Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
Now James is going to address some apparently bad behavior among the members of the churches he is writing too. To illustrate again that grammar counts, the tense and person used in the first verse of our passage today carries a particular meaning. It’s not simply general guidance that this sin of speaking ill will is bad. This is basically a directive that they stop something they are, in fact, doing. James is basically saying, “Stop speaking ill will of your brother.” This is something that is happening, and James is saying to stop.
How serious is slander and speaking ill will? Well, let’s start with the fact that slander and false accusations are the work of The Devil. In fact, the word from which we get the term Devil, diabolos simply meant in regular Greek to be a backbiter, slanderer of false accuser.
Here are some passages which speak of God’s thoughts on this matter.
1 Timothy 3:11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.
2 Timothy 3:3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Titus 2:3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
Lest we be confused, David has this to say in Psalms.
Psalm 101:5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.
Why does God feel so strongly about slandering, lying about, and speaking ill will of our brother? The answer is right in our passage for today. It is because God is the Judge, not us.
How serious is slanderous behavior? Again, we see in our passage that it is a violation of the God’s Law. We learned back in James 2:10 that to fail in one point of The Law is to fail in all of them, if readers recall.
So, then, how are we to conduct ourselves in this matter of how we speak about the brethren? What should be the purpose of words exchanged among believers? God’s Word also gives us that answer, as we see in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Church.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
There we have it. Speak no evil, so to speak. Additionally, what we do speak should be for the building up of the church and believers.