“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” This admonition has direct implications on all of us who have even gossiped, or slandered, are accused others behind their backs. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all been guilty of this at one time or another. Maybe we have even slipped into the habit of doing this.
James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is very clear here. Slanderous talk, especially by a Christian, does not just break one commandment, but mocks the authority of the law in general and, therefore, mocks God. Which commandment does it defy? The ninth: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In that sense, too, it defies the second of the two Great Commandments, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Is it not ironic that our greatest outrage arises when we find out that someone has spoken evil of us, or impugned our character behind our backs. Does it not defy logic then to do the same to another, for our own benefit? And that is why we do it, isn’t it? We do it to make ourselves feel good, or to look good by comparison. This kind of thinking can only come from the Evil One. It is behavior done in the dark, but as Jesus tells us, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17).
James tells us that in participating in such behavior we are essentially “judging the law,” placing ourselves above the law of God. “But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (verse 11). This defies the One lawgiver and judge who is truly “able to save and to destroy.” James ends this section of his letter with the only proper question: “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” (verse 12) But judge we do. It is apparent, is it not, that this is a dominant failing in our own time. And when we do, it is always wrong, for we do not, cannot know what is in the heart of another. Only God can do that. It behooves us to remember what our grandmothers told us, “If you have nothing good to say about someone, say nothing at all.” We would be closer to honoring the 9th commandment, the law, and God, if we did just that.
Lord, help us to know the wisdom of your words, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). In this we will find the peace we so earnestly seek. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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