Sermon Synopsis February 26, 2017
When I was in middle school, it was popular to talk on the phone with friends. Evenings were spent with a heavy, hardwired device in hand, chatting over a landline. In time, my friends and I thought of mischievous ways to use the telephone. Prank calls were a favorite pastime. Another loved activity was the three-way call. Talking to two friends over the phone seemed magical.
Before long, we thought of ways to use the three-person call in less-than-desirable fashions. If we had a friend with whom we were mad, we would call him or her and engage in conversation. The original caller would then call a third caller, and tell the first caller to keep quiet. He pretended that the first person wasn’t on the line and then asked the new caller what he thought of the other. Things turned ugly as the supposed friend let loose a torrent of rude remarks and calloused criticism. As a middle schooler, I learned how hurtful it could be to hear others talk about me.
Most of us don’t engage in such adolescent games today. However, we are tempted to talk about others. I know I am. Are you? Doesn’t it seem so hard to avoid the trap of toxic talk sometimes? Fortunately, God’s Word gives us some guidance. In James 4:11-12, we find instruction on how to overcome the sin of slanderous speech. The author knew his readers were guilty of back-biting, so he shared four truths to help them change. Let’s look at them.
DON’T SPEAK ABOUT OTHERS UNLESS IT IS NECESSARY.
Fault finding is not a sign of spiritual maturity, as some may assume. It is actually evidence of a heart that is spiritually off-center. In the end, a good way to filter our speech about others is to ask this question — “Is it really necessary?” A lot of our malicious talk is petty. It concerns things which are of little importance. It’s too attached to our egos, preferences, and opinions. A spiritual reality check will help us see that much of our criticisms are of little value, and many of them aren’t even valid. If you’re tempted to speak against another, stop…unless it is truly necessary.
REMEMBER THE LAW OF LOVE.
How do we overcome urges to be self-absorbed judges of others? James shared a secret. He told his readers that sinful criticism and judgment is tantamount to criticism and judgment of the law, saying, “He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law” (James 4:11b). Of what “law” was James speaking? It seems he is referring to Jesus command concerning love. (see Matthew 22:37-40). The author’s instruction is relevant today. If we want to stop the flow of evil-speaking, we simply need to ask ourselves, “Is my speech a violation or fulfillment of Christ’s law of love?” That one question will help us discern and develop the type of talk that is profitable to the people of God. If you want to overcome slanderous speech, remember the law of love.
FOCUS ON MAKING YOURSELF BETTER (v. 11c).
Have you ever noticed that we are much more lenient with the faults in our own lives than we are with the faults in the lives of others? We seem to have a higher standard for our neighbors sometimes. Why is this? Much of our judgmental tendencies come down to our own pride. Even small degrees of self love can cause us to be harsh towards our fellow man. We like to point out and focus on their wrongs, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If we want to move away from such shallow, self-oriented living, we must regain a perspective of personal responsibility. We must be consumed with making ourselves into what God wants us to be, instead of fixating on what we think others should be.
LET GOD BE GOD.
Idolatry is a subtle sin. It can show up in our lives in the most secretive of ways. A golden calf or pagan altar isn’t required. Something as seemingly small as slander can emanate from an idolatrous heart. Think about it — the evil-speaker inadvertently sets him or herself up as a god. Through the way in which he or she pronounces judgment, he or she demonstrates a conscious or subconscious belief that he or she has authority and wisdom over the soul-state of others. If you want to avoid talking about others, let God be God. Leave the judging to Him.
Get the full manuscript of the sermon for February 26, 2017 here