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Saying No to Slander (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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September 4, 2023 4:00 am

Saying No to Slander (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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September 4, 2023 4:00 am

The tongue’s hidden from sight most of the time, yet it has the power to destroy lives, damage relationships, and even bring down nations. Examine the often overlooked sin of slander as the study in James continues on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Most of the time our tongue is on it. When you judge the law, you're not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 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?" Father, we pray that as we have our Bibles open before us and as we turn to the Scriptures for the help of the Holy Spirit to quicken our understanding, to illumine the page to us, to bring us into alignment with your truth, and to send us on our way, rejoicing on the pathway of obedience. We ask for your help in this humbly and sincerely, in Christ's name.

Amen. If we've been around churches for any length of time, it will sadly have become apparent to us that we contribute to the circumstance whereby it is possible for us to rage and rail against things that are so clearly wrong on the outside, while at the same time failing to pay any real attention to the things that are wrong and dreadfully wrong on the inside. And James here introduces us in verses 11 and 12, first to the sin of slander and then to the sin of judgmentalism.

I think it was Seneca who's reputed to have said, When I think over all the things I have said, I envy dumb people. And those of us who use our tongues a lot and are talkative will very quickly be able to identify with that kind of sentiment. We're not going to get beyond the simple sentence with which verse 11 begins, Brothers or brothers and sisters, as we might fairly translate it, do not slander one another.

Now, as much as a teaching aid is anything else, I want to make sure that we set this sentence in its context. And when we come to a sentence like this, it is important for us to recognize where we find it. And the context in its widest spectrum is the context of the Bible itself. And so we come to this matter of slander, and we look beyond the immediate statement to the wider context of the Bible. And when we do so, we discover that in Psalm 50, God speaks to the wicked, and he says, You use your mouth for evil, and harness your tongue to deceit.

You speak continually against your brother, and slander your own mother's son. In other words, he identifies slander and deceitful speech as an expression of the inherent wickedness of men and women. Still in the Psalms, David, in identifying himself as one who wants to be careful to lead a blameless life, in the context of explaining to his readers what a blameless life will look like in Psalm 101 and verse 5, he says, Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence. Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure. In other words, he says, If I'm going to live a blameless life, I cannot engage in the slandering tongues of those who are around me.

I cannot become like those with haughty eyes and proud hearts. Proverbs is replete with references to the tongue, at least sixty of them throughout the book. For example, Proverbs 10 18, Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.

Whoever spreads slander is a fool. When we come into what we refer to as the New Testament, we find that Jesus speaks very clearly and challengingly in Matthew 12, when he says, I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. Men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. So we set our sentence within the context, first of all, of the Bible. Then we come and narrow the lens, and we set our sentence within the context of the book, which is the book of James, or the letter of James. And when we do this, we discover that in the eighty-three verses, almost twenty percent of those verses reference the tongue in some way.

And that is why from the beginning of our studies we've been aware of this. Back in chapter 1 and verse 19, James had issued the statement, My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. And then in verse 26 of chapter 1, he said, If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his or her tongue, then they deceive themselves and their religion is worthless. One of the marks of somebody who has become a Christian, he says, is a controlled tongue.

A controlled tongue. And that's why the teaching in the first twelve verses of chapter 3 is so immensely challenging. And we might simply highlight verse 8 of chapter 3, No man can tame the tongue.

It is a restless evil full of deadly poison. And then thirdly, we come and narrow the lens down even tighter to view it within the context of the surrounding verses. I'm doing this just to remind you that when you study the Bible, you must always think of what you find in context—in the context of the Bible, in the context of the book or the genre of Scripture—so that you must read history as history. You must understand the poetic books to be within the framework of poetry. The proverbial statements of Proverbs are just that—proverbial statements—so that we need to recognize that the Bible has not been written in a flattened way, whereby you can turn to any passage of the Bible and simply extrapolate from it a bunch of principles that seem to appeal.

It's possible to do it, but it is not helpful to do it and usually leads us astray. So do not slander anyone, my brothers and sisters. The Bible has a lot to say about the tongue. James has almost twenty percent of his letter addressed to the tongue, and now we narrow down to the surrounding context. Verse 11 comes before verse 12 and after verse 10.

That's the context. And verse 10 comes at the conclusion—at least in the NIV—of a little paragraph that begins at verse 7. And in verse 7, James has issued the call for his readers, who have become believers in the Lord Jesus, followers of Jesus, those who are being made the very firstfruits of what God is doing. He has called them to submit themselves to God. And we saw that, as James makes clear to us, if we're going to be submitting to God, then it involves resisting the devil. Verse 7, it involves drawing near or coming near to God. Verse 8a, it involves making sure that we keep short accounts with sin, our hands needing to be washed routinely as they represent our actions and our hearts, in need of constant purification, representative of our attitudes. And then, in verse 9, we need to be involved in daily repentance, which takes sin seriously. And then, in verse 10, it is imperative that we bow down before God and humble ourselves before him, because, as we said last Sunday night, there is all the difference in the world between the man who lifts himself up and the man who is lifted up. And our part is to bow down, and God's part is to exalt. And in the exaltation of ourselves, we fall foul of so much.

And it is, I think, just that issue of humility again which leads, James, to go directly to this issue of slander. Presumably because slander is a subtle form of self-exaltation. When we slander another, we do them down. And often we like to do people down because it makes us feel that we've just gone a little higher up ourselves. There is, if you like, a link, if not a direct correlation, between the exaltation of self and the defamation of another.

Because it is by the latter we seek to achieve the former. If I can run you down, then I may be able to feel a little better about myself, even though I know myself to be a wretched character. But as long as I can find a more wretched character or somebody that I can infer is a little more wretched than me, then I won't feel so bad when I drive off in my car. After all, there's a number of wretched people there.

I know just how terrible they are, therefore I feel a little better about myself. Now, that's the context. Let's define our terms as well.

What are we dealing with here in this issue of slander? The word is katalalia, if you care, in Greek. It's an easy word to remember. Katalalia. Laleo, to speak.

Kata, against. To speak, against. If it sounds like cattiness, it's pretty close. Although cattiness, I think, is a fairly English reference rather than an American reference. I don't hear many Americans saying so-and-so was being catty.

But English people use it quite a lot. Oh, she was so catty! I can't believe how catty she was! That's what they say. So catty!

Scottish people don't say it either, so don't feel bad. But it is representative of a form of backbiting and doing down. Slander is to talk against or to talk another down—not to talk down to another but to talk another down—and inferentially and usually to do these things behind the individual's back. So that it is this notion of seeking to exalt myself by defaming another to speak against them, to speak in such a way as to reduce them, and usually to do it in a cowardly way where they are not present, to be able to respond to my charges and my allegations.

That's what he's saying here. Slander is directly related to gossip, as I say, to backbiting, which is how Tyndale, when he translated the New Testament, translated the word to malicious talk, to false reports telling lies, the unhelpful repeating of stories about the wrongs or offenses of others. The unhelpful repeating of stories about the wrongs and offenses of others. Yes, the unhelpful repeating of stories about the wrongs and offenses of others. That would be a horrible generalization to say that many of the magazines at the checkout when we are scanning the groceries would be a lot thinner, would it not, for their commitment to be involved in the unhelpful repeating of stories about the wrongs and offenses of others. And a steady diet of that—which is why most of those magazines are unhelpful—a steady diet of that will begin to form our thinking and channel it in grooves that will so easily translate to doing the same thing. And to the extent that our hands get dirty and morally defiled by those things, that's the importance of what James has just said about, Wash your hands, you sinners. That stuff dirties you up.

And if you don't clean yourself up from that routinely and regularly, we may find that we have actually taken on board the very enjoyment and the voyeurism that is represented in being able to do others down. It is, says somebody slender, the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential tidbits of information which destroy the good name of those who are not present to defend themselves. That's a pretty good and accurate assessment of what's going on in slander. So the context is the Bible, always. It's the book, as in the letter of James. It's the surrounding text, as it calls for humility and says, Make sure you don't think you're the judge of the world.

And by the way, while you're at it, make sure that you are not using your tongue to speak against and to do down behind the backs of your brothers and sisters. Now, with that, let us just notice three things. The first thing is, to engage in slander is not impossible, but it is incongruous. It is incongruous.

And the very incongruity is revealed to us in the opening word of the verse, isn't it? Brothers. Or, brothers and sisters.

Immediately they are set within the framework of a family. And you have a family, and so do I. And despite all the years that have passed, I still routinely and regularly am in touch with both of my younger sisters, and my brother-in-laws, and my nieces. And despite the distance of thousands of miles and the fact that I speak to them individually and not usually as a group, I enjoy happy and harmonious and joyful and encouraging relationships with each of them.

Why? Because none of us engage in slander. I never tell bad things about one sister to another.

Mercifully, I don't think they tell the bad things they know about me to each other. We do not speak about our nieces in a way that would exalt things or prioritize things that were either unkind or unhelpful or untrue. And as a result of that, whether it is the voice on the phone or whether it is the warmth of the embrace from the airport, there is a love that unites us that neither distance nor the passage of time has been able to erode.

I don't say that for self-commendation. I say it simply to illustrate the fact that it is in congress, within the framework of the nuclear family, to slander one another, because we are from the same womb, we are from the same bloodline, we have the same mom and dad, we have the same origins, we have been united under the same leadership, and so on. It is absolutely incongruous. However, it is not impossible, as many of us know, to our shame and to our disappointment.

We don't need to be separated by thousands of miles geographically to find that we are separated by thousands of miles, as it were, emotionally. And often at the root of that is some Thanksgiving dinner where somebody said something about so-and-so, who mentioned that Uncle Fred, who had been over at such-and-such a house on the Tuesday after the fifth Thursday and so on. Before you know where you are, it is almost impossible to trace it back to its roots. It's like taking a bunch of feathers and distributing them all up the high street of Chagrin Falls and letting the wind blow them everywhere and then being asked after an hour has elapsed, now go back down the high street and pick up all those feathers. Virtually impossible to do. Such it is with slanderous words.

Once they're out, it is virtually impossible to retrieve them. Hence the significance of what's being said. If it is incongruous within the nuclear family, it is incongruous within the spiritual family. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to have God as our Father—not as some remote figure but as a Father who has provided forgiveness for us in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is that which unites us with those who are also in Christ, so that although we may be separated from one another by dint of our intellectual capacity or our social status or our abilities and capacities, the fact of the matter is that we find ourselves united when we bow and recognize that we're from the same bloodline. Because it is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which is cleansing us from all of our sins. So we look at our brother, and we look at our sister and say, Hey, what do we have to talk about?

Say, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we forget who we are in Jesus, and if we forget what we are to one another, or if we choose to deny these things, then we may find ourself passing on pieces of information that create division rather than create harmony and unity. Yes, something has gone badly wrong in the nuclear family when those from the same bloodline slander one another. And something has gone badly wrong in the spiritual family when the same takes place. That's why from the very beginning of the Bible, God is concerned about these things.

In Leviticus, he urges upon his people, You shall not go up and down as a tailbearer among your people. Why not? It's incongruous. And it's wrong. We should never report what may hurt another person unless to conceal it would hurt worse. And we should keep in mind when we are interested in receiving the information—because, remember, a slanderous tongue needs two ears that love that information to really do its work—and listen carefully. Keep in mind that whoever gossips to you will also gossip of you. Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.

You can take that to the bank. You can be dead certain in your office, in your home, wherever it is. The same individual that says, Now, I'm only telling you this because it's true, will, once they have elicited enough information from you, go back down the line and do the same thing with the next person. That's why David sets us on the right track when he says, I'm gonna have nothing to do with that stuff.

I will be a ditch to that information. As in the forest fires of southern California, when you see the helicopters moving and trying to douse the flames, at the same time feverishly digging out our people trying to create a wide enough ditch so that the fire, which is now here, may not be able to jump to there. And the wider the ditch they can make it and the faster they can make it, the less chance there is of the fire being able to jump to the next canyon. Our lives in Christ are supposed to be like those ditches when it comes to slander. So that the slanderer says, Well, there's really no way I'm going to be able to get it over to there, passing it through her. Because she's just like a big ditch.

She doesn't really like to listen to it, and she never passes it on. That's right. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with a challenging and somewhat uncomfortable look at the sin of slander.

We'll hear his conclusion tomorrow. It's tempting to skip over some of these difficult passages of Scripture, but our mission at Truth for Life is to teach God's Word without adding to or taking away from it. Our goal is to provide Bible teaching that you can trust. In addition to teaching from the Bible every day on this program, part of our goal is to provide you with books to help you grow in your faith or help you share your faith with others. And with that in mind, let me encourage you to take a look at a book we're recommending called God's Big Promises, Stories of Jesus. It's a colorful picture book that will teach small children the gospel. The book Stories of Jesus retells stories from all four gospels. It begins with Mary's angelic visit. It traces the life and ministry of Jesus through to his ascension. As you read the book to children, they'll learn that Jesus is God, that he came to earth to forgive our sins, and that we can live with him forever. Each chapter is short. It's written to hold a young child's attention.

There are colorful pictures that will keep little ones engaged. Stories of Jesus makes a great gift for nieces, nephews, grandchildren, any young child you know. Request your copy when you give a donation to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life.

You can donate through the mobile app or online at slash donate, or give us a call at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. As we are finding out, gossip isn't simply idle chitchat. It can be damaging on so many levels. Tomorrow we'll learn how to say no to slander. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-04 05:21:13 / 2023-09-04 05:29:30 / 8

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