I’m encouraged again as I come to this text in James. As you know, we’re studying this wonderful epistle of James, and I draw your attention to chapter 4 with a thankful heart that you’re here and that you’re eager to study God’s Word. What a joy and what a wonderful blessing it is. I thank you for your faithfulness and for the appetite that you demonstrate for the things of God by your faithful attendance, not just to a service but to the hearing of the exposition of His precious truth.
James chapter 4. We’re returning again to two verses in this wonderful chapter. Let me read them to you, verses 11 and 12. “Do not speak evil one of another, brethren. He that speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you’re not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver that is able to save and to destroy. Who are you that judges another?”
Now, as you know, throughout the epistle of James, there are various subjects dealt with. The link that ties them all together is that they are tests of a living faith, tests of a genuine faith, tests of a saving faith. And certainly this little section of two verses likewise fits into that basic theme, as we shall see in a moment.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” These two verses speak of the issue of slander, the blasphemous sin of defaming other people. And in line with the words of Jesus, what you speak in your mouth indicates your heart, a slanderous tongue, a habitually speaking evil of other people, betrays an unchanged heart. So the tongue and the speech of the tongue is truly a test of living faith, as we saw back in chapter 3 in great detail. Jesus also said in that same text of Matthew 12, in verse 37, “By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” The reason He could say that is because the words that you speak are the revealing of your heart.
When Isaiah the prophet, as you well know, expressed the guilt and the shame and the overpowering sense of his own sinfulness before God, he said it in these words, “I am a man of unclean lips” or “I am a man with a dirty mouth, I dwell amidst people with dirty mouths,” and that was the truest and most obvious expression of the sense of his own sinfulness, for it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. In fact, somebody said the mouth is the tunnel through which depravity exits the heart.
Now, James had much to say about that, and I don’t want to belabor the point. You remember our study of chapter 3, verses 1 to 12, he talked about the tongue’s power to condemn, the tongue’s power to control, the tongue’s power to corrupt, the tongue’s power to combat, and the tongue’s power to compromise. And in the end, he summed it up by saying that a fountain doesn’t send forth sweet water and bitter, verse 11, and a fig tree doesn’t bear olive berries and a vine doesn’t bear figs and a fountain can’t yield saltwater and fresh.
And what he meant to say by that was your speech shows your heart, there can’t be a difference in the two. Whatever’s inside of you is going to come out of your mouth. And so James pointed out that the use of the tongue is indeed a test of living faith. A new man in Christ has a new tongue, a new speech. Salvation has a profound effect on your speech because it changes your heart from which your mouth speaks.
Look with me at that for a moment, that thought, by turning to the fourth chapter of Ephesians. And let me remind you of a certainly familiar text of Scripture, Ephesians 4. Picking up the thought at verse 24, “Put on the new man, which after God has created in righteousness and true holiness” - and just to grab the thought that what he says here is you have put on the new man, the new self, which after God is already created in righteousness and true holiness, so when you become a believer if you have put on Christ, if you have put on the new man, it is a holy and righteous new man.
Therefore, he says, put away lying, that’s one misuse of the tongue, speak every man truth with his neighbor for we are members one of another. Be not angry, rather be ye angry and sin not, that is put away not only lying from your speech but angry talk. Let not the sun go down on your wrath. Don’t give place to the devil. Let the one who stole steel no more but rather let him labor working with his hands the thing which is good that he may give to him that needs. And then let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.
In verse 31, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, let it all be put away from you with all kakia, with all evil. Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.
Now, the dominant theme through all of those things has to do with your speech. And if you are a new man, it should reflect itself, it will reflect itself in your speech, and it should reflect yourself in your speech more and more. And that’s a concept you have to grab. Because you’re a new creation, your speech will be new, but even though it’s new, it isn’t all it ought to be. And so while the apostle will say you’re a new man; therefore, you have new speech, he will also say, “And your new speech ought to be newer and newer and newer all the time.”
So there will be a demonstrated change in your heart coming out of your mouth, but you will not be all you ought to be, and so you must continually submit to the power of the Spirit of God that you might live out the fullness of that new creation.
Turn in your Bible also for a moment to the third chapter of Colossians. Paul, writing along the same lines of the new man and describing that if you’re a new creature it’s going to show up in your life, talks about that. In verse 8, “But now you also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth, lie not to one another.” Now, all of those are primarily attitudes of the heart that come out in the speech. Put all of that away. Why? “Seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man that is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”
In other words, since you’re a new creation, you have a new heart, you will have a new speech, and make sure that your speech is all that it ought to be. And then in verse - well, actually, in verse 2 of chapter 4, he also talks about speech, but go down to verse 6. Verse 2 is the speech of prayer. Verse 6, “Let your speech be always with grace.” Gracious speech, that is the idea of spiritual speech, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, purposeful, complimentary, truthful, loving speech that ministers grace.
“Seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” What does it mean, “seasoned with salt”? Speech that halts corruption. Salt stopped the process of decay. Speech is to be wholesome, then. It is to be cleansing. It is to be purifying. It is to be an influence that rescues conversation from base things and evil things.
So sanctified speech will be the mark of a new person. That doesn’t mean it’s all it ought to be. It’ll be there. Your salvation will change your speech, but there’s still a lot we have to work on, and that’s true in every dimension. We are new creations in Christ. We think differently. We act differently, but we’re not all we ought to be, and so we commit ourselves daily to allow that new creation and that new speech, along with all the other areas of newness, to dominate our lives.
Now, one way that sanctified speech is violated is through defaming one another, and that takes us back to James chapter 4. Slander, backbiting, this term is often translated in the New Testament. And this, then, becomes also a test of genuine saving faith in James’ epistle, as well as for a Christian a test of carnality and/or spirituality. But where you have a life pattern of habitual, malicious, condemning, slanderous speech, it betrays an evil nature, not a new creation in Christ.
And it’s not just a tongue issue, it’s deeper than that - deeper than that. James has already talked about the tongue, so let’s go a little deeper here and get somewhat behind the tongue. A person who continually speaks evil against another person is really not dealing with a tongue issue, they’re dealing with a heart issue, right? And what did we say last time the issue is? Where does slanderous speech come from? It comes from a heart that is filled with one major sin, pride. Pride that manifests itself in envy and jealousy and ultimately hatred, and it comes out of the mouth in the form of slanderous speech.
So we’ve looked at all of that and that’s just a very brief review. And with that general background, we approach this very brief text, let’s just look back at it for a moment and see what we saw last time in microcosm. “Do not speak evil of one another.” And remember what I said last time? That doesn’t mean you don’t confront sin. Like Matthew 18, says if your brother is taken into sin you go to him and you expose the sin and you talk about it, and if he doesn’t repent, you get two or three witnesses, and if he still doesn’t repent, you tell the whole church and you send the whole church after him.
This is not contradicting that. This does not tell us that we shouldn’t discern and expose sin. What it commands is not to stop exposing sin with righteous intent, but to stop manufacturing evil about a person with an unrighteous intent. Big difference - big difference. It’s slander that is malicious in intent. It’s slander that is lying, not speaking the truth.
So James says stop this sin of lying about people with a malicious intent, and he is pointing again to the fact that if in the church to whom he writes there are those people who claim to be Christians but their life pattern is that of slander with malicious intent, it rises out of a heart that is controlled by pride, manifests in jealousy that ultimately ends in hate that comes out of the mouth in the form of malicious talk. And if that’s the case, then there’s every reason to question the legitimacy of a claim to salvation because the tongue is betraying the claim.
Now, it’s a fine line and we go through it all the time. You can be a Christian and speak maliciously. You can be a Christian and slander. But if that’s the pattern of your life, then there’s every reason to question whether you are a Christian. If your heart is controlled more by pride than anything else, it’s questionable that you’re really redeemed. Why? Because the dominant attitude of the heart of a converted person is an attitude of what? What is it? God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Who are the people who have the heart that is the heart God enters? The humble.
God resists the proud, He gives grace to the humble, chapter 4, verse 6. That’s why verse 10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He’ll lift you up.” That’s talking about salvation. Remember we went through that? If you want to come to God and be saved, you come with a humble heart. If you have a proud heart and that’s the characteristic of your life, then there’s every reason to question the claim you make to be a Christian.
You can tell everything you want to know about a person by their speech. Oh yes, all of us from time to time say things that are malicious, slanderous, gossip, backbiting - I mean, we all can fall to that. But where that’s the pattern of life and pride dominates the heart and envy and jealousy seem to be constant companions in the spirit of a person, there’s reason to question the legitimacy of a claim to salvation. James is laying out these tests, much like John did in 1 John.
Now, to enforce the prohibition, James calls for the mind to be under control. If we’re going to stop speaking evil of one another, we have to understand some things. Remember them? We gave you four of them last time. We have to consider what we think about others, what we think about law, what we think about God, and what we think about ourselves. Those four, others, law, God, and ourselves. We have to take a good look into our own mind and discern what our attitude is toward these four specific features.
Do you remember the first one? We went into that last time. What we think about others. Notice verse 11, “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother” - three times the reference is made here and with great import so that we are conscious of the fact that slander within the community of faith is slander against a what? A brother. That’s a violation of Philippians 2, of the humility of Jesus Christ. That’s a violation of the principle to look not on your own things but on the things of others. That’s a violation of the statement in Philippians 2 to consider others better than yourself.
It’s a violation of the attitude of 1 John 2:8 to 10 and 4:20 ,and 21 which says if you say you’re a believer you ought to manifest it by loving your brother. And so we have to take stock of how we feel about others. If you’re going to control your tongue, if you’re going to have a tongue that speaks well and not evil of people, it’s going to be because you understand who it is you’re speaking of and you understand they’re your brothers in Christ; that is, they’re children of God, joint heirs in Jesus Christ.
They are the special objects of the affection of the Savior who chose them in Him before the foundation of the world and that you speak evil of those who are indeed precious to God. And if I can see fellow Christians as God’s children, God’s beloved children ,for whom the dear Savior died, and if I can see them as those upon whom He eternally set His love, and if I can see them as my own brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I will dwell forever, then I can control how I talk about them. That’s the issue. That’s the issue.
Look with me to Matthew 18 for a moment, and let me enforce this in the teaching of Jesus with a passage we went through in our study of Matthew, tremendously potent passage. I go back to this again and again and again, and prior to doing a study on Matthew, I don’t think I ever, ever studied this chapter. I didn’t think it really had much to say, and now I understand the ramifications of it to be so far-reaching it may be the most significant chapter in the gospels relative to the life of the church. In fact, it no doubt is because it describes how we as God’s children in Christ are to treat each other.
Some people think this chapter is about little babies. It isn’t about little babies. The children here are not physical children, they are spiritual children. Unless you become as a little child, you can’t enter the Kingdom of heaven. Once you come in, you’re still a little child. And the first thing He begins to say in verse 5, “Whosoever shall receive one such little child” - not a real baby, but a spiritual child - “in my name, receives me.” In other words, how you treat another believer is exactly how you treat whom? Christ.
How you treat another Christian is exactly how you treat Christ. And that’s why in verse 6 it says, “When you offend one of these little ones who believe in me” - not a baby, babies don’t believe in Christ, but when you offend a believer, a childlike believer, and all of us are childlike until we come to maturity in Christ in His presence, when you offend another believer, that is such a serious thing - “it would be better for you that a millstone be hanged around your neck and you be drowned in the depths of the sea.” In other words, you’d be better off dead than to do anything to offend another believer.
In verse 7, He says, “Woe to the world because of offenses.” He can’t be talking about babies because even the world doesn’t offend babies, for the most part, they love babies. But spiritual children, the world offends them all the time. The shock is, we expect the world to offend Christians, we certainly don’t expect Christians to offend Christians, but they sure do a good job at it. And He says in verses 8 and 9, “If you’re doing it, you better take serious action.” And He uses sort of proverbial statements about if your hand is offending you, cut it off; if your foot’s offending you, cut it off; if your eye’s offending you, pull it out. In other words, take drastic action to prevent yourself from ever offending another believer.
Verse 10, “Don’t look down on them,” kataphrone, thinking down, despising one of these little ones. Why? Because the holy angels of heaven are looking at the face of the Father. Why? The Father is concerned about His children, His face expresses that concern, the holy angels are watching His face in order to see the expression of His concern so they can go to the aid of His children. And verse 12 says the Lord is the kind of Shepherd that if He has a hundred sheep and loses one, He goes and gets the one. That’s how precious they are to Him because the Father doesn’t want any of those little ones to be destroyed.
And when you destroy them, and He’s not talking about spiritual annihilation here, He’s just talking about devastation. When you do it, you’re violating God. So how you treat another believer is a very, very important issue. Now let’s go back with that in mind to James chapter 4, and what James is saying here is, “Do not speak evil one of another, brethren,” and then says, “Brother, brother.” In other words, get it in your mind who you’re talking about here.
When you maliciously attack with evil, jealous, envious intent another believer and speak lies about that person in order to slander and backbite and gossip and criticize and harm them and ruin their reputation and discredit them, when you do that, just remember who you’re doing it to, one for whom Christ died, one who is His own elect, one who is His own beloved child, and so doing you offend God, you offend the holy angels, you offend Christ, you offend the Holy Spirit who dwells in them, to say nothing of offending them. Pretty serious territory.
Now, a second controlling factor - and that was just a brief review. A second controlling factor as you think about your speech is what you think not only about others but what you think about law - what you think about law, verse 11. “He that speaks evil of his brother or condemns his brother sentences him to judgment, is speaking evil of the law and condemning the law.” Now, follow the line of reason. Since loving each other as brothers is God’s law summed up, when we fail to love, we violate God’s law. That’s what he’s saying. So 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. Condemning and slandering the law means you disregard it. You judge it unworthy of your attention. Now, you say, “Well what’s the connection here? If you slander a brother, isn’t that a sin against love?” Yes, it’s a sin against love, but 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. Let’s follow that thought.
Go back to Exodus chapter 20, and I think you’ll see this, a fascinating thing. We’ve looked at Exodus 20 in the past, but let me just see if I can’t pull you back through it and refresh your spirit about this. Here’s the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, and I want you to understand that the Ten Commandments that you perhaps learned as a child are nothing more or less than ten features of law - pardon me, let me say that again - nothing more than ten features of love verbalized, okay? The Ten Commandments are ten features of love verbalized.
For example, “God spoke all these words saying” - verse 1 - “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” That’s a statement about love. That tells me that love is loyal to its object. Be loyal to me, He says. If you love me, you won’t have any other gods. Love is not fickle, love is loyal. Love is single-minded. Love is undivided.
Secondly, love is faithful. He says in verse 4, “Do not make any carved image, any likeness of anything in heaven above or in earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. Do not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me and showing mercy on thousands of them that love me” - there it is - “and keep my commandments.” Love is faithful to obey. Love is faithful to obey the object of its affection. It is loyal in spirit, it is obedient in behavior. That’s - that’s just a characteristic of love.
Thirdly, love is respectful. Verse 7: “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.” 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 loyal to its object, love responds in obedience, faithfully to the devotion of its heart toward that object. Love is respectful, it speaks to lift up, it speaks to exalt, it speaks to honor its object.
And fourthly, verse 8, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, six days you labor and do your work, the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God, in that you do no work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant, your cattle, any stranger in your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” You know what this tells me? Love is set apart. Love is dedicated. Love is sanctified. Love, in a sense, is reverent, if you will.
But I think the main idea here is love is just dedicated. 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 devoted at some times totally to its object. And then that all relates to God, that all relates to what Deuteronomy 6 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your” - what? - “heart, soul, mind, strength,” Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5.
Now, as we follow from verse 12, He turns to love among men, and He says, first of all, in verse 12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long on the earth which the Lord your God gives you.” Love is submissive to authority. Love is submissive to parents. Love is never rebellious. Love is never lawless. Love is never - are you ready for this? - ungrateful for what parents have provided. Love is never hateful. Love is never resentful. Love is always submissive to its object. So what He’s saying is: Children, submit yourselves to your parents, which is to say if you love your parents, that’s not even an issue, you’ll do that.
Verse 13, another principle of love. “Thou shalt not kill.” Do you kill somebody you love? Not hardly - not hardly. I don’t have a sign in my house reminding me, “Don’t kill your children.” Never enters my mind. I love my children. I don’t need that kind of law because I have in my heart a dominant law of love, and love doesn’t take a life. Love is never murderous. Love upholds the sacredness of life. Love would never take away the object of its affection.
Verse 14: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Love is pure. Love never seeks to defile anybody. Listen, when a guy comes to a girl and says, “I love you, let’s go to bed,” he doesn’t love her, not when he wants to steal way 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: “Thou shalt not steal.” Love is selfless. Love is giving. Love doesn’t take, love gives. Love is unselfish. Again it’s a principle of love, 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. So do not bear false witness against your neighbor. That doesn’t fit love. You’re not going to lie about your neighbor if you love your neighbor, you’re going to tell the truth. Why would you want to slander your neighbor if you loved him?
And verse 17: Love is content. Love doesn’t covet a neighbor’s house, a neighbor’s wife, a man-servant, a maid-servant, an ox, an ass, or anything that belongs to the neighbor. Why? Because love loves the neighbor. You see, love is loyal, love is faithful and obedient. It keeps covenant. Love is respectful. Love is so devoted and dedicated that there are times it gives itself wholly to its object. Love is submissive to those in authority, not rebellious and lawless. Love is protective of others, never murderous, but always upholding the sacredness and the right of someone else to live.
Love is pure, never seeks to defile. Love is unselfish, always gives, doesn’t take. Love is truthful. It has no pleasure in a lie because it seeks only the best for its object. And love is content with what it has and would only wish the best for someone else. And that second half of the Decalogue is summed up in the words of Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as” - what? - “thyself.” If you love your neighbor like you love yourself, you’ll submit, you’ll protect, you’ll keep their purity, and so forth and so on.
Now, do you get where we’re going? You get where we’re going? We’re going to Matthew 22:37 where Jesus said this: “On this, hang all the law and the prophets.” On what? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself.” On this, hang all the law and the prophets. Why? Because all the law is is an articulation of love and all the prophets did was apply the law. That’s the issue.
Do you remember Romans 13? Look at it. As Jesus summed up the law in Matthew 22, Paul summed up the law in Romans 13:8. Listen to what he says. “Love one another, for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.” Isn’t that something? If you love somebody, you’ve fulfilled the law. Why? The law says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Verse 9. “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not covet.” And there’s the second half of the Ten Commandments.
And if there’s any other commandment, it’s briefly comprehended in this saying, namely: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love takes care of it because verse 10 says love works no ill to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of what? Of the law. So you see what James is saying to you? What James is saying is if you slander your brother, that’s not love; and if that’s not love, then you’ve broken the law. Got it? That’s the flow of thought.
Now back to James and look at chapter 2 for just a moment. In James chapter 2, verse 8, “If you fulfill the royal law” - the royal law is the law of love - “according to the Scripture, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, you do well. But if you have respect of persons, you commit sin and are convicted of the law as a transgressor.” In other words, if you don’t treat people right, you break the law. What I’m saying to you is a breach of love is a breach of law. A violation of love is a violation of law because all God gave His law to do was to regulate man’s love toward Him and toward his fellow man.
So if we defame someone, if we speak maliciously against someone, if we get our tongues wagging with gossip and slander and backbiting and saying things that are not true, we violate the law at its very heart because at best the law is an articulation of love’s principles. So James says, chapter 4, such kind of speech speaks evil of the law and condemns the law. In other words, it shows utter disregard for the divine standard - utter disregard for the divine standard.
Now, we’re going a little deeper. Stay with me now, we’re going to submerge a minute here into the nature of this and every sin. Listen carefully. James does not condemn this slander as a violation of personal affection, although it is that. He does not condemn malicious, backbiting talk as a violation of kindness but as a violation of God’s law. And law has no article here, which emphasizes in the Greek the qualitative character of law. It violates law as law, and law as love. The law of love is grievously attacked by slanderous speech.
Now think with me on this. The fact that such a sin violates law is the sinner, in effect, saying I am superior to law. Did you get that? That’s what the sinner says. That’s why every sin is a sin of pride because what you’re saying in effect is I know what God said, but this is what I’m saying. And if you think God is in charge, you’re wrong, I’m in charge. That’s what the sinner says. That’s what I say when I sin, 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, my law. And I know God said don’t do it, but I’m doing it. You have a higher law than the law of God.
The unimaginable reality is that the one who disregards the law of God in his behavior is himself affirming that he is above that law, that he doesn’t have to be bound by that law, that he is living on a plane higher than the law of God and not subject to its authority.
Dear folks, will you get that in your mind, that that’s what sin is? Sin is not some little slip over here in the corner with - without major implications. Sin is, in effect, 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. That’s what sin says.
Attacking law is judging one’s brother as, to put it in a Latin term, eo ipso. In other words, you’re judging the law itself. If you judge your brother, you condemn your brother, and you’re condemning the law that protects your brother by calling you to love him, and you’re saying you’re higher than that law. You’re saying the law of God is unworthy of my behavior, the law of God is useless. It’s a fearful disrespect.
You have to put sin in its context. You have to see it for what it is. You’re saying the law of God is unworthy of my attention, it is unworthy of my affection, it is unworthy of my obedience, it is unworthy of my submission - and that, dear friends, is blasphemy. You’re really like the usurper, Satan, himself - so am I when we sin.
Go back to verse 11, the end of the verse, “But if you judge the law, or if you condemn the law by ignoring it, violating it, you are not a doer of the law,” he says, “but you’re a” - what? - “judge.” You’ve just climbed up on the bench and you’re in charge. You’ve rejected your position as one under the authority of the law, and you’ve taken a position above the law. You are in charge. You are more worthy than the law is.
Now, if you live your life that way, James says, then your salvation is questionable. If that’s the constant pattern of your life. See sin for what it is here, will you? Yes, sin is a violation of the brotherhood. Yes, it is a violation of love. Yes, it is a breach of affection. Yes, it is a violation of brotherhood. But more than that, it is rebellion and the usurpation of authority. It is blasphemy against the law of God. And where is the humility in that? And since God gives grace to the humble, how do we know God has given you grace if you live that kind of proud approach to life?
And James isn’t through with this 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 God. And this is a logical progression. Look at the first part of verse 12, “There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy.” You know what that means? There’s no room for you on the bench. Get off. There’s already one there. Who in the world do you think you are? There are no vacancies in the trinity. They’re not waiting for you to show up and call the shots. When the slanderer puts himself above the law, he takes the bench and he endeavors to dispossess God.
Now let me tell you something. For years I studied the fall of Satan, and I didn’t understand how it was or what it was or what the dynamics were when Satan wanted to be like God until I understood what it was for the sinner to think himself higher than the law of God. We remember that Satan said, “I will be like God, I will be like the Most High,” five times he said “I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.” And he sought the place of supremacy. He sought to come out from under the submission that was his under God and to be above God and be in charge, and that’s been the essence of every sin ever since.
So if you struggle to understand that, it’s because you struggle to understand the meaning of any sin because any sin is the same kind of I will, I will, I will, I will, the desire to usurp the role of judge, to push God off the bench and be in charge and be the one above the law rather than the one under the law. This is the frightening sin of Satan, and this is the frightening sin of pride, and this is the frightening sin that every sin follows.
We’ve come across a great truth here, that all sin violates God’s law, all sin asserts that the sinner is above the law, and therefore strikes a murderous blow at God Himself. In fact, sin at its very core is would-be deicide. You know what I mean by deicide? The killing of God. All sin says, in effect, I want God dead and I want to be in charge. Boy, that’s a heavy thought. That’s why the psalmist in Psalm 51, David, after his terrible sin said, “Against thee, thee only have I” - what? - “sinned.”
How did he sin against God by having a relationship with the wife of Uriah? How did he sin against God by sending Uriah out to be killed? How did he sin against God? Because he came out from under the authority of God’s law, said I have a higher law, get off the throne, God, I’m judge and lawgiver. And that strikes a blow at the very character of God and the authority of God and, in effect, is the would-be murder of God. Sin is a very serious reality.
In giving the trespass offering in Leviticus chapter 5, verse 19, it says, “It is a trespass offering.” Why? “He has certainly trespassed against the Lord.” Every sin is against the Lord - every sin is against the Lord. Why? Because every sin, in effect, condemns the law and usurps the role of authority. You become the lawgiver and you write your own law and you push God off and the assumption is God, I wish you were dead so that I could be in control. And that was the sin of Satan and that is the prototype of every sin that every person has ever committed.
Do you remember that Nathan said to David, “Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord to do evil in His sight?” Why have you done that? And David said to Nathan, verse 13, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And he had. And so has every sinner who has ever sinned. You see, the law, as we saw this morning, is the expression of who God is. And to disregard and disobey that law is to devalue that law and to value one’s own opinion more than the Word of God and, therefore, to kick God off the throne and take over. Set yourself up as the ultimate authority.
So James reminds us - let’s look at verse 12 for a moment. “There is one lawgiver” - one lawgiver - “who is able to save and to destroy.” 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.
The word “lawgiver” means the one who puts the law in place. That word is used in - it’s not very often used. In fact, this may be the only place in the New Testament - I found one place, in Psalm 9:2 in the Septuagint, of the Old Testament, but this is the one who puts the law in place. And the judge is the one who applies the law. And the Greek text says, “Only one is lawgiver and judge” - only one. That’s God.
Isaiah 33:22 puts it this way, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King, the Lord will save us.” Only one. And he says He’s able to save - look at that - He’s able to save and to destroy. That’s how He applies the law. In the application of the law, He saves those who are protected from the law because of the faith in Christ and He destroys those who are unprotected because of no faith in Christ.
The word “save,” sz, means to rescue from danger, to rescue from destruction, to save from perishing. Lost men are perishing. God is able to save them. Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Matthew 1:21 said. God is able. The word “able” is there, it’s the word from which we get dynamite. He has the power to save, the power to deliver. So 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. Strong word, apollumi, utterly destroy them. Doesn’t mean annihilate them, it means to put them into eternal loss, eternal estrangement, eternal hell.
So you can’t usurp that place. 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. He is lawgiver. He is judge. He is Savior. He is executioner. Do we need to even reinforce that? It’s so many places in Scripture.
Do you remember the words of Deuteronomy chapter 32, verse 39? Listen, “See now that I, even I am He, and there is no god with me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal, neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.” I’m in charge of healing and I’m in charge of killing.
In 1 Kings 8:39, and there He’s speaking about His power to judge and His power to save. First Kings 8 - I think it’s verse 39 also, if my memory’s right, yes. “Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive the plea to God, and do and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest” - then this parentheses - “(for thou, even thou only, knowest all the hearts of the children of men.)” Only God knows. Only God can apply the law because only God knows the human heart, and the law can be violated not only on the outside, but, of course, on the inside. So you’re the only one who can know, you’re the only one who’s in a position to judge, there’s only one judge, there’s only one lawgiver.
I’m thinking also of Proverbs, kind of on my feet here. Proverbs 15, verse 11, reinforces the same thought. “Sheol and destruction are before the Lord.” Boy, what a statement. God is in charge of hell. God is in charge of destruction. “Fear not those who destroy the body,” Matthew says, recording the words of Jesus, “but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” What a fearful statement our Lord gave. You want to be afraid, be afraid of the God who can destroy the body, Matthew 10:28, and the soul in hell.
The point of these scriptures and myriad other scriptures is that God is in charge of eternal destiny. God is lawgiver, law applier, and executioner and Savior as well. Now, the point is this: When you or myself 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, don’t we? We see our sinfulness in the puniest terms. Basic, extant, evangelical theology is so weak and witless when it comes to sin that we pass it off as if it were a small thing.
And if we truly understood sin as the would-be deicide attempt where we want to execute God and replace Him with ourselves, maybe we’d get a different view of how He sees our sin. 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.
William Barclay said, “It is a reckless man who deliberately infringes on the prerogatives of God.” A reckless man. In the 1600’s, a man by the name of Ralph Venning wrote a book called The Plague of Plagues, which I have read repeatedly and continue to read. It’s a book about sin. It’s not a popular book. In fact, I doubt that anybody ever wrote a book on sin that was popular. You’d have to buy it in a brown bag.
But in the 1600’s, Ralph Venning wrote this: “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. In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice. It is the rape of His mercy. It is the jeer of His patience. It is the sleight of His power. It is the contempt of His love. And it is the demeaning of His law. 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 - what we think about others, what we think about the law, and what we think about God. And finally, what we think about ourselves. And this is the arrow to the heart. James just drives this one home with a vengeance.
Look at the end of verse 12. “Who” - and I’ll add a little MacArthurism, in the world - “do you think you are, sitting in condemnation on someone else? What are you, the paragon of perfection? Who do you think you - what gives you the right to come off as the judge of all the earth? Are you the holy standard? Shut your mouth,” he’s saying. Who do you think you are? That “judge” is present participle, who makes a habitual pattern to condemn other people, judges your neighbor or another. Is that humility? Are you in a position to do that? Boy, that’s strong words - strong words.
I was reading about an old fable this week. A man who committed a terrible crime and the gods hit him - this was in some of the old Greek literature that I once-in-a-while read, the mythology. There was a man who committed some crimes and the gods cursed him, and his punishment was the rest of his life he could only see people as grizzly, gaunt skeletons, couldn’t see their flesh and their muscle, their tissue, their faces. Everyone he saw was gaunt, stark, grizzly skeleton - no charm, no beauty.
And I thought to myself, there are people who see people like that anyway and they haven’t been cursed. They’re like G. B. Hardy of whom - 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 their good - what good might be available, they don’t see it. Most people probably live like that, but Christians shouldn’t. And maliciously defaming one another, you know, sometimes I get so weary of that, people saying things maliciously about folks that they don’t - they don’t know whether they’re true, and on the other hand, some people know they’re not true but say them anyway.
I read something this week that shocked me. I don’t know if you had occasion to read about this. The writer puts it this way, “They were a happy little family living in a small town in North Dakota, even though the young mother had been entirely - 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.”
The power of a slanderous tongue. But not only can it create havoc in this world, but it slanders God Himself. So James says stop doing it, and if you continually do it, you better test the genuineness of your faith. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Each of us in our own hearts doing some soul-searching, a little inventory maybe about our tongue, our speech, the things we say, and if we have maliciously spoken evil of someone unfairly, unjustly, without cause, if we have spoken lies, if we have spoken words of hatred or backbiting, gossip behind someone’s back, this is the time for confession, time for heart examination. And none of us is without sin because, the Scripture says, the one who doesn’t sin with his tongue, it said in James 3, is the perfect man and none of us is that.
Father, we come to you again, a people who need to confess our sins, the sins of our tongue. Lord God, we who are new creations, may it be manifest in what we say, not just some of the time but all of the time. Help us to bring our unredeemed flesh into harmony with that redeemed new nature. Help us to speak grace. Help our speech to be seasoned with salt so that it arrests instantaneously a corrupt conversation and brings healing and purification. Help us to speak words of edification, building up and strengthening and blessing and encouraging one another.
Help us never to say anything that in any way would offend another believer whom you love and to whom you look and the holy angels. Help us to forgive each other and love each other and restore each other and hold each other up. Help us to think right about ourselves and to think right about others and to think right about your law and to think right about you. And cleanse us from those sins that have been brought to mind and heart tonight. For the Savior’s sake, we pray, Amen.
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