James decides that we need a little admonishing again. And once you read these verses, you might just agree with him.
Brothers, do not slander one another. 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. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
What does it mean to slander? Maybe we should explore what it really means before we quickly state that we don’t do that and run on to other sections of scripture. Webster states that slander is “ the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation“. Can you be honest just to yourself right now? Can you in all honesty say that you NEVER told something false about someone? It could have been out of anger, out of jealousy, out of hurt. More than likely you have and that would mean that you have slandered. It is not right to slander anyone whether you think they deserve it or not. But I do want to focus on the first word of this section, “Brothers”. (No, women you are not exempt from this.) James is focusing on our relationships within our believers circle. You shouldn’t slander anyone, but you own brother that you’re going to spend eternity with? Why would you even consider such a thing? It almost goes beyond his comprehension.
James goes on and to sum it up he is asking “Who do you think you are?” You should not be looking at another believer and speaking out against them. How can we judge them? Now, we are going into dangerous territory that many of us have been in many times and might have decided to claim squatters rights. When is it judging, when it is honesty, when is it rebuking?
I have to admit that I struggle with this many times. Not always from within myself though. I’ll others claim that I’m judging when in my heart I am rebuking. So let’s explore this and clear up some of this cloudy mess before we stay in this muddy land until the call comes.
There are times when we have to be honest about someone. If I see John, who can’t go a couple of hours without a drink, then I can safely say that he is an alcoholic. Would you consider that judging? In this situation, it is just a reality statement. But if I begin to use that sin against him and tell others for the sake of hurting his reputation, now I have crossed the line. Acknowledging in your heart that someone is not trustworthy, temperamental, living with someone, or any other number of situations is not judging. I was accused of judging when I refused to put a person in a position where I knew they could not be trusted. I wasn’t trying to be mean and I didn’t broadcast my reasoning. But this person time and time again over many years showed the same undependable and temperamental traits. I could not for the sake of the ministry put them in a position where their follow-through was extremely important and keeping a level head was crucial. When a close sister approached me about why I wouldn’t do it, I admitted why. Oh, my! I got the lecture of the century about not judging and forgiving others. This had nothing to do with judging and forgiveness. This had to do with lovingly recognizing the faults of a sister and not putting her in a position where I knew she would fall and it would also hurt others.
We need to be very careful in how we use this verse and many others like. The person who lectured me about judging actually committed that sin themselves when they began to lecture me. That is irony for you. Be very careful that you don’t fall into the “sin” that you are accusing someone else of doing.