There are all kinds of magazines that treat gossip as entertainment. The Bible teaches us that gossip is a sin. When we slander or pass judgment on someone, we're actually putting ourselves in God's place. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg examines the sin of gossip and explains why taking a closer look at your own heart can help you stop judging others.
I want to begin by pointing out two things. First of all, to point out how seriously the New Testament takes the sin of slander. When Paul writes a very straightforward epistle to the Corinthians, especially concerning their misdemeanors and their faults and so on, he writes as follows in 1 Corinthians 5, I've written to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. And then he quickly says, not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters.
In that case, you would have to leave this world. But now I'm writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother or a sister but who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler, with such a man do not even eat. And right in the heart of it, a slanderer. The Bible takes this very seriously.
That's the first thing to notice. Secondly, James, in what he now goes on to say, is not calling for us to set aside our critical faculties. Nor is he forbidding his readers from forming opinions about certain actions or ideas or people. This is very, very important, because it's not uncommon to hear people use Jesus' warning against judging as a basis for accepting behavior which the Bible actually condemns.
All right? So for example, let's say we have something that is clearly set out in Scripture as being unacceptable, whatever it might be. And then someone says, I notice that Mr. X is involved in Y. And someone says, Well, judge not that you be not judged. That's not actually what James is on about here. Rather, what he is addressing is something rather different.
Let us just notice things under two headings. First of all, the sad pattern that James provides for us here, and then the sole prerogative of which James reminds us. The sad pattern is in verse 11b and following. Anyone who speaks against his brother and judges him or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you're not keeping it, but sitting in judgment.
And the whole pattern of events, he says, unfolds. When we speak against our brother or our sister, we are almost inevitably setting ourselves up as judges. Slander and judging are almost inseparable. You will notice in the NIV it says anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him. In the authorized version, it says anyone who speaks against his brother and judges him.
In doing this, says Tasker, the slanderer is going far beyond the bounds of what is legitimate for ordinary human beings. Because if you go to a court or you observe the proceedings of a court, you recognize that judgment is passed only when all the facts have been heard. But the problem with the one who speaks evil against his brother or sister is that we're quick to pronounce judgment before the facts have been heard. And sometimes we don't even want the facts to be heard, because it impinges upon our ability to slander. If all the facts were to get out, then we wouldn't be able to say what we say.
And so it's actually better for us to get it out even without the facts of the case. And so the pattern is one of jumping to conclusions, jumping to judgment without any attempt to discover the truth. Look at the text and see what James says is happening. The individual who speaks against his brother and judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When we enter into superficial misguided, uninformed, cruel judgments, we're actually speaking against the law and expressing a judgment on the law.
We're really saying, This doesn't apply to me. Now, when he says, You speak against the law, I wonder what he's referencing. It could be that he's referencing the royal law found in Scripture, which is, Love your neighbor as yourself. And he says, If you speak against your brother and judge him, you actually speak against the law, and you're executing judgment on it.
Instead of seeing how it applies to me and keeping it, I end up sitting in judgment on it, and I begin to become a law to myself. Now, let's remind ourselves of verse 6 and again of verse 10. The Scripture says, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Verse 10, Humble yourselves before the LORD, and he will lift you up. You see, when we are honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge what we know of our own hearts, and how wretched they are, and how justifiably we ought to find ourselves in the dock, we will then be less prone to assume a position on the bench. But if we are deceitful about our own hearts, if we lie to ourselves about our position before God, if we refuse to humble ourselves before him, then in exalting ourselves and defaming others, we find ourselves right in the heart of this pattern.
Terry Prime, in a helpful sentence or two, puts it as follows. The knowledge of our own failings makes us more and more hesitant about expressing any form of criticism of others. The man who knows himself learns an increasing silence before other people's faults.
That's a great sentence. We ought not to misunderstand this. This is not cowardness or softness, but rather it is Christlikeness, and it is tenderness. That's the pattern, and now, the prerogative, in verse 12. There is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy. It is more than likely that James, with his knowledge of the Old Testament, has in mind a verse from Deuteronomy chapter 32 and verse 39, and God is speaking, and he says, See now that I myself am he. There is no God besides me. I put to death, and I bring to life. I have wounded, and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. Now, if you turn back to James, and he says, There is only one lawgiver and judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy.
You say, That is good. James obviously knows his Bible. And what he's reminding the readers of and reminding us of this evening is that there is only one who issues laws that are permanently valid. One of the interesting things about civil jurisdiction and jurisprudence in general is that new laws are to be enacted all the time in order to keep up with or catch up with the changing, developing circumstances of life. And there is a great distinction in the laws that exist from state to state. Scott's law in the United Kingdom is different from law in England.
And there is a divergence and a discrepancy between many of these things. And what James is saying here is that there is only one whose laws are permanently valid, and there is only one whose judgments are of eternal significance. Now, in saying this, he's also not suggesting that there is no place for human legislation.
That would be a misinterpretation of the Bible, wouldn't it? No, what James is saying is this—not that there is no place for human legislation, but rather that the foundation of all such legislation is in the revealed law of God. What legal scholars refer to and many contemporary scholars disdain now as being natural law, which is actually supernatural law. It is the oughtness of moral conscience. It is the oughtness of human society, which scholars wonder at. Why does anybody say, We ought to do this or we ought to do that?
Where does oughtness come from? And at the high levels of philosophical debate, this notion is absolutely pooh-poohed. But, says James, there actually is only one lawgiver and judge. Human courts may get it right. Human courts may get it wrong. But ultimately, the judge of all the earth will do right, because God is the only one who is able to detect, absolutely accurately, to convict with absolute authority and to punish with absolute fairness. God alone. And that, incidentally, and in passing, is why the foundations of civil liberty in this nation and the fundamental place of the Ten Commandments is so vehemently opposed by those who reject God and his authority.
Because such individuals understand the direct link between this one lawgiver and judge who executes his judgments with validity and with authority. God alone, he says, is able to judge. He's the one who is able to save and to destroy. And it is in light of that that, for example, we read the words of Jesus when, in Luke chapter 12, he says to his followers, You are not to be concerned about the people that can kill the body. I tell you, my friends, don't be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear—fear him who, after the killing of the body, has the power to throw you into hell. That's the real judgment, he says, you ought to fear. And that, incidentally, and in passing, is where everything will be brought to rights.
Is it possible that civil jurisdiction gets it wrong? Absolutely. Is there human error? Without question. Does that mean that we should not do what God says we should do in relationship to the execution of justice? Absolutely not. Does that mean that things will be faltered all the way through to the end?
Not at all. All will be put to right on the day when, before the bar of God's judgment, things are settled. And those who think that they got off will find that they didn't. And those who fear and feel that they were punished unjustly will be vindicated at the bar of God's asides. That's why it is so important that we take seriously these exhortations, lest we seek to remove God from his throne and put ourselves there and grow impatient of God to exercise his judgment, thereby seeking to advance the case by executing them ourselves. It is absolutely wrong to bomb abortion clinics. It is absolutely wrong to shoot people who conduct abortions. It is absolutely wrong to do abortions. But God will deal with the issue in his time.
He, the Judge of all the earth, will do right. We are not in that position. We are not in that position. And incidentally, that, I think, is the same reason why, in a different vein, when Paul addresses the Corinthians and he says, you know, we should be regarded as servants of God, and those who are the servants of God should prove faithful, and then he says, I care very little if I'm judged by you or by any human court. He's not being dismissive. He's not being arrogant.
He's just saying, You're not the issue. It is Yahweh who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time.
Wait till the LORD comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts, and at that time each will receive his praise from God. Now, that kind of expression is, I think, grounded in what James is making clear here in the twelfth verse.
The absurdity of taking upon ourselves a prerogative which is God's alone should not be missed. Hence the closing sentence, But you? Who are you to judge your neighbor? Who are you? That's what James is saying here.
Who are you? So far, the judgment of the universe is in safe hands. You can relax, Charlie.
You can relax, Mrs. We don't need you. Indeed, it is an absurdity. It is an utter futility. It is a rash presumption. It is infinitely pathetic that we should not only demand to be heard but that we should seek to assume the judge's place and rush to judgments unfounded and unwarranted and all on our own, as if somehow or another we are able to judge even the motives of one another's hearts. Well, I think that's what these verses are addressing. And I want to conclude by turning to two of my heroes—one from the twenty-first century for some points of application and one from the nineteenth century for some directives going on from here. From the twenty-first century, I'm referencing Jerry Bridges and the work that he's done over the years as a member of the Navigators.
And in order that we might at least have some kind of points of application, let me just give you a couple of his illustrations of what he has in his own mind when he thinks about the danger of judging one another. You may be surprised by them. I grew up in the mid-twentieth century when people dressed up to go to church. Men wore jackets and ties, usually suits and ties, and women wore dresses. Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts. Many women began to wear pants.
For several years I judged them. Didn't they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.
Only, I was wrong. You see, there's nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear in church. And as for dressing up to meet the president, that's a cultural thing centered in Washington, D.C.
If you were invited to meet the president while he's vacationing at his ranch, you would probably show up in blue jeans. Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress. I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ.
It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music and the piano and organ with guitars and drums.
Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs. Yet they managed to worship God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it's just that—a preference, not a Bible-based conviction. So let's avoid being judgmental. Many of us know that doctrine is important, and because we believe that's true, we can easily fall into the sin of judgmentalism. For example, the doctrine of Christ's substitutionary atonement for our sins and the complementary doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone are, to me, crucial doctrines.
These are the kind of doctrines where I, so to speak, draw a line in the sand and say, No compromise, none whatsoever, period. However, some writers and teachers who consider themselves evangelicals are denying Christ's substitutionary atonement. To them, Christ did not die in our place to pay for our sins. Instead, he went to the cross solely as an example for us to follow when we suffer.
Others downplay the death of Christ on the cross, saying we should focus not on the cross of Christ but rather on his life, which we should follow as an example. Whenever the subject of my teaching or speaking warrants it, I take issue with these folks, and I think I am right in doing so. But I confess, I have at times slipped into the sin of judgmentalism. I disagree so strongly with what they are teaching that I have sometimes demonized them.
I don't think I'm alone in this sin. And then back into the nineteenth century to Charles Simeon, who was a vicar in Cambridge, had a tremendous influence in the nineteenth century amongst the intelligentsia of Oxbridge, and in writing to a colleague in the ministry, he gave him these directives. He said, The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself, which are as follows. Number one, to hear as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others. Two, to believe nothing of the kind until I am absolutely forced to it. Three, never to drink into the spirit of one who circulates an ill report. Four, always to moderate as far as I can the unkindness which is expressed towards others. Five, always to believe that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter. And he used to say to his friends, Let us sit upon the seat of love, instead upon the seat of judgment.
If you're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, a message titled, Only One Judge, Alistair returns to close today's program in just a minute. Studying the book of James makes it increasingly clear how important it is for us to understand and apply God's word in our lives every day. That's why our mission at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance every single day.
We do this trusting that God will use the teaching of his word to bring unbelievers to saving faith, to establish believers in their faith, and to strengthen local churches. Along with making Alistair's messages available, we work hard to select books to help you and your family find out more about Scripture. And today we want to recommend to you a colorful picture book that introduces young children to Jesus. It's titled, God's Big Promises, Stories of Jesus. And just like the title implies, it's a collection of stories, 21 of them in total, that tell key events from the life and ministry of Jesus. The stories are drawn directly from the Gospels. They highlight events that show how Jesus fulfilled God's promises. This is a great introductory book for children ages three to six.
They'll learn important lessons like the fact that Jesus is God, that he's a friend who takes away our sins, and that he is the King of Heaven. Request your copy of the book, Stories of Jesus. When you donate today to give, simply tap the book image in the mobile app or visit us online at truthforlife.org slash donate.
Or if you'd prefer, you can call us at 888-588-7884. Now, here's Alistair to close with prayer. Lord God, you search us and you know our hearts, cleanse us from our sins, put our right spirit within us, forgive us when we sin with such ease, especially in these apparently respectable areas, when we justify our unkindnesses simply because we feel we're telling the truth. But everything that is true doesn't need to be stated, and forgive us for using that as a crutch, for our own desire to do down others and so exalt ourselves. And it is with confidence that we come to you, our God and King, because in the Lord Jesus Christ we have discovered afresh your amazing love for us. And in Christ's name we pray. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Tomorrow we'll look at what the Bible tells us about when planning becomes foolish presumption. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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