Have you ever had a Christian brother or sister “help” you with “constructive criticism” but ended up hurt and feeling down on yourself? Turn it around: have you ever “helped” a brother or sister with the same only to end up seeing the hurt in their eyes? We sometimes forget that we must always measure our message not by our alleged intent but by the poor human soul on the other end of the situation.
Here’s what James says:
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
When James writes in verse eleven, “do not slander one another”, the Greek literally says “do not speak against one another”. The NIV is helping us understand the idea behind the words: we are not to speak negatively to one another. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father,” James writes in 3:9-10, “and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
Here’s where it gets interesting: the word translated “slander” does not mean only to speak false charges. The Greek word (katalaleō) means to “speak degradingly of”. The same word translated “slander” in verse eleven is also translated as “speak against” in the other two occurrences. We are called in Scripture to not speak degradingly of our brothers and sisters. Moreover, we are called to not “defame” them.1
We have all been guilty of speaking harshly about [and to] each other. John, the apostle of love, recorded Jesus’ profound words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
James doesn’t stop there. He connects our fickle faultfinding with standing in judgment over that believer (11b). James is saying that when we find needless fault (or harsh or unnecessary fault), we are in violation of the law of God. Furthermore, we are putting ourselves in God’s position of judging someone else in our criticism.
James writes in verse twelve, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”
James makes contrast between “judging” the law and “keeping” it. To fail in keeping it makes us deniers of the authority of God’s law. Regardless of what we might say, our actions towards brothers and sisters in Christ will reveal what we really think of God’s law and is a measure of our true obedience. As such, make sure any “helpful comments” you make to someone are done in the right heart and spirit; fickle faultfinding receives harsh treatment from Scripture.
So the next time you’re tempted (and I’m talking to myself too!) to roll off a truckload of faultfinding with your brother or sister in Christ, remember the words of James: “do not slander each other”.
1 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 519, s.v. καταλαλέω.