James 4:11 & 12 “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 Law-giver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?”
There are two contrasting threats facing every church – moralism and anarchy. If I were a moralist then you would in effect be hearing from the pulpit this constant refrain, “Alfred Place…don’t!” So should I ever depart from the gospel a sign would be when someone asked a weary member of the congregation which church he attended and he would bleakly say, “Alfred Place Don’t.” It is always a mark of distorted Christianity when a preacher talks about our duties more than he preaches about the achievements of our great Saviour.
But if I were an anarchist then you would never hear the word, ‘don’t’ or the word ‘wrong.’ I would pose as a despiser of such ‘moral imperialism’, and would be saying things like, “Everyone has to find out for himself what he’s happy with in personal behaviour.” So should I depart from the gospel in that direction a sign would be when someone said he belonged to “Alfred Place Maybe.” If moralism has killed its thousands, anarchy has killed its tens of thousands. I met a young woman recently who said to me so artlessly, “I don’t think there is right and wrong.” She did not know that she had been influenced by moral anarchy or relativism or postmodernism or multiculturalism or radical feminist theology or the new hermeneutics, or however you wish to describe that mind set, but she has. She has picked it up from our media-dominate culture. It is very contagious. She works out for herself hour by hour how to react to temptations in her job in the local hospital, and in her relationship with her ‘feller’, and one day in telling her children how to live. She can’t appeal to any overall code of behaviour to structure her life. For her no such laws exists. The writer John Leo characterises postmodernism this way: “In the postmodern, post-everything world view there is no objectivity or truth. Everything is relative. Nothing is better or truer than anything else.”
The mark of churches slipping into moral anarchy is their blandness. Their salt has lost its savour. It has stopped stinging. Someone who is not a Christian recently attended one such church, and was sickened by it. This is what she got out of the service: “Get what? All I was getting was the growing realisation that there was going to be no depth of meaning here. The born-again phenomenon was turning out to be just a club for people who deify niceness and are missing the solidarity of the lacrosse team. No harm done, you may say, but how can people who have had hundreds of thousands of pounds lavished on honing their analytical skills end up in this complacent theological [and ethical] vacuum where everyone is terrified about not being ‘nice’? The golden light and constant smiles were becoming increasingly nauseating and claustrophobic. I began to long for anything to relieve the oppressive blandness” (“Giving Sight to the Bland,” Mary Wakefield, The Spectator, 23 January 1999, p.19).
No one can survive without some external authority. When you buy a new machine the manufacturer will tell you, “Do this, and don’t do that,” and if you ignore him you will have problems. I have never heard a householder complaining that in the manual that comes with the appliance the purchaser is told what to do and what not to do – “Who is he telling me how to operate this machine?” He is the designer. He knows its capabilities, and he knows what can destroy it. This is God’s creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and God made man in his image.” We might wish to travel at the speed of light, and fly out of the heavens, and be in two places at one time, and never grow old and die. But as the old proverb says, “Wishers and woulders are poor householders.” Wish to be what you are, says another, and you have what you wish. In fact you are a creature of God, mortal, soon to die and to stand before your Creator. He has spoken to us, in times past by the prophets, and in these last days by his Son, and the Bible is the Maker’s manual of how we are to live, and also the repair handbook of how we can be restored. Whether we blossom and flourish and bear fruit, or whether we wither and perish will depend on how seriously we take the Scriptures. Everyone obeys some authority, and for us in Wales it is either the media or the Bible. In that book Almighty God constantly says “Do” and “Don’t” and in this passage before us he specifically says “Don’t,” “Don’t slander one another.” This is your Maker’s instructions. The Lord is a moral God – “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” – and he knows man, and he is concerned with even the details of life. The Lord Jesus speaks about little things, and commends faithfulness in little things. It is only a small matter to write a letter, to be on time, to say thank-you, to be in your place in a meeting, to show courtesy to someone, but so often it is in the little things of life that we are being tested. How few genuinely little things there are in life.
1. WHAT DOES GOD MEAN WITH ‘DO NOT SLANDER ONE ANOTHER’?
This might seem a little thing, having a quiet gossip with your friend. But God is interested in our words, and especially when we start defaming someone, denigrating him, tarnishing someone’s reputation and putting him down. James is talking about speaking harshly about people in their absence, criticising and insulting them, spilling the beans, betraying confidences, and running them down. David compares the slandering tongue to three fatal weapons: firstly, to a razor, which shaves off every little hair on your chin. So when we put someone in their place we don’t just talk about their great falls, but there’s this peccadillo and we drag it up, and that other minor habit too – the blade of our tongues spares nothing. Then David compares a slandering tongue to a sword that wounds, and a man’s tongue can cut deep into the reputation of other people. Tales of follies of long ago are not allowed to be forgotten; the sword is rarely in its scabbard. Thirdly, David compares a slandering tongue to an arrow that can hit at a distance, so that words by e-mail and Internet can be telling people in Australia what we have been doing in Wales that very day.
Simo Ralevic, our great contemporary Yugoslavian preacher, expands this image, preaching to his congregation in Pec and saying, “The Jews of old held that murder was committed when a human life was taken by another. But our Lord informs us that whoever detests another person or speaks abusively about another, commits murder in his heart. Men look at what is before their eyes, but the Lord looks at the heart. The murderer, taking up a rifle or a pistol, shoots and kills. The denunciator takes up abusive words, murderous words, and creates from them bullets; you cannot see when they hit, yet they cause many wounds, greater and more dangerous than we might imagine” (“The Tongue – Our Measure” p.33, Banner of Truth, 1987). The tongue can be a murderous weapon: “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
This sin is spotlighted and denounced in many places in the Bible. Consider in the book of Psalms how concerned God is for what people say: Psalm 50:19 “You use your tongue for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.” What sort of thing were they doing? Verse 20: “You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.” God sees and is angered. Or again in Psalm 101:5 God says, “Whoever slanders his neighbour in secret, him will I put to silence.” These are some of the psalms of worship that the Old Testament Christians sang to one another. There they reminded themselves of how pure their lips should be when they came into God’s presence. How could they praise him with slandering lips? What benefit will be the most contemporary music, led by the most harmonious group, accompanied by the most accomplished band, if the singing congregation are not daily watching their tongues? Have their lips been touched with a coal from the altar?
Dr. Rousas Rushdoony related an incident of standing with a pastor at the door of the church shaking hands and saying good-bye to the worshippers when an older woman in tears left the building followed by a younger woman. She stopped and said to the minister, “NEVER use Psalm 23 again in a service. It was used in my father’s funeral service, and Mother can never hear it without falling apart.” Both men were so startled at this that they were speechless. A few years later he saw the pastor again and asked if he had had further problems with the two women. He told Rushdoony that they had gone to another church because they felt he lacked ‘sensitivity.’
In fact people have forgotten that it is not the will nor the word of man that should govern the worship of the church (nor the word and will of the pastor), but the word of God. We hear so much today about having ‘seeker-sensitive’ worship services, removing any elements from our gatherings that might offend the stranger. In fact we need to be emphasising ‘God-sensitive’ worship services. What will give pleasure to the Ancient of Days? Pure lips! Scandal-free lips! The problem today is not hyper-sensitivity but hyper-coarseness. Listen to the language of women and young children! There is no worship that the engineering of man can design that can make scandal-loving lips acceptable to God. First men have to feel the guilt of their behaviour and cry to God for mercy.
The apostle Paul talks to the Corinthian church about his misgivings concerning a planned visit. How may he find that worshipping congregation?
“I fear that there may be quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Cor. 12:12). This church, so blessed and baptized with the Holy Ghost – on anyone’s definition – also could be full of wild fire. There were as many people being hurt by the members of that congregation as being healed. If this is a problem for the professing church then slander must certainly be a problem for the world. Paul describes that great Augustan age at the beginning of his letter to the Romans, its spectacular vices, the cruelty, and all the pain, and there in the midst of all other deviations from God’s way Paul notices this, “they are gossips, slanderers” (Romans 1:30). Alongside the crimes of murder, indecency, ruthlessness and idolatry there is this mean sin of slander. In the shadow of the greatest literature, philosophy, architecture, system of law, road-building, expertise in military matters, politics, trade and athletic prowess such tawdry sins as gossip and slander were thriving. See it today in Washington, the capital of the greatest country in the history of the world, with its brilliant technological advances, but the maggot of moral perversion gnawing away in the highest places. The Western world has made the ‘gossip-columnist’ a noble vocation rewarding the hack for his tawdry tittle-tattle by putting his name in the New Year’s Honours lists.
“Brothers, do not slander one another.” There are conversations that should not be taking place if the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is precious to you. Christians have no right to gossip and listen to the tales of anyone. No greater injury can be inflicted upon a person than to destroy his reputation. Slander is a vice that strikes a double blow. It wounds both him that commits it and him who is slandered. Let me show you some key verses in the Bible bearing on this.
The first is directed to widows. The plain fact is that most women will one day be widows, because women live longer than men. Every woman must prepare herself for those days – as for the day of her own death. Paul talks of two kinds of widows in 1 Timothy 5:13 and 14, the first “get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies saying things they ought not to.” Then there are others who are younger, and so marriageable and able to bear children, and Paul exhorts them to “manage their homes and give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” There were women Paul knew in various congregations, and they had time on their hands, living lonely lives, with a dangerously self-centred existence. Their circumstances master them, and they become idlers, gossips and busybodies. Paul says, “Manage your homes” – there’s plenty there to occupy your time. Simo Ralevic tells his congregation, “In modern times there are those who drop in for coffee at other women’s houses for no apparent reason, and who do not work other than to pry into other people’s business. Their coffee is not sweet unless somebody is being condemned over it. The husbands are out at work and the wives are on the prowl. Also by means of the telephone they “go about from house to house.” I am not belittling women. To tell you the truth I value women no less than men. But nonetheless I have to say that it is women who are the more inclined to do this sort of thing. Yet there are reasons for this, especially as regards housewives. To be constantly within four walls is not easy for a woman. They need to get out and see a few friends, to have a good chat with them. And here is where the temptation lies. What are they to chat about? Here is a particular temptation for widows and single women. They miss their friends, which is completely natural. But do take heed not to speak evil of anybody and not to be a busybody in other people’s matters. A woman needs to go and see her friend, or chat by telephone. However, telling tales about a third party is extremely dangerous How I wish I had never known or heard certain things about certain people. The talebearer separates close friends. That talebearer sets up walls between people, splits up brotherhoods. These things are of Satan” (op cit pp.41&42). Slanderers are the devil’s bellows. They blow up contention. See them listening to the whispered insinuation? Soon they will be passing it on. It is the rhetoric of our old enemy they are feeding on.
The second verse is Proverbs 29:19 “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” Is there someone in this congregation who talks too much so that he or she often betrays confidences? Avoid him. Avoid her. That is what Scripture says. Charles Bridges has a great devotional commentary on this book of Proverbs and he says about this gossip, “We would not wish him to look over our wall; much less to enter into our houses; least of all, to associate with our family circle, where his whole employment would be, either to draw out, or to put in, what was not convenient” (“Proverbs,” Charles Bridges, Banner of Truth, p.352). Keep away from the slanderer, says Bridges.
The third verse is also in the book of Proverbs 18:8 “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” The slanderer goes about from one to another and he says, “Have you heard … did you meet … would you guess what has happened … could you believe what I heard today … do you know so-and so … has anyone told you?” And the pernicious thing is that his hearers start salivating, and these are the choicest morsels they have tasted today, like the sweetest chocolate or the finest piece of lamb. Down it goes to our inmost parts and savoured all the way. That is what keeps scandal alive, the delight in hearing of others’ misfortunes. Sin has done this to our hearts. Scandal is like pornography, those people trapped by it can’t get enough of it. But if it were ourselves they were speaking of, if we had had the baby out of wedlock, or been charged with some offence, or we did not have children, or we were single, or been divorced, or if our marriage were going through a rocky patch, or we had had a fall some time ago, or we were seeing a psychiatrist then we would not want half the world to be talking about it and getting the story wrong. You love your neighbour as yourself, and you resist the sweetness of bad news.
Those are some key verses on this wide theme of spreading scandal. Listen again to these wise words from Simo Ralevic, “Beloved, we must not be so inquisitive as to find out more about a brother or sister than he or she thinks good to reveal to us. It is exceedingly sinful to want to intrude into the personal problems of our brethren and sisters. Their personal, domestic affairs are none of our business. How much a person is paid or is not being paid is none of our business. Why someone is getting married earlier and someone else is getting married later is not our affair. Why this person has three children, that person has six, and another person has not got any is no concern of ours. And if a brother is in trouble, let us not make a detailed examination. Love does not make a detailed examination. Love does not wait for details, love helps out. My brother does not need to tell all so that I can pray for him. Whoever asks for details, ‘so that he can pray’ is trying to pry into other men’s matters.
“For this reason I am against a person’s confessing his past to someone else in great detail. It is written: ‘Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much’, but be satisfied with what your brother wishes to confide and do not cross-examine him for the details. It is enough that he, or she, should say to you, ‘I have sinned greatly’ and nothing more. In no way must we go into details. This is my attitude towards you, brethren, and this should be the attitude of you all” (op cit p.38). The wife of a pastor friend of mine had a partial mastectomy, and people from the congregation came to visit her, and some asked the most personal detailed questions about the operation. Why? For what purpose? A morbid interest in pain? One would be to tell other people. It was none of their business and the interrogation at a vulnerable time was very hurtful.
So that is what God means when by James he speaks to us and tells us, “do not slander one another.” But then you see he gives some reasons why we are to despise this habit.
2. SOME REASONS WHY WE SHOULD NOT SLANDER ONE ANOTHER.
1. Slandering is not the way to treat your brother. “Brothers” says James, and he says it three times, but for some reason best known to the translators of the NIV they have left out the word ‘brother’ the third time and simply put in ‘him.’ James says, “BROTHERS, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his BROTHER or judges his BROTHER…” There is a deliberate emphasis here, that this is your own brother you are running down. Brothers should have a deep affection for one another. When the fisherman Andrew heard John the Baptist pointing to Jesus of Nazareth and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God” we are told, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41). That is what a brother should do, share his new discovery with one he loves.
How different was the brother of the prodigal son. He did not come into the party welcoming the boy home. His father had to go out to him and plead with him, but he said, “this son of yours…has squandered your property with prostitutes” (Luke 15:31). How did he know that? It is sheer scandalous conjecture. In this very chapter Jesus tells of a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, and a woman searching for a lost coin, and a brother who refuses to search for a lost brother. He rather slanders his brother. This is not the way to treat a brother.
It is a sad feature of the church that men seem to find it impossible to disagree without excommunicating one another, and then putting the worst possible interpretation on the words and actions of others. Aren’t men’s visions dreadfully limited? “We know in part.” So we often see things differently, and the greatest tragedy is to see men in the same family at one another’s throats, and to hear the language flying so choicely in the odium theologicum – the hatred of theologians for one another. There is this terrible tendency of us exhausting our energies in controversy with our own brothers. But all our antagonisms cannot eliminate the fact that we are brothers. We may behave as if we were not, and speak as meanly of a Christian preacher as if he were teaching heresy, but it is not we who decide who is in the family. God does that by a birth from above. How can you slander someone God the Father has so loved that he has given him to God the Son? We are in the same family. We are brothers.
John Calvin pleads for more kindness in the Christian family, saying, “There is by no means universal agreement even among those who have no lack of zeal for godliness, or piety and moderation in discussing the mysteries of God. God has never so blessed his servants that they each possessed full and perfect knowledge of every part of their subject. It is clear that his purpose in so limiting our knowledge was first that we should be kept humble, and also that we should continue to have dealings with our fellow Christians. Even though it were otherwise highly desirable, we are not to look in the present life for lasting agreement among us on the exposition of passages of scripture.” In other words, God doesn’t give any of us a complete understanding of every Bible passage. God isn’t going to make us perfect in knowledge until he first makes us perfect in love. If God gave me full and perfect knowledge right now, I’d be even more arrogant and judgmental than I already am. I don’t know it all, and neither does any of my brothers,
Families usually close ranks at hurting times. They know the facts. They are aware of all the circumstances. They love deeply. They are in pain. For you it is the thrill of gossip. For them it is the grief of the fall of someone they are tied to emotionally and will be linked to for ever. For example, a son has left his wife and gone off with a married woman. You write to the parents too breezily, and you say, “Oh dear, what an idiot!” and of course you say to them, “I am sorry.” They write back, movingly and at length. There are other factors. It has been a tough marriage with little support towards the husband and much criticism from his wife for many years, and it has all been grinding him down. “Not like your marriage,” they say. Ouch! They don’t try to excuse what their son has done, but they know more of the pressures he has had to live under for so long. You wish you had been wiser, gentler, more circumspect and more thoughtful in what you had written. You perceive that for the rest of their lives they will grieve over what has happened to one they love while you will have forgotten it. It has become for you just another statistic of the break up of Christian marriages, because he was not your son and you are already listening for the next piece of gossip. You forgot he was your brother as really as he is their son.
How much pain is caused in the church because while we say we are the family of God and the household of faith we don’t act like it. Here is this great theology concerning the doctrine of adoption, that to as many as received Christ God gave the authority for them to be called the sons of God, born of God (John 1:12 & 13). Here is a relationship which will never come to an end. John Penry writes a letter from the Tower of London to his wife, the mother of his four little girls, a day or so before he is executed, and he signs the letter, “Your husband for a season and your eternal brother, John.” There is no earthly blessing like a close friendship or a marriage, and the pain of parting from them is the severest pain we shall ever endure. Edward Payson says, “For this reason I never should choose a partner for life whom I could not hope to meet beyond the tomb” (Works, Volume 1, p.53). You do not slander those you love and will live with for ever. That is the argument.
2. Slandering is not the way to love your neighbour. See the end of verse 12, “who are you to judge your neighbour?” Those boys and girls in school are not your family. Those students at college are not your brothers. Those people at work don’t belong to the household of God. The people on your street are not in the household of faith. That fact does not mean you are free to slander them. They are not your brothers, but they are your neighbours. The Lord tells us we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. “But some say terrible things about me.” Love your enemies. Do good to them that do evil to you. Think of the great exhortations in Scripture about how we are to treat every single person on the face of the planet. I am thinking about such Scriptures as these, “if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Or these words, so similar, “Pursue peace with all men” (Hebs.12:14). We find Titus being told to tell Christians this: “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrellin g, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:2). The apostle Peter says, “honour all people” (I Peter 2:17), or “have respect for everyone.”
This doesn’t mean, “Tell people what they want to hear,” or “give them what they ask for.” The Bible is not prescribing civility without conviction. Honour and respect your neighbour. See that you do it. In John Rendle-Short’s book “Green Eye of the Storm” he speaks about the life of his father Arthur Rendle-Short who was one of the leading consultants in the West Country. A few days before his father, Arthur, died in 1953 John “happened to meet one of his colleagues, a specialist in venereal disease, a man certainly not known for his concern for Christian matters. He remarked, ‘Your father was the most extraordinary person I have ever met.’ He told John that on one occasion he had taken a female patient in the Bristol Royal Infirmary to see him for a surgical consultation. He described the woman in lurid terms: an old hag, filthy, smelly, and disgusting. ‘And yet,’ he ended as he turned away, ‘Short treated her like a princess” (p.140, Banner of Truth, 1998). She was not a fellow Christian but she was a fellow creature of God. Can you imagine a godly man like Rendle-Short slandering anyone?
One concern of mine is this, that we have introduced into our vocabulary the concept of the ‘culture wars.’ We are ‘doing battle’ with atheists and humanists. We are ‘fighting’ for the truth against all kinds of heresies and New Age philosophies. We are ‘at war’ with the world, and we ‘soldier on’ day by day. All that is true. Our vocabulary is very martial. But I am saying, be careful that this language doesn’t make it harder for you to love your enemies. Don’t let it inflame angry feelings. Remember there is a common ground you share with them, you are both made in the image of God, and you are ever under obligation to love your neighbour as yourself. You may feel because he is an evil man you can slander him. “Speak evil of no one.” That does not mean you give up the faculty of evaluation. That does not mean when you know a man to be evil that you cannot call him a ‘fox’ or a ‘snake in the grass’ or a ‘whited sepulchre.’ The Lord Jesus has warned us of wolves in sheep’s clothing, and we must always be on guard and be asking ourselves, “Is this one of those wolves that the Lord warned us about?” I am not saying become bland or gullible, but I am saying that there is no circumstance in which slander is justified, however wicked a man may be. I will fight my battles. I will find the parameters. I will defend the truth, and defend honour. I will warn. I will use irony. I will use humour. I will use sarcasm and indignation in defending the little ones of Christ’s flock, but I will still say, “that man is my neighbour” and I will never slander him.
3. Slander is not the way to obey the Bible. v.11 “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.” James talks of the ‘law’ and the meaning of that can go from the ten commandments to the first five books of the Bible to the Lord Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It is not a specific reference. It is a designation to those given written ethical principles which bind us today in how we are to live. We have this grand doctrine of Scripture, that it is breathed out by God, so that what Scripture says God says. The Bible is true. You believe that, but what good is it doing in your life if you are still slandering people? The Bible says forcefully that we are not to defame or condemn harshly other people. It talks of this sin in a number of places and warns us of falling into slander. But if you do ‘speak against’ your brother – and James here uses exactly the same word as that translated earlier in the verse as ‘slander’ – if you commit this sin denigrating and condemning in harsh judgment your brother then what is happening is you are speaking out against the Word of God. You are condemning the Scripture. You have put yourself above the Bible. You thought you were just rubbishing a human life but I fact you were also rubbishing the Word of God.
The man who does not stop at a red traffic lights, and drives on the wrong side of the road, and never keeps within the speed limit is a threat to life. He will kill someone. He is also utterly contemptuous of the law of the land. The soccer-player who picks up the ball in his hands and runs with it ruins the game, and also is despising the rule-book. The soldier who gets up when he feels like and wont go on manoeuvres and says to the sergeant-major, “Well, that’s your opinion” is going to end up in a cell. He also belittles the army code. Those books are human codes, but this royal law is the written by the finger of God. You say that a motorist would not break the Highway Code like that, nor would a soccer-player break the F.A. rule book, nor a soldier behave like that. No they would not. But you are breaking the law of the living God. This is the standard by which all the world is going to be judged. For every word of slander we are going to be held accountable. All slander hurts your brother or disparages your neighbour, but also it dismisses the Word of God. In that great day God will say to you, “You sat in judgment on my word, and you condemned it. You spoke against my word.” And you will say “When, Lord? When did I speak against your word and judge it?” And God will say, “When you ran down Bill Jones and Mary Smith. When you sat in your kitchen with that telephone in your hand and said those cruel things against them so harshly, it was then you were sitting in judgment on me and on my words. Depart from me ye cursed into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” When you judge the law the law will judge you. The law is given to us to obey, not to be despised.
4. Slander is not the way to respond to God. v. 12 “There is only one Law-giver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.” Who do you think you are dealing with? Who is the Law-giver? Who is the Judge? The Living God. Do you know all the facts? No, in fact you know just a few things. Don’t act the judge. It’s not your calling. Don’t usurp the place of Almighty God. Don’t get into the judging business. Imagine you turning up at the Old Bailey and trying to get into Court Number One and take the judge’s chair! You’d end up in a cell. They would send for a psychiatrist. There is only one Law-giver and Judge, and what a Judge! Everything is naked to the eyes of the God with whom we have to deal. Life and death are at his disposal. He says, “I put to death and I bring to life” (Deut.32:39). When childless Hannah prays to him she says, “The Lord brings death and makes alive” (I Sam.2:6). When the king of Israel received a request from the King of Aram that his general Naaman be healed of his leprosy the king of Israel tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?” (2 Kings 5:7). The Psalmist says, “Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death” (Psalm 68:20). Wasn’t it the Lord Christ who said, “Be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” Matt. 10:28). Aren’t you glad that it is so? Aren’t you thankful that it is not me you must stand before in the Great Day? Aren’t I at peace that it is not you I must give account to, but Jehovah Jesus? There is only one Law giver and Judge, and he became incarnate and felt the bitterness of men’s slanderous tongues directed to himself. They said he was a drunkard. They said he was a blasphemer. They said he was servant of Satan. They said he was a false messiah. Their slanders helped to murder him. What sympathy he has for those who are slandered today; “Blessed are ye men when shall revile you and persecute you and say all mean of evil against you falsely for my sake.” (Matthew 5:11). He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Judge not that ye be not judged” It is the best known verse in all the Bible, (Matthew 7:1), and the least obeyed. Let us determine that we are going to be so careful about how we speak of people from now on, that there will be judgements of charity, that we will be scrupulous about their reputation. Maybe there is one person in this congregation more than anyone else who needs to make that vow, and maybe that person is me. Maybe it is you. Judgment is God’s grand prerogative and in that honour none shall share.
5. Slander is not the way to knowing yourself. v.12 “But you – who are you to judge your neighbour?” There is that great counsel of Paul to the Galatian church when he talks to them about someone caught in a sin, and he tells them that those who are spiritual should restore him gently. Then he adds, “But watch yourself,” or “considering thyself” (Galatians 6:1). Who is the best man to help another who has fallen? Someone who knows his own heart and watches himself. Let that person who ‘considers himself’ be the spiritual man to help the brother who has fallen. Not the person who is an expert in knowing what is wrong with everyone and talks about slanders day after day. Not him. Never him. But the person who says, “Who am I? Who am I to judge my neighbour?” We answer, “You are someone who passes judgment on your own life. You are one who does not think more highly of himself than he ought to think. You are someone who knows that there but for the grace of God go you. You are the one to help. Not the slanderer. He discredits himself. To know yourself you must see yourself as God sees you and must have fled from slander and all such sins to the wounded side of Christ for refuge.
24th January 1999 GEOFF THOMAS