Living for the Glory of God ~ Vivir para la Gloria de Dios

Reforming Your Speech (James 4:11) ~ A Daily Devotion for February 25, 2014

“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.” ~ James 4:11

Explanation of the Text: In the last of the commands, James says to not speak evil against one another. John Calvin notes that in the sinful flesh, people are hypocrites, and while they are called to godly humility before God in the previous verse, often people will exalt themselves before other people by calumniating others.[1] It is the same concept that is found with the usage of the tongue in James 3:9, in which people will act one way before God and act differently before people, with little regard for God.

In the Greek, the phrase do not speak evil is made up of only two words. One is the imperative form of ‘to speak.’ However, it is the other word that is interesting to note, which is the negation of the verb, or the word for ‘do not.’ There are two words that can be used to express negation, either μη or ου. What makes this important is that while they both mean ‘do not’ they are more specific. Ου is used in the absolute sense when referring to a fact or statement, while the word used in James 4:11 is μη which is relative referring also to will and thought.[2] This is important because it gives the verse a more in-depth meaning. Instead of just referring to verbally speaking against others, it is more specific to mean that one should not even exercise evil against one in both thought and will![3]

The reason for not speaking evil against other a brother is because it is equated to passing judgment on the law. However, there is only one person who can judge, as indicated in verse 12 (see the notes for verse 12 that follow). By speaking against a brother, one has actually spoken against the law and broken it (see Leviticus 19:16) and thus it shows that the one speaking evil has very little regard for the law.[4] “When someone knows what God’s Word commands and violates it anyway, he is saying in effect: ‘I have made a decision that this is not a good law, and therefore I will set it aside.”[5]

Finally, James draws on his previous teaching in 1:22 in which he calls on every person to be a doer of the word. Here he indicates that one who has spoken evil against a brother, passing judgment on him is no longer a doer of the word, but is actually a judge of it. In essence, this person not only has little regard for the law, but actually has placed themselves above it, choosing which parts are applicable to his life and which parts are not.

Examination & Application of the Text: Leviticus 19:16 reads, “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” People are not to be known as slanderers. Therefore, all filthy speech must be gotten rid of. This calls for an examination of self. Search your speech and conversations and determine how often is your speech used for evil against your neighbor? Also, against who? Is the same person repeatedly or different people? In this search of self, identify those areas in which you sin and confess it before the Lord. Likewise, go to those that you have spoken against and confess it to them. In both cases, seek forgiveness. The final aspect is then to turn from that form of sin.

Another verse to consider in this is Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Not only should a person cease in evil speech against one another, but also replace it with edifying speech. As learned in James 3:1-12, the tongue is a powerful tool, and how much can be accomplished by using it for positive rather than negative! Therefore, our goal for today should be to reform our speech. Get rid of the evil speech and replace it with edifying speech.

[1] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 337.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), Entry #3361.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, Faith, Love, & Hope: An Exposition of the Epistle of James, Exegetical Commentary Series (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1999), Jas 4:11..

[4] George Guthrie, James, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 258.

[5] Homer A. Kent Jr., Faith That Works: Studies in the Epistle of James, (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2005), 146.

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