Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
The epistle of James provides a thorough explanation of what faith looks like in the life of a believer by examining the works that follow true faith. James 1:27 is often used to describe true religion, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Yet, if we read just that one verse, we will miss the context of what James is saying. The previous verse (James 1:26) says, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless." So, to understand James' point concerning "pure and undefiled religion," we must take into account not just our "works" but also our "speech."
Following James' explanation in chapter two of "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17) and "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26), James immediately addresses how believers’ "works" include the way we speak, the use of our tongue. Interestingly, James uses the same word "bridle" in James 3:2 to describe the "perfect man" as he used in James 1:26 to describe a person whose religion is worthless. The Greek word for bridle means to keep in check, control, and exercise self-control. Louw-Nida, a Greek dictionary, says the expression "does not bridle his tongue" could be translated as "one who does not tell his tongue what to say" or "one who cannot tie his tongue down" or "one who cannot stop his talking." After using the picturesque language of a ship’s rudder and a horse’s bit, to describe how a small device plays such a large part in controlling a ship and a horse, James says the same is true of our tongue. He goes on to say our human tongue is a "restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God."
I can hear you thinking "Okay, Roy, we read those passages over the last few days, we get it. What is your point? What does that have to do with 'Do not speak evil against one another?'" James 4:11 adds a new word for the way we use our tongue. In verse 11, James uses the same Greek word, katalaoe, three times. The definition for this word is backbiting, revile, and slander. 1 Peter 3:16 uses the same word, "...having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." Doesn't translating that word as slander increase the impact of what James is saying?
One of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:16 says "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." So, James 4:11-12 says if I "speak evil against" a brother, I am breaking at least two commandments because I am not only bearing false witness, but I am breaking the first commandment by putting myself in place of God who is the only lawgiver and judge.
Inevitably, when the subject of judging a brother or sister in Christ comes up, my thoughts turn to Romans 14:4, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." This causes me to rejoice with Jude, "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."
Sovereign LORD, forgive me for placing myself in the position for which You and You alone are worthy. Holy Spirit, please quickly convict me and stir me to repentance when the use of my tongue causes me to sin against my God and Father. Lord Jesus, may I see Your bride even now as without spot or wrinkle. May I see her as holy and without blemish because of what You have accomplished and are accomplishing in her.