Jamesby Douglas Estes
After a more difficult subject, James switches back to the issue of how we are to speak to each other. To do this, he returns to a warmer form of address, with ″brothers and sisters″ (James 4:11).
James warns that we are not to ″slander one another″ (v. 11). Here, slander is described in two ways: first, it is saying ill or evil things about another believer; and second, it is passing judgment on a fellow Christian. James has noted this problem of the tongue before (3:8-9).
When we slander others, it goes beyond just hurting them. When we slander or judge others, it has two additional effects: first, we are speaking against God's rules for life (the law); and second, we are actually sitting in judgment over God's rules.
What this means is that when we attack others with our words, we are in effect taking God's role away from Him. It is God's place to judge people, and His rules for life confirm this. To speak ill of others and judge their lives, therefore, suggests that we have made ourselves God. This idea is so crucial that one of the main epithets for the Enemy of God, Satan, is ″devil″, which means ″slanderer″.
Our modern world often misses the point of this passage. In criticising slander and judgment of fellow believers, James is not against giving other believers loving but hard advice, or calling them away from a sinful path (see 5:19-20). He is not addressing the issue of tolerance, but the issue of condemnation. Jesus' words, ″do not judge, or you too will be judged″ (Matthew 7:1), which are so frequently misappropriated by our culture today, receive a welcome clarification in James' writing.
At issue is the person and nature of God. God is the only true ″Lawgiver and Judge″, and the only being who is able to both ″save and destroy″ (James 4:12). As creatures created by our Creator, it is incredibly important that we do not say or do anything that usurps His authority. When we slander and judge, however, we usurp God's authority, and this is why James ends with a pointed question: ″But you-who are you to judge your neighbour?″ (v. 12). The emphasis is on ″you″ and ″who″; James is implying, ″Do you think you are God himself?″
God has given us so much privilege in this life that we can be tempted to take over His authority. Instead, we should humble ourselves and honour God with our lives. Even Jesus did this: though He was equal with God, to show an example He did not usurp God's authority, but out of obedience relinquished His life (Philippians 2:6-11). Instead of slandering others, we should build them up in order to honour God.
Why are we tempted to slander other believers? What damage does slandering others do to them and ourselves?
Why do you think people in our world slander others? What does slander say about how we view ourselves and God?