James 4:11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.
James 5:9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.
Almost 20 years ago my wife and I attended a national meeting of church leaders and pastors in conflict. We were disturbed by what we heard and saw. Pastors made derogatory remarks about one another. Leaders unashamedly ridiculed brothers and sisters with differing views. The spirit and manner of the comments grieved us.
But to be honest… I find myself doing that at times. Saying or thinking something about someone in my spiritual family that James says is “evil”. Why is it wrong?
We must increasingly view ourselves as one body. My brother or sister in Christ is part of me. When one hurts, I should hurt. When one is blessed, I should feel a part of the blessing too. We enjoy a union in Christ that is intimate and real.
Why is it wrong to “speak evil of” or “grumble against” a brother? What I do to them… I am doing to myself. How absurd! I might as well stand in front of a mirror and call myself names as to tear down a born again brother or sister in Christ.
James stresses that to “speak evil” is really a judging activity that belongs to God. When I reach a conclusion about a brother’s character, actions or motives and then repeat that conclusion to whoever will listen — I am assuming the role of judge. I am taking God’s place.
How much better to leave judgement in the hands of our Father!
What can we positively do today to turn the tide in the church?
- Determine to build up and bless everyone you talk to and talk about;
- Set your heart against a complaining, critical spirit; and
- Graciously refuse to listen or tolerate “evil speaking” about others.
Colossians 3:9 – Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.
James 5:16 – Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
It had been a fairly ordinary retreat experience. The mountain setting made it easy to reflect and evaluate my walk with God. During our final session, the leader of the retreat led about 25 of us in a time of sharing: what had God done in our lives through our study and time together?
No one said anything for a long time. Finally, one of the single women stood and moved to the front of the group. She was trembling – obviously scared and nervous about what she wanted to say. Tears welled up in her eyes as she began to speak. “I’m pregnant,” she confessed. She had been dating an unbeliever and the unthinkable had happened. After sharing her story she said, “I am so sorry everyone, please forgive me — I need you right now so much…”
Immediately one of the women spoke, “We forgive you.” The group surrounded her for prayer and encouragement. After many minutes, we sat back down. It was only the beginning of what God wanted to do that afternoon… soon someone else spoke up. Another confession was made. Then another. And another… and still another. Relationships were mended. Deep needs and fears were expressed. Wrongs were uncovered through confession, covered over with forgiveness, and then put away forever.
For almost 5 hours our group became honest with each other and before God. The sharing was discreet (no unwholesome details), but open and full. Little was held back as God’s Spirit took us to a new place of trust and oneness as the people of God. How refreshed and alive we felt when it was over!
Back in our home church the next day, worship was different. Our greetings were transformed — less casual, more personal — more like family. More like heaven. More like home. We were made for this and finally were experiencing a taste of our privilege as God’s children! It was glorious.
Twenty years later, the experience remains vivid. The Lord still whispers the fragrance of that time across my heart, “this is My church”. Church as He intends it to be.
When we hide from each other it is safe and comfortable, but it is also lonely. We are missing so much. We live in a world of people looking for a safe place to be open and honest. A place where they can be known… and still be loved. Individual spiritual growth explodes in the fertile soil of mutual love and trust. How can we help create a place like that?
- Become a truth-seeking person — pray that God will open our hearts to each other. The retreat situation described above was the result of several years of asking;
- Become a truth-keeping person — what is shared stays with you and goes no further; and
- Become a truth-telling person — when you feel led to take the risk, honestly share your weakness and need with other brothers and sisters.