me…" "Keep this to yourself, but…" "I don't believe it's true, but I heard that…" "I am only telling you this because I know it will go no further…" "I am telling you this so you can pray" (adapted from: Hughes, James, p. 140).

Number six, judging another person (as James mentions in verse 11) deals directly with our hearts when we form critical attitudes against another which is usually expressed later through derogatory comments. If you have ever been sinfully judged, you know how painful it can be. Someone questioning your motives which they cannot see or understand. Someone casting doubt on your spiritual maturity because you are not submitting to their personal convictions. Someone condemning you for something they themselves are more guilty of than you are. Jesus could not have been clearer: "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Mt. 7:1-2).

Number seven, we must not make these words from our Lord mean more than He intended. What Jesus ruled out in Matthew 7 was the judging of another when we fail to examine our own lives. He compared it to trying to remove a speck of saw dust from a brother's eye when we have a 2x4 plank stuck in our own eye. It is all about avoiding hypocrisy.

We know that James did not call for an absolute prohibition on all judgment. For if he did, his words found in the final two verses of this letter contradict what he just said (Jas. 5:19-20).

Frequently in the Bible we are called to make righteous judgments. We are expected to identify false teachers (Mt. 7:15-16). We are expected to identify and deal with sin in the church (Mt. 18:15-17). The bottom line is this, do our judgments line up with Scripture? If they do, then it is a righteous judgment in which not we, but the Word of God, is bringing the verdict. We are just an ambassador used by God in a desire to represent His loving will.

My goal is to be more like Jesus. I have told you before, if my life or teaching is not in line with Scripture, I have no problem if you show me where I am off. All I ask is that you do it in the spirit of Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted."

As Christians, God wants us to be discerning. Throughout the day we are to make judgment calls on what is right. Many of those decisions involve people. And while it is a fine line that can easily be crossed and abused, all in any type of authority need to make judgment calls that will best serve the people they lead. For example, I can't turn to a chapter and verse that tells me when my kids need to be in bed, how often they should mention their faith in the public schools or when they should start dating, but a call of judgment still needs to be established.

Number eight, the most loving thing to do at times is confront another in his or her sin especially if it is causing any kind of destruction (physical, emotional, spiritual) to them or others. As a matter of fact, Jesus commands us. For example, I would never turn a blind eye on man destroying his marriage through an addiction to pornography or watch a church be destroyed through the unchecked actions of a divisive woman.

Number nine; please realize that it is a virtue at times to overlook an offense (Pro. 19:11). Your calling is not to fix everybody's wrongs. God can regulate His church just fine without you acting as His sheriff! Every situation does not need to be a federal offense! Even if you were personally wronged, there is a time when it is best to "let it go." Forgive in your heart and move on! Don't be one of those guys who has the reputation that whenever people see you coming, they immediately conclude, "What did I do wrong, now?"


All right, we need to move to the second point. We took a look at the command; now let's briefly look at the two cautions that follow. In other words, why should we refrain from speaking against another person?

I find the answer provided in our passage very interesting. Obviously James could have given the many ways that evil words cause problems in our personal relationships: Personal pain caused another, gossip is usually untrue, seeds of doubt forever planted in another's mind, etc., but he doesn't go down this horizontal, person-to-person route. Rather he takes it vertical and presents not so much how people are offended, but how God is offended when we speak evil against another.

First he says when we "speak against a brother or judge a brother," we (verse 11) "speak against the law and judge the law."

When James talks about the law, I believe the initial reference is to the Old Testament law. Specifically in Leviticus 19 we read, "You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people" (Lev. 19:16). But just two verses later in Leviticus 19 we read, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Speaking against someone is not loving your neighbor as yourself. Back in James 2:8 we learned that love for another is the "royal law." We know Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law and said that it can be summed up in the following: Love God and love your neighbor (Mt. 22:37-40; cf. Rom. 13:8).

Therefore when we speak evil of another, we are choosing to disregard the second greatest commandment of Jesus Christ. We are deeming our intention to malign someone greater than the expectations given to us from our Lord. We have made our authority, to do what we want to do, greater than the authority of God's Word. We are standing in judgment of Christ's law, and as verse 11 indicates, no longer acting as we should as "a doer of the law" (cf. Jas. 1:22). Instead of being subjected to the law, we place ourselves superior to the law. Not good!


The second caution against evil speech goes from God's law directly to God Himself. Look at verse 12, "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge." It is simply this, when we fail to obey the law we stand in judgment over the law and when we stand in judgment over the law we are pushing God off His throne and placing ourselves on it, claiming to be a better judge of people than He.

You see, condemning anyone, as our words often do, is not a responsibility we have been given. We cannot see the heart. We do not have all the facts. We are oftentimes deceived. And we are plagued with sin ourselves. Only God can see things as they really are. Only God is the One all people are ultimately accountable to. As James said in verse 12, only God is "the One who is able to save and to destroy (Mt. 10:28)."

Are you beginning to see the evil of negative speech against another? It is blasphemous. It is the epitome of arrogance. That is why James concluded verse 12 saying, "Who are you who judge your neighbor?" In the modern vernacular, "Who do you think you are?" Is this honoring God's royal law which commands us to love our neighbor? Is this respecting the character of God in thinking we can do a better job than Him by usurping His authority? What an opposite spirit of the humility that we learned about last week! God promises to give grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6, 10). Should we be surprised that when grace is passed out, those with judgmental hearts, critical spirits and cutting words will be left outside in the cold?

All of this shows me how much I need a Savior named Jesus Christ. I need forgiveness and I need Someone who can root out the source of all my evil speech. I need Someone who can change my heart and make me humble.

And may we not spend so much of our energy condemning people, but remember that Jesus took the condemnation for us. May we be an advocate to other believers and may we point people without Jesus to Jesus for He is the One to whom one day in which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord and Judge (Jn. 5:22; Phil. 2:10).

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James