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James #16, chapter 4, verse 11-12
The Book of James
The Test of Worldliness, pt 3
James 4:11-12
 
We return tonight to the fourth chapter of James and we’ll be looking at verses 11-12.  When I first read through these verses, I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach them.  They seemed to be something of a throwback to chapter 1:19 or chapter 3 and the test of the tongue. 
 
And although they seemed to be fairly simple to understand, two simple straight-forward verses, the thought seemed rather isolated and separate from the context of the passage. 
 
But as with so many other passages of Scripture, the obvious and surface appearance lead to so much more when it is studied in context and thought through and that is certainly what we find here.  As then I spent some time with these verses, the flow of what James has in mind opened up a vast and essential connection of thought that I am anxious to share with you this evening. 
 
But I will tell you, there is so much here, that if we don’t get started, we won’t have to time to adequately deal with it.  In fact, I started to take two weeks to deal with these two verses, but I think we’ll be able to cover it if we hurry. 
 
But I will tell you, you’re going to be challenged to think a little deeper and perhaps expand your theology a little bit to grab hold of this text. 
 
 
Let’s begin by reading it through. 
 
James 4:11-12
 
Now basically, James is talking about the sin of defamation of character.  That is “an attack on the reputation of someone by publishing falsely and maliciously things that slander and injure."
 
In our country, it's against the law to defame someone’s character.  Even with our warped and perverted sense of justice and rightness, our society recognizes that person's reputation must be protected. 
 
So where does that thinking originate?  You and I both know it originates with God.  The dignity of man and the right of a man to have his character preserved and to be free from malicious slander that is found in our societal laws is based upon the ethics of God's Word.
 
And as we’ve already covered, these sins of the tongue are very destructive sins simply because of their availability.  The one sin that anybody can commit any time they want to is the sin of the tongue because the tongue is so available and anxious to help you with it. 
 
And James keeps bringing this sin to the forefront of his hearer’s thinking.  This is the third time he’s mentioned a sin of the tongue, one in passing, one id detail and now this very direct and to the point confrontation. 
 
So why does James bring it up here?  Well let’s think about where we are in the text.  James has just given us this in-depth lesson in verses 1-6 on what it means to be a friend of the world and the enemy of God.  And the primary difference between the two is that those with a worldly affection are proud and the friends of God are humble. 
 
In fact, he goes on to tell us that humility is the essential characteristic in one who receives saving grace and in between he talked about the elements of that kind of humility.
 
And in a nutshell, he is saying that true believers are marked by humility.  If you want to authenticate the genuineness of someone’s salvation, then look for humility because it is the symbol, the sign, the identifying factor, the bench mark, if you will, the sign of authenticity of a true believer.
 
And it will be easily seen by the characteristics we found in verses 7-10.  This is the pathway to salvation and when it’s all said and done, it is the humble who receive grace and are lifted up by God. 
 
Now if that is true, then it must also be true that the salvation of anyone who claims to be saved, but does not evidence humility must be called into question.  If the humble are the ones that God saves and a person is continuously proud, then there's reason to question the authenticity of their salvation. 
 
And James then proceeds, from that discussion of humility to focus on one specific way that humility is violated, one specific way that pride is revealed and that is through defaming other people.
That is not the conduct nor is it the character of a person who has received God’s grace because it is a non-humble and proud kind of sin.
 
So here is another component of the test of worldliness.  Is the person marked by humility?  Do they have a good spirit toward others, or is the person malicious and slandering and are they engaged in the defamation of the character of others for their own sake?
 
Now remember, James told us that worldy wisdom is earthly, sensual and demonic.  And it is this wisdom that leads us to be lovers of the world.  It comes from Satan himself!  And what was the original sin of Satan?  It was pride as he desire to be God. 
 
And then, in the first instance of temptation that he initiated with Eve, his method of attack was defamation of character as he called God’s integrity and motives into question. 
 
He lied about God. He lied about the nature of God. He lied about the motives of God. He lied about the character of God. And as a result, Eve bought the lie and the rest is history. 
 
And before we become too critical, just remember, a proud heart will always buy the lie.  Think about that before you go around spreading other people’s garbage.  A wicked heart is proud and self-serving and jealous and it loves to tear others down. 
 
And that conduct is foreign to the life of a Christian. Slander doesn’t belong in the mouth of a Christian, it has no place in the life of a believer and obviously James is intending us to understand that.
Verse 11 could not be clearer.  “Do not speak evil of one another”.  And notice, he adds, “brethren”.  This is specific to the family of God.  This is not the behavior of brothers.  And yet, most all of us have had it happen, and probably from someone we attended church with. 
 
It's a despicable sin. And the people who live like this and who talk like this I think are in great danger of hell. 
 
Now with that background we approach the text itself. In this brief little text we find four reasons to control our tongue and they are very obvious, but also extremely profound because of the progression they carry with them.  Notice where he begins.  First of all, we are to control what we think about  
 
1.  Others
 
verse 11
 
Notice what word we see used three times in one form or another in the first four lines. It is the words  "brethren, brother and brother."
 
Obviously James is using that three times in one brief sentence for some impact. He is reminding them of their relationship with each other.  And what he says is, “You will control the sin of slander and malicious gossip better when you think properly about each other.”
 
And the idea he is bringing to mind is that of family.  He’s describing this intimate relationship that exists in the family of God.    
He's writing to a Christian church. He's writing to an assembly of people who are linked in common life.
Some are true believers, some are not, but they're all linked in common life. They're all a family.
 
And he says speaking evil of one another is not a part of family life.  It’s not just unexpected, it's unacceptable.  You don't do that among family.  We might expect that from people on the outside, but not on the inside.
 
And yet, unfortunately, that is often not true of us.  Somebody said the Christian army is the only one that shoots its own wounded. We really are after our own. We tend to slander ourselves. It's a serious sin. That kind of offense is very serious and even though we are all guilty from time to time, if this is how you behave all the time, then your salvation is in question. 
 
You show me a person whose life pattern is one of hatred and slander and venom toward others in the family of God, and you have every reason to doubt that person’s relationship with God. 
 
If your heart is right before God, you're going to see other believers as brothers. Now that doesn’t mean we ignore sin or don't confront a brother when it’s called for. What it does mean is you don't lie, and you don't gossip, and you don't backbite and you don't slander and you defame their character maliciously.
 
And if you do, and that's the pattern of your life, then question whether your salvation is real because the ones who love God love the ones God loves.
 
So, the first thing to consider when it comes to controlling our lips in regard to backbiting or gossip or slander is the recognition that you see others in the family as brothers and sisters.
 
The second controlling factor when it comes to our speech is what you think about
 
2.  The Law
 
verse 11
 
Now follow the line of reasoning. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with heart, soul, mind and strength.”   Then remember what He added?  He said, “The second is like the first.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
 
So loving God and loving each other as brothers is God's law summed up.  Therefore, when we fail to love either God or a brother, we violate God's law. That's what he's saying.
 
So James brings it home to say, “When you slander your brother, you slander the law that forbids you to do that. When you condemn your brother, you condemn the law that forbids you to do that.”  And just to clarify, condemning and slandering the law means you disregard it. You judge it unworthy of your attention.  It’s unimportant to you.
 
Again, just to follow his line of reasoning, To slander a brother is to sin against love.  But the requirements of love are spelled out in the law. 
The law is basically a code that expresses all the factors of love. So when you slander your brother, you're sinning against love and since the law is best summed up in love, you're sinning against the law.
 
To help understand that, think about it this way.  God gave the children of Israel the 10 Commandments.  So how are those 10 best understood?  They are nothing less than ten features of love verbalized.
 
For example, notice what we read in
 
Exodus 20:1-3
 
That's a statement about love. That tells me that
 
love is loyal.
 
God says, “Be loyal to Me. If you love Me you won't have any other gods.”  That is a reminder that love is loyal. Love is single minded. Love is undivided.
 
Secondly, love is faithful.
 
verses 4-6
 
There we discover that love is faithful to the object of its affection. It is loyal in spirit, it is obedient in behavior. That's a characteristic of love.
 
Thirdly, love is respectful.
 
verse 7
 
If you love someone you love, you don't misuse their name. You don't desecrate their name. You don't run their name in the dirt.
Love is respectful.  It speaks to lift up and exalt and honor. 
 
And fourthly,
 
Love is Dedicated
 
verses 8-11
 
Love is so devoted that there are times when it gives all its attention to its object. Love is loyal. Love is faithful to covenant and obedient. Love is respectful. Love is totally devoted totally to its object, and all of that relates to God. 
 
Then when we get to verse 12, He turns to what it means to love our neighbor, and there we find that  
 
Love is Submissive.
 
verse 12
 
Love is submissive to authority, beginning with parents.  Love is never rebellious or lawless.  It isn’t hateful and ungrateful.  Next we see that
 
Love isn’t murderous
 
Verse 13
 
Do you kill somebody you love? No!  Love doesn't take a life. Love upholds the sacredness of life. Love would never take away the object of its affection.
 
Then,
 
Love is pure
 
Verse 14
 
Love never seeks to defile anybody or take advantage of anyone.  A guy who cheats with another man’s wife doesn’t love either of them.  A guy who takes away a girl’s virginity doesn’t show his love by taking away the purest thing she has. 
 
That isn't love. That's anything but love. You see, love exalts the purity of its object. Love treats its object with sacred reverence.
 
Verse 15 says,
 
Love is giving. 
 
Love doesn’t steal.  Instead, it is selfless and giving. 
That is a principle, a law if you will, of love that is articulated as a command.
 
Verse 16,
 
Love is truthful.
 
Love would never lie because love would never want to falsify. Love would never want to give somebody the wrong impression. If you love somebody, you want them to know the truth. If you love somebody you want them to know exactly the way it is.  Lying about your neighbor or your brother or your family member doesn’t fit with love.  Why would you want to slander your neighbor if you loved him?
 
And verse 17,
 
Love is content.
 
Because one loves his neighbor, he doesn’t go around wanting everything his neighbor has. 
 
See why Jesus said all the law is summed up in these two commandments?  Everything in life is governed by love.  See what James is saying? 
 
If you slander your brother, that's not love and if that's not love, then you've broken the law. It’s just that simple! 
 
 That's the flow of thought.  And if you go around slandering others, you have no respect for others, but you also have no respect for the Law of God. 
 
Now before we brush that thought away, let’s think about that.  When a person slanders another and in so doing, violates the law of God, he is in effect, saying, “I am superior to the Law.  I am above the Law.”  ” 
 
That's why every sin is a sin of pride because what you're saying in effect is, “I know what God said, but that doesn’t apply to me.  I’m above that.  I know God says this, but here’s what I say, and what I say goes.  Of you think God is in charge of my life, you're wrong.  I'm in charge of my life and nobody’s gonna tell me what to do!”
 
That's what the sinner says. That's what I say when I sin and that's what you say when you sin. I know what God says but I am not subject to God's law, I have a higher law which is my law.
And I know God said don't do it, but I'm doing it anyway. Therefore, you have a higher, more binding law than the law of God. That’s what sin is. 
 
Sin is not some little slipup that doesn’t matter and God loves me and will overlook it.  Sin is saying I am superior to the law of God. I am not under that law. I am not bound to that law. I will not live by that law. God can't tell me what to do. I'm in charge.
 
And James says by speaking evil of and judging a brother is the same as attacking and judging the Law of God itself.  God put the law in place to protect your brother and you’ve judged it to be useless and non-binding and unworthy of your attention and you’ve replaced it with your own law. 
 
As he says at the end of verse 11, you've just climbed up on the bench and decided that you’ll be the one in charge.  You've rejected your position as one under the authority of the law and you've taken a position above the law.
 
Now if you live your life that way, if that is the pattern of your life, James says, then your salvation is questionable and you need to see what sin really is.  If you go around slandering and belittling and defaming people, you have not only sinned against them, you’ve sinned against the law of God.
 
Instead of demonstrating the humility that allows you to receive the grace of God, you’ve demonstrated nothing but pride.  And since God gives grace to the humble, why should we believe God has given you saving grace when nothing in your life demonstrates it? 
 
And James isn't through with his logic. He's going to go a step further. Follow the third thought, the sin of slander is not only a result of what one thinks about others, and what one thinks about law, but, thirdly, what one thinks about
 
3.  God
 
verse 12a
 
It’s pretty easy to figure out Who that verse is about isn’t it?  If there is only one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy, that means there is no room on the bench for you! 
 
The literal Greek text says, "One is the lawgiver and judge." In fact, the sense of the text is, "Only one is the lawgiver and judge...only one." The One who gave that law is the One who will judge men by that law. He is both lawgiver and law-applier, which is what a judge is. And that One is God, obviously.
 
God gave the law. God applies the law. God has the power to deliver men from the penalty of the law. And He also has the power to exact the penalty of the law and to destroy men.
 
And He allows no competition for the right to judge. 
There's only one lawgiver. There's only one judge to apply the law. There's only one who has the power to acquit by mercy through faith in Christ. And there's only one who has the power to condemn. And that's God. And the folly and stupidity and brashness and blasphemy of sin is that it says, “God, get off the throne and out of the way, I'm in charge.”  That's the essence of sin's pride.
 
Now the point is this. When you or I sin, we try to rise to the point of deposing God. And that's why sin is so hateful to Him and should be to us.
 
Now if this sounds kind of foreign to you, it's because we have such a watered-down view of our sinfulness.  We see our sinfulness in the puniest terms. We consider sin to be no big deal.  We excuse it away and pass it off as some kind of child’s play. 
 
But at its core and root, every sin is attempted deicide.  We want God dead.  We want to execute God and replace Him with ourselves. 
 
Sin attempts to depose God. Sin taunts the power of God and dares Him to show His vengeance. Sin disdains the omnipotence of God. And sin even despises the grace of God and the mercy of God by abusing the fact that He is forgiving.
 
In the 1600's, a man by the name of Ralph Vining wrote a book called The Plague of Plagues, in which he wrote:  "The sinfulness of sin not only appears from but consists in this, that it is contrary to God. Indeed it is contrariety and enmity itself. Carnal men, or sinners, are called by the name of enemies of God. But the carnal mind or sin is called enmity itself. Accordingly it and its acts are expressed by names of enmity and acts of hostility, such as walking contrary to God, rebelling against God, rising up against God, striving and contending with God, despising God, hating God, resisting God, fighting God, blaspheming God. And in short, it is atheism, it is saying there is no God. It goes about to ungod God. It is God murder," he said.
 
When Pharaoh said, "I know no lord above me," Exodus 5:2, he said what every sinner says. I'm in charge, there's no lord above me, I'll do what I want. And it reveals a hate for God and a pride that is unthinkable blasphemy.
 
So get a grip on what your sin is. And if you're going to deal with your tongue and the rest of the sin in your life, and if I am, it's going to be because of what we think about others, what we think about the law, and what we think about God.
 
And finally, what we think about
 
4.  Ourselves
 
Verse 12b
 
Here we find the arrow to the heart. And the tone of the question is exactly as it feels.  James says, “Who do you think you are to sit in condemnation of someone else?  Who gave you the right to sit in judgment of the world?  Are you the epitome of perfection?  What gives you the right to judge somebody else?”
 
And by the way, the structure of the verse indicates this is a habitual pattern of action.  This is not just a snap judgment or emotional response.  This is the attitude of this person’s life.  They just go around judging others and being critical of everyone else.  And James is reminding them that this kind of attitude does not demonstrate the humility that brings God’s grace to your life.  This is not an authentic demonstration of salvation.   
 
Out of Greek mythology comes the story of a man who committed a terrible crime and the gods cursed him with the punishment that for the rest of his life he would only see people as skeletons.  No longer would he be able to see their flesh and their muscle, their tissue, their faces.  Never again would he see a beautiful woman.  Never again would he see an innocent child or a handsome lad.  Forever he would be cursed by seeing no charm, no beauty and no life.
 
That describes a lot of people today.  They’re like that and they haven’t been cursed.  They’re like G.B. Hardy who said of a friend, "He could find the manure pile in any meadow."   They're the kind of people who, no matter what good might be right under their nose, they don't see it. Most people probably live like that, but Christians shouldn't.   And they certainly shouldn’t be known for voicing it, especially when it comes to defaming one another. 
 
Somewhere down through the years I came across a little story and I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it is a fitting illustration of this text of scripture. 
 
"They were a happy little family living in a small town in North Dakota...even though the young mother had not been entirely well since the birth of her second baby. A simple and a humble little family. And each evening the neighbors were aware of a warmth in their hearts when they would see the husband and father being met at the gate by his wife and two little children. There was laughter in the evening, too. And when the weather was nice, the father and the children would romp together on the back lawn while mother looked on with happy smiles.
 
Then one day a village gossip started a story saying that the father was being unfaithful to his wife, a story entirely untrue. But it eventually came to the ears of the young wife and it was more than she could bear. Reason left its throne and that night when her husband came home there was no one to meet him at the gate, no laughter in the house, no fragrant aroma coming from the kitchen, only coldness and something that chilled his heart with fear.
 
And down in the basement he found the three of them hanging from a beam. Sickened in despair the young mother had first taken the lives of her two children and then her own.  In the days that followed the truth of what had happened came out. A gossip's tongue had wrought a terrible tragedy."
 
That is the power of a slanderous tongue. Not only does it affect those around you, it demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the Law of God, it slanders God Himself and it indicts those who do it as the judgmental frauds that they are.  And in a phrase, James tells us the solution to the problem:  “Family of God, do not speak evil of one another.”
 
Let's bow together in prayer.
 
Perhaps a little soul searching is in order regarding our tongue and what we say and how we say it.  If we have spoken evil of someone unfairly, unjustly, without cause, if we have spoken lies,or even words of truth that were hateful or gossip or backbiting, then it’s for heart examination and confession and repentance.  And none of us is without sin because the one who doesn't sin with his tongue, it said in James 3, is the perfect man and none of us is that.
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