Chapter 4:11-12 (ESV) - 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?
Question to consider: How are we a judge of the law when we speak evil against a brother or sister in Christ?
Within the topic of jealousy and selfish ambition, James exhorted the churches to not speak evil of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The command given to us by God is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Luther’s small catechism gives the following meaning for this command, “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.” One of the things I like about Luther’s explanation is that it also represents the “ought” that is implied by the command. Not only should we not negatively misrepresent our neighbor, but we should speak up for our neighbor when others swear falsely and do everything we can to protect his reputation.
James made an interesting point here that in violating God’s command regarding the reputation of our neighbor, we are literally speaking evil against the law itself and putting ourselves as judge over God’s law. Of course, there is only one lawgiver and judge, and we are not Him. Thus, it reinforces James’ point in chapter 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
Given the context of tomorrow’s passage, I think it is fair to say that James was writing from experience, for he spoke against his own brother, Jesus, before he came to realize that Jesus was the Messiah. I can’t imagine what James would have had to say in this age of social media. Slandering our neighbor has become almost an art form today, and people make heroes out of those who have no control of their tongue.
I believe it is noble to stand up against tyranny and that we should boldly protect the reputation of those who are falsely maligned. However, these words from James should give us pause when we make comments online about those with whom we disagree. It is possible to protect the reputation of our neighbor without slandering our enemies, and we should be diligent to make sure that we do not pass on false information.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for giving us Your Spirit who walks alongside us and gives us wisdom and discernment. Help us to listen to our conscience when it comes to what we say or what information we choose to pass along, and give us the courage to protect our neighbor’s reputation from slander. Amen.