Why is tearing others down by our speech and judgmental attitudes – are you ready for this? – one of the most serious sins mentioned in Scripture? Underline that, will you? One of the most serious sins. We think it’s adultery, it’s murder – those are big. I’m telling you, from God’s perspective, speaking down, slandering, leaving people in a negative light, is one of the most serious sins in all of Scripture. And then, he’s going to give us two reasons.
Reason number one – because it demonstrates total disregard and contempt for God’s highest command, to love one another.
You say, “Well, where do you get that?” Look at what the text says, “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the Law and judges it. When you judge the Law, you’re not keeping it, but you’re sitting in judgment on it.”
When we speak against, or tear down, or criticize, or defame, or gossip about someone else, what we do is, we put ourselves in the role of judge. In other words, these are the facts. To be a judge, you really need to know all the facts, all the circumstances, people’s motives, their hearts, what came before, what all the situations and circumstances could be. And then, based on all the knowledge, and them, and the other parties, you make a judgment.
Who’s the only Person that knows everything about everything? God. He says, “When you speak and tear down people, the only way you can tear them down and slander them is, you have to step back, look at the situation, make yourself the judge, the evaluator, the righteous one, the all-knowing one, and you communicate this as, ‘This is the way it is.’”
And he says, “When you do that, you speak, not only against the person, you speak against the Law. And when you judge the Law,” he says, “instead of you keeping it, and you doing what God wants you to do, and me doing what God wants me to do, you’re sitting in judgment on it.”
Now, say to yourselves, Well, aren’t there some times where we are supposed to judge? Yeah. Romans 13: civil authorities are to judge in civil matters.
Well, aren’t there times where there’s a problem, and I need to address it? Yes, Matthew 18: I need to judge, not in judging the person’s motives, or what he’s doing, but if I see someone who is sinning, my role is not to tell anyone else.
What does Matthew 18 say? I go to the person, in an attitude of love, and say, “I observe this. I don’t have all the facts. I’m concerned that your life and Scripture aren’t lining up. And knowing how much God loves you, and knowing the reputation of Christ is at stake, I’m obeying Matthew 18:15 to come to you in love.” And if he doesn’t respond, you go back with a witness, right? If he doesn’t respond to the witness, you take it to the leaders of the church. And there’s a really clear way to handle that.
So, there is a role for judging, but what this is talking about is, this is fault-finding, condemning in judgment that condemns another as wrong in God’s sight. This is judging another person’s motives, with the goal of lowering how people look at this person by what comes out of your mouth, or what comes out of my mouth.
And what’s the Royal Law? In James 2:8, he talks about the Royal Law. In Leviticus 19, we know the Royal Law. The Royal Law is – what? To love one another.
The second reason is it reveals that we are, in fact, playing God.
You say, “Wow, now that is serious. You mean when I just sort of gossip and say negative things about a person as I’m driving home from church; you mean that around the water cooler, when I come out of a meeting with the boss, and I say negative, critical, harsh, difficult things – do you…?” Yes!
We are usurping God’s authority, and His unique role as Judge, as Lawgiver, when we speak against someone else. When I began to grasp how serious this was, I have begun to pray, Oh, God, will You begin to filter what comes out of my mouth? In fact, would You begin to stop things in my mind before they unconsciously roll off my tongue? Because when I make a little innuendo, when I use a tone of voice, when I say something that’s “just my opinion” but I don’t know the facts, and when I get done, and someone thinks less of another person, when I’ve caused their status, and their esteem, and their value to go down, I am kata – against, tearing down, speaking against them. And James says, “Stop it.”
We become the judge. That’s God’s role. We violate the most and highest, important commandment – to love one another – when this comes out of our mouth.
The two most common areas, I find, that this happens in the Church are, number one, the rumor mill, and, number two, gray areas. I don’t know any organization that you can share something with one person, within three days, and if you want to make sure everybody hears about it, “Don’t tell anyone. This is highly confidential.”
By the way, gossip is passing on untested truth. If you don’t know it’s a hundred percent true, don’t pass it on, and, by the way, we’ll learn later, don’t receive it. The other is there are gray areas, aren’t there – Romans 14?. We come from different backgrounds - and Romans 14 says, “If it doesn’t violate Scripture, then let each man be judged according – live by faith, and let that person give an account to God.”
And I don’t mean we shouldn’t have convictions. I have very clear convictions on a lot of gray areas. I have learned, and have come to determine, before God, that there are certain things that I will do, and certain things I will not do that are gray. I don’t have any commands, but those are my personal convictions.
But what I’ve had to learn is, other people who love God more than me may have different convictions. And if I disagree with those, and start talking down about them to other people, I have violated the Royal Law of love – number one – and, number two, I have judged them. And God says, in Romans 14, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?”
Well, let’s get to the solution side. How do we break the habit of playing God? How do we get out of this? It’s very clear, very simple, but it’s going to take a real strong conviction, from your heart, to get there.
Step number one: Develop convictions about speaking against others.
I don’t mean beliefs. I don’t mean intentions. I don’t mean, I’m going to really try harder. Develop convictions. A conviction is something that is deep in your heart, and deep in your soul, and you say, “Mmm, of all the issues in my life.”
You have convictions, I pray, about lying. You have convictions about purity. You have convictions about how you’re going to raise your kids. Develop convictions about speaking against others.
Matthew 7:1 and 2 says, “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure” – or, literally, “the basket,” or “the scoop,” “the size of container” – “that you use, it will be measured to you.”
This is about the kinds of judgments where you don’t have all the facts, and you make assumptions, and you judge them in your heart.
Matthew 12, verses 36 to 37. “I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word that they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I remember memorizing that verse, and I got scared, “… every careless word …”
And all of a sudden, the lights started to come on: Ingram, I’ll tell you what, you think there are these big, big sins, and this is just a – this is huge.
I’m going to stand before God, you’re going to stand before God, and the careless, little words that put people down, that tear them down, that are sarcastic, that begin to make them be seen in a negative light, that plant seeds of distrust and disloyalty in other people, that put people on your side and do things that position you – whooo! Develop convictions.
The second thing – step two – ponder the consequences of your speech. Ponder the consequences of your speech.
Jesus says, the very last night on the earth, “A new commandment I give to you:” He says to His disciples, “love one another as I have loved you. So you must love one another. It is by this that men will know that you are My disciples” – how? – “if you love one another.”
Jesus’ greatest commandment is, “love.” His last prayer on earth, in John 17, “Father, make them one, even as We are one, I in You, and You in Me. May the world see their” – what? – “their unity.”
Words that build up, words that are encouraging, words that are inclusive, words that have to do with, “We are a team; we belong to God,” not words that tear down.
And so, I have thought to myself, It’s not about, even, the impact on me. When I bicker, when I have backstabbing, when I am divisive, I break God’s heart. and I undermine the very testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ. That’s why this is so serious.
Third, refuse to buy the lie. Remember that lie that it’s someone else’s problem? There’s a problem. This is why it comes out of my mouth; this is why it comes out of your mouth. Refuse to buy the lie that if someone else would shape up, then things would be all right.
Notice what it says in Romans 2:3, “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them, and yet do the same things, do you think that you will escape God’s judgment?”
See, it’s not their fault, necessarily. Maybe it’s partly their fault. But over and over, “If so-and-so would do this, then things would shape up.” “If my wife would just do this.” “If my husband would do this.” “If my kid would do this.” “If our pastor would do this.” And if you buy that, I will guarantee, stuff will come out of your mouth that will be destructive, because the assumption, is you are the judge; you have all the facts.
You would never say, “I just want everyone to know right now, I’m the smartest, wisest, most knowledgeable person, who makes the best decisions about every area, and every relationship, and every circumstance, at all times. Here I am”? No one would stand up, would you?
But when I judge and believe that the problem is completely the other person’s fault, and then stuff comes out of my mouth, what am I doing? I’m, by fiat, saying, “That’s what I believe about myself.”
So, develop convictions. Ponder the consequences. Refuse to buy the lie. Step number four: Refuse to let others gossip.
This is a hard one. I still remember the first time I watched this happen in my life. And it’s still difficult for me.
When someone starts sharing things that are inappropriate, even in your heart, when you know it’s inappropriate, it’s kind of like, what do you do? “Hey, do you realize you’re sinning really big right now? Knock it off!” No, that won’t work. “You’re a really mature, Christian person that I like a lot, but you’re acting like a jerk!” No, that won’t work.
And so, a lot of times, someone is sharing stuff that you know is inappropriate, and then you find your head is nodding. Guess what, when your head is nodding, and they’re sharing something inappropriate, the message you’re sending is, Keep it coming. I agree with this. So, you think, Oh, oh, okay. I’m going to hold my head still – hmmm – and try and change the subject. You know what it takes? It takes courage.
I was in an elders’ meeting, early in my pastoral years, and a godly, godly man, a guy named Bill Carter – I’ll probably talk about him a lot – God brought him to that church to teach me how to be a pastor, along with other elders. A godly, godly man.
And we were, as elders – I think there were six or seven, and we were talking about a situation. It was about a person, and it wasn’t a person in our church, and it was a very clear situation.
And the conversation – we were talking, just like people talk – and it was winding around, winding around. And I watched Bill get really quiet. It was winding around, and developing, and no one had a problem. These are godly guys; they all love God. We had an hour of prayer and Bible study before we started; we’re in the Spirit.
And Bill says, “Excuse me, gentlemen, and everyone. My best understanding of Scripture is that our discussion of this person is inappropriate, in that we are not a part of the problem, nor are we a part of God’s solution. And I think the definition of Scripture, with regard to gossip, is passing on or dealing with information where we’re not a part of the problem, or the solution. Maybe it would be a good time to stop and pray for this person, and continue with our meeting.”
Now, you’ve got some power players on that elder board. And I’m the young pastor going, “Ooh!” I don’t know if the bullets are going to fly, or what’s going to happen, but I’m just going to sit back in my chair and go, I wonder what’s going to happen here! And he just had the courage, he said it gently, he said it lovingly.
And in every dynamic of relationship, you have people that are mature, and have influence and power. And I’ll never forget, probably the other most powerful person – I don’t mean that in a negative way; it’s by maturity, and stature – he turned and said, “Man, thanks, Bill. Gosh, guys. Thanks, Bill. Let’s stop right now.”
And what I learned was, in a winsome way, when people start telling you information, you can put up the stop sign and say, “You know something? I know you probably are doing this from sincere motives” – so you don’t judge them. Maybe it’s not. “But I’ll tell you what, I’m not a part of the solution, and I’m not part of the problem. My best understanding of Scripture is that you need to go directly to that person. And this is inappropriate for you to share, for the sake of Jesus and His Church, and for the sake of that person. So, if you don’t mind, could we talk about something else?” And give them an alternative.
But you know what? When you start doing that, it’s amazing how little people will gossip around you. And is there an uncomfortable moment? Yes. Is there a sting to this person? Yes. Guess what – that’s good! That’s like an antiseptic. It’s like an antibiotic in the body of Christ.
And, by the way, you do know that every church, or every group, has what I call a “garbage can.” There is a person who loves to hear this, and they keep the lid open, and they ask these probing, little questions, and everyone dumps their gossip. Here’s what you always have to remember. That garbage can goes to another meeting, and then they open the lid, and they dump it out to other places. So, be very careful not only how you receive, but what you share.
Step number five – and this is a good one – talk less. Really. This is a discipline. Proverbs 10:19, “When there are many words, sin is not absent.” I like another translation, “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable. But he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Notice what it says. This is a great summary – I love it, here in the Living Bible – of this passage, “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other, dear brothers. If you do, you’ll be fighting against God’s Law of loving one another, declaring it wrong. But your job is not to decide whether the Law is right or wrong, but to obey it. Only He who made the law can rightly judge among us. He alone decides to save or destroy. So what right do you have to judge or criticize others?”
Hasn’t that captured what we’ve learned? Wouldn’t it be great to just memorize that little verse or two right there, out of the Living Bible?
And can I ask you a question, as we close? Is there anybody that you realize, after hearing this message, that you need to apologize to? Is there any person that you realize you have put in a negative light – and this will not be easy, but it’ll cleanse your soul – that you may need to write a note to, have a breakfast with, or a phone call?
And what I have learned is, it’s really hard, but I’ve just gotten to where, “Hey, Bob. This is Chip. I was in a meeting yesterday – and, brother, I’m really working on this – but in that meeting, your name came up. And I didn’t say anything really bad, or harsh, or this or that, but someone asked a question, and it came out of my mouth, and this is what I said. And it really cast you in a negative light. I’ve gone back to tell those people that I’m sorry. But I felt prompted by God to tell you. Brother, I want to keep short accounts. I’m very, very sorry. It wasn’t personal. It just sort of popped out of my mouth, and I would ask you to forgive me.”
And I will tell you, when you make that a practice, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to say less.