The Foolishness of Slander
Some think that talk is cheap: it costs nothing and yet with a positive spin it can sell products, make money, and persuade others of almost anything. That kind of talk, like many other ways of getting to the top, relies on others being pushed to the bottom. And so, words are also used to put other people down. All those words have to do is to cast doubt on an opponent's integrity. It is possible to use truth in an evil way, as well as slanderous lies. Slander (or more accurately 'evil speaking') is an evil art of which Satan is the master, from the time he slandered God (Genesis 3:1-5). Slander does not tell the whole truth, only enough to make the evil credible in order to injure somebody's reputation. Slander, like all lies, is a weave of truth and untruth which come from a malicious heart. It intends to disable the person’s relationships and function in society (including business and church); at the same time putting the slanderer in a good light.
James says that such talk should never be found among Christians. They should not be in competition with each other: they are brothers and sisters in God's family. Slandering a spiritual sibling is a public judgement of their character. It is wrong because God is the only judge and His law is the only way of measuring what is good or bad. If believers make their own judgements for their own gain, not only are they arrogant (presuming to know God's mind) but their hearts are sterile. They neither show impartial judgement, nor can they show mercy, nor do they understand grace. Their willingness to defame a family member has no basis in love, and so they are not keeping God's law themselves: they are therefore at personal risk of His judgement. Far from understanding that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23), they think they are morally superior - what fools. As James has already taught in this chapter, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble' (James 4:6).
And yet, pride continues to undermine the inner moral structure of believers who are not humble before God. Slander is heard far too often in churches; even in the gossip that is dressed up as 'being concerned' for a fellow Christian, or as a 'matter for prayer'. The way some Christians gather, like vultures over the carcass of a fallen saint's reputation, is disgraceful. So too, is the way some believers do business or practise their profession. Their proud hearts make them unable to judge fairly; neither are they able to be merciful in supporting the weak. If you know people like that, pray for them (following the instructions in Galatians 6:1-5). But if today's passage is about you, then repent; and be humble to ask the Lord to help you change your heart. It is far more important than the next promotion, social adoration or pay rise.
© Dr Paul Adams