James 4:11-12 – The case against slander


James 4:11-12.




ILLUS.: Watched or listened to debates in the House of Commons on ‘Westminster Live’- esp. Prime Minister’s Question time – I understand that it is very popular in the USA – and certainly it can be very entertaining and sometimes amusing – the quick wittedness of some of the speakers is very clever. The titles they use to address each other are very polite “My right honourable friend ….” or “The honourable gentleman/lady ..” and then proceed to say something that is not honourable in the least – it is cutting – it is pulling the other down – to an outsider it seems that the hold purpose of these parliamentary sessions is not to run the country but to discredit the party opposite ….


Much of what is said in parliament is a ‘speaking against’ those opposite – often it is not opposing an issue but simply attacking the person – cutting down the party opposite in order to promote one’s own party and one’s own position.


This is what James is talking about in 4v11 when he uses the word ‘slander’ – it lit. means to speak against someone.


Before we look at these verses before us, it will be helpful to look back briefly and see how they fit with what has gone before.


The basic thrust of this whole section, going back into chapter 3, is the need for humility before God. James has been at pains to show that the fights and quarrels, the desire to always come out on top, stem from inside us – those inner attitudes and passions that put self-gratification and pleasure at the top of our motivation list.


James shows us that the problem is not so much the fightings and quarrels – these are the symptoms – the problem, the root problem, is the sinful human spirit that is jealous, sensual and selfish and is the opposite of heavenly wisdom but shows all the characteristics of earthly wisdom.

Now from 4v11 to 5v6 he shows three ways in which this attitude is manifest in the way we behave.


  1. 4v11-12 ~ putting others down to elevate self
  2. 4v13-17 ~ the arrogance of thinking that we control our own destiny
  3. 5v1- 6 ~ the materialistic pursuit of things


  1. What is meant by slander?

James 4:11

11 Brothers [and sisters], do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother [or sister] or judges [him]his brother or sister speaks against the law and judges it…..


Gk. root ‘katalaleo‘ lit. means to ‘speak against’ – used 3x in v.11. Means to speak against another person/s in a disparaging and defamatory way so as to put them down.


When we use the word slanderous today we generally mean saying something that is false. But it is possible to say something that is perfectly true while at the same time to be speaking against them.


ILLUS. Take the race issue – one can speak about someone who is Black or White – which is perfectly true, they are!! – but it can be done in a way that is derogatory. eg~ ‘Well, of course, she’s black!’ in other words she did what she did because she’s black and we all know that they are inferior!! That is the implication!!


Another word that is sometimes used to translate this word is ‘backbite’ – to be spiteful – to have a go at someone esp. when she is not there to defend herself.


One of the deadliest forms of this within the church of Christ is tale-bearing! It is amazing how fast news travels esp. when it is bad news! We so easily pass on that rumour or that juicy bit of gossip – it is only a word or two here or there but it can do untold damage to the person being spoken about, the Church as a whole and to the one passing it on! Don’t allow yourself to be a rubbish bin – one who collects and enjoys damaging stories about others.


ILLUS.: [Blanchard] If someone passed you a counterfeit coin that was of no commercial value, what would you do?? The honest thing to do would be to take it out of circulation!!


When you are the recipient of a juicy bit of gossip don’t pass it on – take it out of circulation.


Why is slander so wrong? is it because the thing said is untrue? not necessarily! It is incompatiable with humility and that is what God calls us to be. Slander by it very nature ‘puts down’ in order to exalt self which is the antithesis of humility.


James now puts forward a number of things that we need to consider as to why ‘slander’ or speaking against’ is so wrong!



James 4:11

11 Brothers [and sisters], do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother [or sister] or judges [him]his brother or sister speaks against the law and judges it…..

12 … — who are you to judge your neighbour? (NIV)


By using the word ‘brother’ [and sister] 3x and ‘neighbour’ once James is emphasizing the family bond that exists between Christians.


ILLUS. I have a brother and a sister – I never choose them – as it happens we get on very well – but even if we did not get on well that would not change the fact that we are family.


Maybe you have a family member that you don’t like – no matter what you do they are still family. There is that uncle with a shady past! There is that over-bearing aunt! There is that whinging, wimpish nephew!


In the spiritual family we have all kinds of people – some who we would not naturally choose to associate with – but we are family!!


We are related to each other you and me;

We’re the body of Jesus Christ the Son;

We are joined by his covenant we walk in unity;

We are family eternally as one. [Chris Christensen]


– We had better begin to get used to our brothers and sisters in Christ because we are going to be with them forever!


We are family because we have a common father – God! He is only the Father of those who have come to God and said ‘sorry’ for their sin – who have repented and asked God’s forgiveness. This is the only way! BUT it is a way offered to all

– thus

John 1:12 12 Yet to all who received him [Christ], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — (NIV)


If we have to become children of God then it presupposes that there was a time when we were not children of God. ARE YOU A CHILD OF GOD??!

There is no room for ‘one-up-manship’ in God’s family we are all co-equal members.


Not only are we brothers and sisters we are also neighbours. We can not think of what it mean to be a neighbour without going back to Jesus’ own definition of neighbourliness.

The parable of the Good Samaritan. There is no room for slander or ‘speaking against’ in the parable – the wounded victim is anonymous and needy and the Samaritan does not talk down but comes down to where the need is. That is the response we are to have to each other! Jesus was trying to get his hearers [and us] to understand that neighbourliness is simply reaching out to those in need.


Slander cuts down and discredits – it highlights the other weakness and tries to gain personal mileage out of it. Neighbourliness goes to where the wounded is and tries to lift up and not to cut down.


Consider our relationship with each other!




James 4:11

11 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. (NIV)


What law is James referring to? It could be a general reference to God’s law although it is more likely to refer to the royal law that James mentioned in chapter 2. James 2:8

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. (NIV)


This law sums up all that God has ever told us about how to act and speak towards each other.

Galatians 5:14 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (NIV)

When we malign and slander our fellow believers we are guilty of breaking this law. We are therefore guilty of breaking all of God’s law. To love one another is to seek the good of the other – to seek their blessing and welfare and when we criticize and belittle them we are doing exactly the opposite.


James is saying that we are going against the law when we do this BUT he is saying much more – we are setting ourselves up in judgement over the law of God – we are saying in effect that we know better than God’s law – we are saying that this is a law that is not worth obeying and that we can break it with impunity. James 4:11

…. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. (NIV)


There are two ways we can harm our neighbour – by deliberate act OR by willful neglect.


ILLUS.: Often hear people say ‘I have never do anyone any harm!’ GOOD! The question remains — BUT have you ever tried to do them positive good?


Love is not simply failing to harm BUT actively seeking to do good!



James 4:11-12

………. 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 neighbour? (NIV)


When we set ourselves up as judge of God’s law – we are not only considering ourselves above the law but we are setting ourselves in opposition to God and usurping his authority.


The law of God is not give so that we can pontificate about it but that we should obey it.


ILLUS.: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – yes they disobeyed God’s instructions BUT they tried to usurp God’s authority. In effect they were saying, “God is wrong! We don’t agree with his law and we are going to make our own laws!”


Lawlessness is a word that the Bible uses to describe sin – 1 John 3:4

4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (NIV)


John does not only mean anarchy – i.e. disregard for the law – taking the place of the law-maker. That is the essence of sin.


You may be thinking, “Well, I acknowledge that God is there and I do what I can!” The more important question you need to ask is “Am I picking and choosing those instruction from God that are convenient to me or am I committed to obey all!”

[I am not talking about sinless perfection but a commitment to want to obey!!]


If we are picking and choosing then we are setting ourselves up as judge of Gods’ law and trying to play ‘God’ and that is the essence of sin.


To drive home his point James tells us two things about God:-


  1. a) he is lawgiver and judge.

This is a timely reminder from James that we are in no position to make our own laws. Not only that but we are in no position to judge others.


What we are so good at doing is drawing up our own list of criteria as to what we think a Christian should be and how they should behave. And then to judge them by our criteria – They need to dress in a certain way – use the right ecclesiastical jargon — hold to a certain system of theology — worship is a particular way — sing the right kind of hymns or choruses — NO! NO!


God is the judge and ultimately we are responsible to HIM! [I am not saying that there shouldn’t be Church discipline – nor that there should never be helpful criticism when needed — BUT we had better be should that it is with the motive of help and concern and not an excuse to promote self]


God said we are to love our neighbour by showing helpful, caring concern and we had better not replace that with arrogant hurtful words!


  1. b) .. he is able to save and destroy.

Slander is a way of destroying a person – how many lives have been ruin because someone has spread malicious rumours – Slander is so devastating because it is not only attacking a person actions BUT their character – their person – who they are! When we behave in this way we again, like with the law making, usurp God prerogative – God is judge!


And God is a far more merciful judge than any one of us will ever be.

Our judgement is never totally unprejudiced – no matter how much we know about someone we never know all the facts – God knows everything – every action, every thought, every word, every motive –


It is so easy to misjudge situation – we jump in feet first and before we know it we have made things worse.

Heard the saying “She was born with a silver foot in her mouth!” or “He only opens his mouth to change feet!”


Not only do we not know all the facts BUT we ourselves are not perfect and are therefore in no position to judge other – it is a case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

Matthew 7:3-5

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (NIV)


Slander or backbiting shows itself to be a disregard for God’s law but this disregard for God’s instructions is more than law breaking – it is a usurping of God’s position and making our own laws [saying to God that we think that he and his law are dumb and we are not going to obey them]


With such an attitude God would have every right to destroy us!! BUT notice that even in the midst of a passage on judgement James still puts God’s ability to save before his ability to destroy.


God can not deny his character and his first desire is to save and not destroy. The very fact that we are here is evidence of God’s mercy and his desire to save. People often say when things go wrong or they see suffering and evil in the world “Why doesn’t God do something??” Do you want God to pour out his judgement on evil now! Warlords – yes! rapist – yes! murderer – yes! child abuser -yes! adulterers – ?? – gossips – ?? Slanderers – ?? Where must he draw the line??

You and I may not think we are evil in comparison to Hitler or Idi Amin or Jack the Ripper BUT in comparison to God and his standards of perfection we are evil.


BUT listen God does not want to destroy – he has gone to the ultimate extreme to make it possible for us not to be destroyed – he sent his Son into the world to save us –


1 Timothy 2:3-4 3 …… God our Saviour, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)

Luke 19:10 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (NIV)

1 Timothy 1:15

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. (NIV)


Have you cried out to God for mercy – for forgiveness –

There are only two possible destinies for every person – salvation or destruction – heaven or hell – I know it is not popular to speak about hell these days BUT Jesus spoke of hell as a reality.


God wants to save, not destroy – after all that is the name he gave his Son – Jesus = Saviour.


Having saved he wants us to obey him and live in humility before him and in harmony with our fellow believers – loving each other not backbiting or slandering – not judging our neighbour BUT loving our neighbour in word and deed as outward evidence of our love for God.





James 4:11-12



            to speak against

            to cut down so as to elevate self


  2. a) TO EACH OTHER.

            we are family

            we are neighbours


  1. b) TO THE LAW.

           disobeying the law

           making our own laws


  1. c) TO GOD.

             usurping God’s position


                  ¦ God’s authority     lawgiver

                                                         –  judge


                  ¦ God’s ability           to save

                                                         –  to destroy


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